TV Show Draft Pick – The Honeymooners

For my next pick in the Hanspostcard TV Show Draft, I chose a show that is one of my all time favorites. I don’t remember when I first was introduced to this show, but I am guessing my dad had something to do with it. Early on in the draft, I chose Police Squad, which only aired 6 episodes. This show is known for its “Classic 39” – The Honeymooners.

This isn’t my first blog about the show. Some time ago, I took part in a “Favorite TV Episode” Blogathon and picked 2 of my favorite episodes to present. You can read that blog here:

When you examine 50’s TV shows, there was very little struggle involved. Think about it. I Love Lucy, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Andy Griffith Show, and Leave it to Beaver all showed families who were living in nice homes or apartments, showed no signs of financial struggles, and while there may be a misunderstanding here and there, it was mostly “bliss.” In 1955-1956, however, The Honeymooners focused on two couples from New York, who were struggling to get by.

The show focused on the lives of Ralph (Jackie Gleason) and Alice Kramden (Audrey Meadows), and Ed (Art Carney) and Trixie Norton (Joyce Randolph). One article I found on the show says this about Gleason’s Kramden character: Ralph was the get-rich-quick scheming, short-tempered, soft-hearted guy who was always striving for greatness, but never made it out of that two-room Brooklyn apartment. And that’s one of the main attractions for even the most casual of viewers: the characters are so identifiable. As Jackie himself said at the time, “Everything we did could have happened. People like the show, because we are them.”

The show began as a simple sketch on the DuMont Television Network, on the Cavalcade of Stars. The original hosts were Jack Carter and Jerry Lester, but in July of 1950 comedian Jackie Gleason took over the hosting duties. In the process, Gleason took the struggling show and turned it around to be a hit. The show, which featured comedy skits and a number of different performers each week, was broadcast live in front of a theater audience. In 1951, Jackie and his writers came up with the idea for a sketch called The Honeymooners. It was about a struggling couple living in Brooklyn who frequently fought, but in the end, there was no question that they loved each other.

Leonard Stern was a writer on both The Honeymooners and The Jackie Gleason Show. In an interview with the Archive of American Television he stated, “We started doing one sketch of The Honeymooners every five or six weeks and the response of people on the street was tremendous. So we started doing them every other week. Eventually, though, everyone, including Jackie, lost interest in the other characters in the different sketches, so we started to do them every week until the fatigue level hit its high and we’d have to take a break. I think Gleason had fun doing them, because he recognized the impact Kramden and Alice and Norton and Trixie were having on the audience. I’m not a great fan of ratings, but let me say that 53% of the total television audience was watching the show. There’s nothing like that in existence today. It was astonishing and the show itself was live. Remember, the audience of 3,000 people filled that theater. You earned your laughs. It was a resounding success and very exhilarating for all of us. It was opening night every week.”

When Gleason left the Dupont Network and went to CBS, he hosted the Jackie Gleason Show, where the Honeymooners sketches continued. In the 1952 season, the sketches usually ran between seven and 13 minutes. In the following season, and those sketches ran for a minimum of 30 minutes, and sometimes longer. Then, in the 1954-55 season, they actually filled the entire hour of The Jackie Gleason Show, and was doing so well in the ratings that it occasionally surpassed the viewership of I Love Lucy. That is almost unheard of!

In the 1955-56 season, The Jackie Gleason Show literally became The Honeymooners! It aired as a half-hour sitcom that was filmed in front of a studio audience. In total, 39 episodes were produced, and these episodes are the ones that are still being broadcast today. These 39 episodes are the ones that most people remember.

I read an article that said Jackie Gleason had actually been given a three-year contract from CBS for 78 episodes of The Honeymooners to be produced in the first two seasons. The contract also included an option for a third season of 39 more. For whatever it is worth, Gleason felt the quality of the scriptwriting couldn’t be maintained, and the show was mutually canceled by him and CBS.

A Closer Weekly article says: What’s particularly impressive about The Honeymooners living on the way it has is the fact that back in the day, there needed to be a minimum of 100 episodes of a show available so that local stations could run it five days a week. Any less made syndication difficult, since the cycle would be repeated that much sooner. But then there was The Honeymooners, with a mere 39 episodes to offer up, yet it worked. And continues to do so.

In a 1996 appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Jackie was asked why the show ended. He told Carson, “We were running out of ideas. I liked The Honeymooners and I liked doing them, and I didn’t want to denigrate them by forcing scenes that didn’t mean anything. So I wanted to quit, but they didn’t believe me. They thought I had another job someplace, but I didn’t. I’m glad I did stop them, because what we had done was good and if we had gone any further, we might have spoiled it.”

Those “Classic 39” are classic for a reason. They are still funny. The situations that The Kramdens and the Nortons muddle through every week will make you laugh, cry, think, and smile. They still hold up today. Each one of them has memorable scenes and quotable lines.

In one episode Ralph tells his boss he is a great golfer and is immediately asked to go play a round with him. Now Ralph needs to learn how to play – and fast. He finds the perfect teacher in his best friend Ed Norton. In pure Art Carney fashion, Ed reads from a book that you must “address the ball,” to which he takes the club, stands in front of the ball, looks down and says, “Hello, Ball!”

An episode of the show was featured in the movie Back To The Future. When Marty McFly winds up in 1955, a family is watching the episode The Man From Space. Intending to win the $50 first prize at the Racoon Lodge’s costume ball, Ralph decides to create his own outfit. And what an outfit! After appropriating (among other things) a faucet, a pot, a radio tube and the icebox door, he presents himself as the Man from Space.

In another episode, Alice says she wants to go dancing. Ralph has Ed come over to teach him how to dance. Ralph’s outfit is hilarious (he tells Alice it is “what all us cats wear! I’m hip!”). The dance (to the song The Hucklebuck) is worth the watch.

To me, sometimes the funniest stuff can be as simple as Ralph’s face …

In another classic episode, Ralph and Norton appear on a TV commercial trying to sell their Handy Housewife Helper, a kitchen gadget that can, among other things, open cans, remove corns and “core a apple.” In the inspired, ad-lib-laden episode, “Chef of the Future” Ralph demonstrates the wonders of the gizmo to “Chef of the Past” Norton. Rehearsal goes great, but in front of live cameras, Ralph freezes up.

Art Carney was the perfect second banana. The play between him and Gleason is classic. In one episode Norton’s sleepwalking becomes a waking nightmare for Ralph. Ralph can’t get any sleep because he’s been asked to keep his pal from wandering off on late-night strolls around the neighborhood.

Another classic episode takes place at the pool hall where Ralph gets into an argument with the diminutive guy named George. “My friend is even bigger than me,” he tells Ralph. “I have a friend Shirley that’s bigger than you,” Ralph counters. But then he comes eye-to-chin with George’s friend, the towering Harvey, who challenges Ralph to a fight. This prompts Norton to observe: “He’s even bigger than your friend Shirley.”

Many of the plot lines from the classic episodes made it into the Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy novelty hit “The Honeymooners Rap.”

In the 1980’s, Jackie Gleason announced that in his vault he had found a number of Honeymooners skits from The Jackie Gleason Show that had been shot on Kinescope, which is a way of filming directly through a lens that actually focused on the screen of a video monitor. 107 of those skits were released on DVD and syndicated to television stations. These would have been shot before the “Classic 39” and two of them stand out to me.

Jackie had been a guest star on the Jack Benny show, so Jack makes an appearance in one of those “lost” episodes as the Kramden’s landlord. The rent is being raised and Ralph is mad. When there is a knock on the door, Ralph opens it and Jack Benny is standing there. The audience chuckles in anticipation. Ralph calls to Alice that “the Landlord’s here” and the audience erupts. Benny stands there quietly as Ralph reads him the riot act! He calls him a “penny pincher” (which plays into Benny’s “cheap” character”) and says that he pinches a penny so hard that when he is through “both heads and tails are on the same side of the coin!”

In another lost episode, Ralph must lose weight for work. All through the episode he is starving. Finally, he is left alone in the apartment and sitting at the kitchen table. He notices a cake pan. He lifts the lid and sees the cake. His eyes bulge and he goes nuts. As he is about to tear into the cake Alice walks in. “Everybody get back,” he yells! The brief 3 minutes of him staring at the cake before getting ready to eat it is comedy genius!

As brilliant as Jackie Gleason was as Ralph Kramden, he never won an Emmy Award for it. Art Carney, however, won 5 Emmy’s for Best Supporting Actor on The Honeymooners and the Jackie Gleason Show.

The Honeymooners influenced a huge 1960’s cartoon – The Flintstones. It is a blatant rip off of the show, and was a huge hit. It is said that Gleason considered suing Hanna-Barbera Productions because of the similarities, but decided that he did not want to be known as “the guy who yanked Fred Flintstone off the air”

The Honeymooners is over 65 years years old! Joyce Randolph, who played Trixie Norton is 97 years old and still going strong. I wonder if Gleason ever thought that those 39 episodes would still find an audience today and that they would still bring much laughter.

In 1990, Audrey Meadows joined Bob Costas on Later to discuss the show. You can see that footage here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKhMKQaqn7w

If you have never seen an episode, I encourage you to do so. The two episodes I mentioned in a previous blog are good places to start – TV or Not TV or A Matter of Record. Most are available on Youtube.

Thanks for reading!

TV Show Draft – Pick #2 – Mission: Impossible

This was not my original choice for my next pick in the TV show draft. Yes, it was on my list of shows, but I had planned on writing about it later in the draft. I decided to move it up the list because after binge watching some episodes as I recovered from my surgery, I realized I could tie it in with my first draft pick.

You may recall that my first pick was Police Squad – a show that was cancelled after 4 episodes (of 6) aired. The reason given for its cancellation was that people had to watch it to get the jokes. The top brass said that it required too much of the viewer. I guess they thought that no one would actually watch and pay attention to what was happening on the screen.

As I sat and watched episodes of Mission: Impossible, I realized that it truly was a show that viewers HAD to watch. There are LONG periods of action scenes where there is no dialogue and the characters are executing the episode’s plan. Maybe that required wiring up a camera, or cutting a false bottom in a safe, or creating a fake set to fool someone. These scenes were silent, with the exception of suspenseful music playing underneath. The bottom line is that half the fun of this show is watching how the team gets the plan to work. People were obviously watching, too, because the show lasted for 7 seasons.

The Show

Bruce Geller created the series, which focuses on a small team of government agents known as the Impossible Missions Force. In early seasons, the team was used for secret missions against third world dictators, evil organizations, and Iron Curtain governments. Later seasons they were used for battling organized crime, con men, and corrupt industrialists. Occasionally, the mission would be a private one on behalf of members of the team itself. The show never really says who is the organization that oversees the IM Force, but it seems to be some sort of independent agency of the US government.

The episodes almost always began with the team leader going to some place (phone booth, roof top, police box, etc…) and finding a tape machine and envelope. The voice on the tape would then offer the team leader the scenario and instructions. The team leader ultimately has the choice whether or not to accept the mission, as the voice would say, “Your mission, should you chose to accept it …” The voice would then warn, “If you or any member of your IM Force should be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” Finally, the tape would “self destruct.”

In the first season, Steven Hill is the head of the team. He plays Dan Briggs.

There are many stories surrounding the fact that he only appears in the first season. Some say he was a very difficult person to work with. Other stories say that his religious responsibilities interfered with the shooting schedule. Still others say that he just wasn’t able to do all that was required physically to play the role. At any rate, as the first season winds down, it seems he gets less and less screen time.

He was replaced in the second season by Peter Graves, who plays Jim Phelps.

After receiving listening to the mission and the self destruction of the tape, the team leader would retreat to his apartment where he was to assemble his team. He would pull out a briefcase with photos of various team members. He would pull out photos one by one. Each member had some special skill and if that skill fit the mission, the leader would pull that photo and place it in a pile.

He almost always picked the same people, but occasionally, there would be a guest star and the photo would allow the show to introduce them. In later seasons, they would skip this scene all together, assuming that the viewer understood that the leader had chosen the team.

The regular line up of agents included:

  • Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain) – a fashion model and actress
  • Rollin Hand (Martin Landau) – an actor, make up artist, magician, and “man of a million faces”
  • Barney Collier (Greg Morris) – a mechanical and electronics genius
  • Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus) – world record-holding weigh lifter

As cast members left the show, the ones that replaced them often had the same kind of skills. Other actors included Leonard Nimoy, Lesley Ann Warren, Lee Meriwether, and Sam Elliot. Only Greg Morris and Peter Lupus appear in every season of the series.

Once the team was chosen, they would assemble in the team leader’s apartment to discuss the plan of how they were going to accomplish the mission. It is during this scene that we often are introduced to one or more of the specialty gadgets that they would use.

Once the plan was in place, the remainder of the show focused on putting the plan in action. This is where the viewer really had to pay attention. So much action happens without any dialogue at all.

There are times that you are on the edge of your seat as you are watching the action. The team members are always seconds away from being caught or discovered. It is always fun to watch how this intricate plan comes together piece by piece. In most cases, the action of the show lasts right up until the final seconds. At that time, the mission would conclude with the IMF team making their escape.

One of my favorite things about the show is the fact that they were always able to create some sort of rubber mask to impersonate someone. Usually this would involve Rollin Hand (Martin Landau), the master of disguise. He always seemed to be able to mimic the voice of whoever he was playing (with the help of overdubbing, of course).

That’s a pretty good Martin Landau mask ….

While much of the content of the show is very dated, it still holds up today. I don’t ever tire of watching it.

Greg Morris, Peter Lupus, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, and Peter Graves.

Theme Song

You simply cannot talk about Mission: Impossible without mentioning the theme song! It is perhaps one of the most recognizable theme songs in all of television. It was composed by an Argentine composer Lalo Schifrin. What is unique about the theme is that it is written in 5/4 time. It is an unusual time signature. The Mission Impossible Theme and Dave Brubeck’s Take Five are the two best known songs written in that time signature.

Schifrin wrote a book entitled Music Composition for Film and Television. In it, he stated that he sometimes would use Morse Code as inspiration for songs. In Morse code, the letter M is two dashes and the letter I is two dots (M I = Mission Impossible). As you listen to the theme song – you can here those letters in Morse code (Dash Dash Dot Dot – Dash Dash Dot Dot).

Schifrin won two Grammy Awards for music from the show.

Mission: Impossible remains one of the great shows of classic television. I’m off now to think about my third draft pick.

This blog will self destruct in 5 or 10 seconds …..

TV Show Draft – Pick #1 – Police Squad!

This blog is part of the TV Show Draft that is being hosted by Hans from Slice The Life. He is the same guy who hosted the Song Draft I took part in last year. This is the same idea. All the participants will pick their “draft picks” like one would pick a player in a fantasy football draft. Once a show is picked, it is out of the running for others to pick.

That in itself makes this draft more difficult for me. I mean, there is no shortage of shows to write about. However, I have a feeling that many of the picks on my list are also picks on some of the other bloggers. Because of this, I have an extra long list in case I have to make a last minute switch of my pick.

For my first pick, I went with a show that despite only being on the air for 6 episodes, makes me laugh every time I watch it – Police Squad!

In 1980, Airplane! was a major hit at the movies. One of the reasons I think it was such a hit was the fact that you had actors and actresses known for playing dramatic roles in this comedy film, playing it completely straight! Watching Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, and Peter Graves saying completely ridiculous lines as serious as possible only added to the humor of the film. How they kept a straight face with everything else that was going on in the background always amazed me.

To me, Leslie Nielsen was perfect for this movie. His role as Dr. Rumack is fantastic. His booming baritone voice saying those lines in all seriousness is just hilarious. No wonder he was the one who David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker approached him to play the lead, Detective Frank Drebin, in this TV series.

The series was basically a TV version of Airplane! There would be straight dialogue, silly jokes, word play, and all kinds of sight gags to watch for in the back ground. It was going to spoof cop shows. As a matter of fact, much like Airplane! which was almost a line by line copy of the movie Zero Hour, Police Squad lifted a plot and even dialogue from the TV show M Squad. It also drew from the show Felony Squad. The opening credits are very similar to M Squad (which starred Lee Marvin).

The opening narration was done by Hank Simms, who had done announcing on many other great shows. His narration is done is a matter of factly stern voice. He announces Leslie Neilsen and Alan North. Both enter scenes in which they pull out their guns and begin firing. Then, he announces “… and Rex Hamilton as Abraham Lincoln!”

The scene is Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. When his hat is shot off, he gets up and returns fire with his own gun! This is one of two running gags in the credits.

The other gag is just priceless. The gag introduces each weeks guest star.

In the credits, the guest stars are killed off and never appear in the rest of the show!

Guest stars included Lorne Greene, William Conrad, Florence Henderson, Robert Goulet, and Florence Henderson. Word is that they shot a scene of John Belushi, but when he died of a drug overdose, they reshot with another guest star.

The final gag of the opening credits was a simple (and stupid) one. The title of episode would appear on screen, but the announcer would call the episode something completely different. For example, the first episode shows on the screen as “A Substantial Gift,” but the announcer reads “A Broken Promise.”

The Naked Gun movies were direct spin offs of the TV show. Alan North played Ed on the show, while George Kennedy played him in the movies. Peter Lupus (who is brilliantly funny on the show) plays Norberg on the show, while OJ Simpson plays Nordberg (yes, spelled differently) in the movies. Many of the scenes from the movies were adapted from scenes from the show.

The show consisted of dialogue that at times reminded me of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” Here is an example from the first episode:

[Frank and Ed are interviewing a witness to a shooting]

Sally: Well, I first heard the shot, and as I turned, Jim fell.

Frank: Jim Fell’s the teller?

Sally: No, Jim Johnson.

Frank: Who’s Jim Fell?

Ed: He’s the auditor, Frank.

Sally: He had the flu, so Jim… filled in.

Frank: Phil who?

Ed: Phil Din. He’s the night watchman.

Sally: Oh, if only Phil had been here…

The deadpan delivery of Leslie Nielsen on this show (and in the Naked Gun movies) made him comedy gold! In a scene where he and Ed are interviewing the widow of a man shot in a robbery, Drebin simply says:

“We’re sorry to bother you at such a time like this, Mrs. Twice. We would have come earlier, but your husband wasn’t dead then.”

The show aired on ABC in 1982. After 4 episodes aired, the show was cancelled. The last two episode aired later that summer. So why was such a funny show cancelled? That question was posed to Leslie Nielsen in an interview for the DVD release. He stated that ABC said “Police Squad! was canceled because viewers had to pay close attention to the show in order to get much of the humor.” In other words, people had to WATCH the show to get it. TV Guide stated that was “the most stupid reason a network ever gave for ending a series.”

Nielsen also stated that “the premise was more effective in the successful Naked Gun films because the much larger screen size in a cinema meant viewers saw more of the visual gags.”

There certainly is some truth to that, as the movies were very successful. It is interesting that the creator of The Simpsons, Matt Groening said, “If Police Squad had been made twenty years later, it would have been a smash. It was before its time. In 1982 your average viewer was unable to cope with its pace, its quick-fire jokes. But these days they’d have no problems keeping up, I think we’ve proved that.”

One of my favorite lines in the series comes from the third episode of the series. After a small group of mobsters blackmail various store-owners, Frank and Norberg go undercover and set up a key-making and locksmith store. The mobsters offer Frank “protection” in exchange for money, but Frank declines. While they attack the store with guns, Frank and Norberg’s Locksmith store remains, enraging the mobsters’ boss (played by the great Al Ruscio). Frank goes to see the boss and walks in unannounced:

Dutch Gunderson: Who are you and how did you get in here?

Frank: I’m a locksmith. And, I’m a locksmith.

Brilliant!!!

I need to interject here and say that Peter Lupus, who of course is known for his role as Willy on Mission: Impossible, is just hilarious! He was a body builder turned actor and was fantastic in Mission: Impossible. He really shows his comedy chops in Police Squad. I wish he had been in more episodes. He is almost over the top in everything he does.

In one episode, the crew is searching for a kidnapped girl. When the kidnapper calls, he is told to get a tap on the phone. As the call is going on you see him in the background banging and destroying the phone. It is a classic payoff when they ask if they got a tap on the phone ….

Later in the episode, mime comes through a window and acts out the “ransom note.” In a very funny scene, Frank, Ed, and Norberg (Lupus) are playing Charades to guess the answers. Peter Lupus steals the scene. He is so hysterically funny!

In the final running gag, the end of every episode featured Drebin and Hocken talking about the week’s criminal going to “Stateville Prison”, and mentioning the names of the criminals from all previous episodes. The scene ended with an imitation “Freeze Frame” with the actors trying to stand still while various things happened to or around them (such as Hocken pouring coffee into Drebin’s cup until it overflows and starts burning him.)

Those were so fun to watch. I wonder just how hard it was to get them to not react while everything around them went crazy?

I am so glad to have the entire series on DVD. It is a “go to” when I need to really laugh out loud. What a shame that this show never caught on. At the same time, if it had, would they have ever ventured out and made the Naked Gun movies? Who knows?

Thanks for reading!!

Tube Tunes….

sanford 1

Today, Quincy Jones turns 85.  He is a legend in the music business.  He is a record producer, actor, conductor, composer, musician, TV & film producer, instrumentalist, magazine founder, entertainment company executive and humanitarian.  He’s worked with some of the best musicians and produced some of the biggest albums in history.  He has worked with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson.  Call my crazy, but despite all of the things Quincy Jones is known for – I remember him for one thing – he recorded the Sanford and Son Theme song!

There was just something cool about this theme song.  The opening bass line followed by the catchy melody.  To this day, I laugh when I see a beat up truck driving around, I will sing the Sanford theme out loud!  In an episode of Scrubs, JD and Turk are having a serious discussion, that eventually ends up with them singing and dancing to the Sanford theme!  Recently someone did a “mash up” with Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines and, you guessed it, the theme to Sanford and Son.

Today, many shows don’t even bother with a theme song.  You see the credits scroll on the screen while the show is in progress.  This is sad.  A TV theme song kind of sets the mood for the show.  It will be a song with catchy lyrics or a melody that you can hum along with.  Today, lets go back and look at some of my favorite theme songs from TV’s past.  When we’re done – tell me your favorites that I may have missed.

The 50’s

Two of the earliest themes on my list come from shows considered classics.  First, The Andy Griffith Show.  This catchy tune is one that you can whistle along with.  Even without looking at a screen, whistling it makes you picture Andy and Opie walking with their fishing poles to the lake.  Second, The Dick Van Dyke Show.  What’s not to like about this one?  You only have to wonder whether or not he’s gonna trip over the ottoman when he walks in the house.

Then there is the Twilight Zone.  The haunting guitar part that plays those same four notes over and over is scary as hell!  As a kid, I remember freaking out when it was on.  Today, as I listen to it, it is perfect for the show.  It was the perfect music to play while Rod Serling explained that we were entering another dimension.  I can’t tell you how many times something obscure happens and I start humming the theme song!

Another one of my favorites was the theme to Perry Mason.  It was written by Fred Steiner who said he wanted to capture Perry’s sophistication and toughness.  The song is actually called Park Avenue Beat and it is a bluesy “piece of symphonic R&B”.  The song was re-recorded for the Perry Mason TV movies and was used by the Blues Brothers band while out touring.

Another theme song that I absolutely love, has a Blues Brothers tie in, too.  Peter Gunn is a private eye.  The initial base line accompanied by low brass instruments screams sleazy private eye.  It’s a great piece.  The song actually plays in the first Blues Brothers movie as the brothers are driving through Illinois.  They do a fine cover of it.

The 60’s

The shows of the 60’s and 70’s had some of the best theme songs!

The theme to Mission: Impossible is instantly recognizable.  It was composed by the great Lalo Schifrin.  What’s neat about the song is that it is in 5/4 time.  From the opening note – you can see the fuse light up and begin to burn.  It’s such a cool piece of music.  I was glad that they used it in the movies with Tom Cruise (even though I disliked them).

Wanna sing along with the theme to Batman?  You only need to sing the word “Batman” and you got it!  Neil Hefti, who was a composer and arranger, composed the theme with it’s simple guitar lick and vocal.  It was a hit for Hefti, The Ventures, and the The Marketts.

William Dozier, creator of Batman, also created the Green Hornet.  Even though the show didn’t last long, the theme song is memorable for a few reasons.  First, it is based on the classical piece, The Flight of the Bumblebee.  Second, playing the trumpet on the song is the great Al Hirt!  Classic!  One that you will hum for days.

Who can forget the theme to the Monkees?  “Here we come, walking down the street.  We get the funniest looks from, everyone we meet….”  Hey!  Hey!  They’re the Monkees!  For this show, they gathered 4 guys with little or no musical experience and made them a band.  The show appealed to kids and adults alike.  It was fast paced with quick jokes and 4 lovable characters who featured many of their hit songs on the show.

In the 60’s the guitar played a big part in theme songs.  Think about this, The Munsters theme had such a catchy lick that was sampled for the song Uma Thurman by Fall Out Boy.  It was cool enough to sample for one of today’s hit songs.

One of those great guitar theme songs was to Get Smart.  The opening sequence changed a little from season to season, but it always included Don Adams walking through a corridor with sets of doors one right after another until he finally makes it to the payphone that gets him into CONTROL headquarters.  Love this song and it never fails, if I am ever walking down a long hallway – I will almost always start to hum this song.

I mentioned the Ventures earlier, and they have one of the coolest theme songs – Hawaii 5-0.  It was a huge instrumental hit for the band.  It’s a great balance of guitar and horns.  The use of the tympani drum and the pyramid effect by the horns in this song is masterful!  It’s one of those theme songs you instantly crank up.

The 70’s

Disco was in and some theme songs were just “funky”.  Two examples of this are Barney Miller and it’s spin-off, Fish.  The funky bass in the two theme songs is prominent and sets the tone for the them.  The guitar melodies blend in and make them two themes that you could listen to over and over.  The horns in Barney Miller continue to crescendo to the end of the song itself.  It started slow and funky and ends in such a way that when it’s over you are disappointed cause you want more.

Norman Lear was a staple of 70’s TV.  He created All In The Family, Maude, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, Good Times, and the list of his credits goes on and on.  The Jeffersons was a spin-off of All In The Family.  George Jefferson is “moving on up” to a bigger and better life and that’s where the theme song sets you up.  It tells you the story.  The theme song was written by Ja’net Dubois (of Good Times) and Jeff Berry and sung by Dubois and a gospel choir.  Her vocal is amazing and so is the song.

How do I describe the theme song from What’s Happening!!?  As the show opens, the main characters are running down a sidewalk bouncing a ball.  The music kinda sounds like a ball is bouncing and then the soprano sax jumps in.  It’s odd, but it’s catchy.  It’s also written and composed by one of the most respected men in music – Henry Mancini!

The 70’s introduced us to the superhero Wonder Woman.  I do not know a boy alive who did not have a crush on Lynda Carter.  Much like the Batman theme, this theme repeats the character’s name a few times, but then expands on how wonderful she is.  There is a funky little bass line that drives the song and I can’t really remember much more because I was watching Lynda Carter run ….

Welcome Back, Kotter was the show that introduced us to John Travolta.  It was a comedy about a guy (Gabe Kaplan) who goes back to his old neighborhood to teach.  The show was originally going to be called Kotter.  The title was changed, however, because of the theme song.  It was written and recorded by former lead singer of the Lovin’ Spoonful, John Sebastian.   The song hit the charts and went all the way up to #1.  This song give you the feel of the “folksy” 70’s.

The 80’s

There are so many great theme songs from the 80’s!  Let’s start with Night Court.  Night Court’s theme song throws me back to the 70’s because of that funky bass open.  You also have that soprano sax melody.  It’s not a long theme, and when it’s done, you wish that you could find somewhere an “extended club mix”.

Police Squad only produced 6 episodes and it was cancelled.  It starred Leslie Nielson as Lt. Frank Drebin.  At the time, the network didn’t think that a show like Police Squad would be something an audience would want to watch (so they could catch all the jokes – remember, this was done by the guys who gave us the movie Airplane!).  The theme song was accompanied by a voice over announcer reading the credits.  He would also announce tonight’s guest star (who would always die during the credits) and give the name of the episode (which never matched with the title read on the screen).  Thankfully, when the Naked Gun movies were made, the kept the theme song.

In 1980, Urban Cowboy hit theaters and country music was all the rage.  It only made sense that we’d have a country comedy show on TV.  That show was the Dukes of Hazzard.  Talk about big name singers – Waylon Jennings sings the theme song, and he was also the show’s narrator.  The song was released as a single in August of 1980, and it went to #1 on the Billboard Country Charts!  Yee-haw!

The 90’s

It is here that we begin to see the decline in the use of the TV theme song.  As a matter of fact, it became a habit to edit them down to 10-30 seconds from the already short 60 seconds.  There are some that stand out for me though from this decade.

Tim Allen’s Home Improvement was a show based on his comedy act.  His grunts and vocalizations intermingle through the theme song, almost as if they are a part of the musical score.  The theme song almost sounds like a “work” song, both in sound and in tempo.

Seinfeld was one of those shows who used a theme song for a while, and used it at the end of the show, but often times especially in the show’s later seasons, it was shortened.  The bubbly, poppy, twangy bass, and silly feel will forever be associated with the show about nothing and it’s silly characters.

From the opening guitar of “I’ll Be There for You” by the Rembrandts, you are in New York with Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Joey, Phoebe and Monica.  The theme to the show Friends was an international hit.  It was a song that was requested on radio and used at wedding receptions to introduce bridal parties.  The song is heavily influenced by the Beatles (I Feel Fine) and the Monkees (Pleasant Valley Sunday).  It was originally just one minute long, but the band went in an recorded an extended version, which became a radio hit.

Who could forget It’s Garry Shandling’s Show?  The show, in itself, was silly.  Garry interacts with the cast, but often will interact with the studio audience as well.  It was just so weird.  The theme song is just as weird.  It’s a bouncy song that basically references itself (this is the theme to Garry’s show) and tells you how it came to be (Garry called me up and asked if I would write his theme song) and then asks how you like it (we’re almost halfway finished how do you like it so far?).  The melody is so catchy, you can’t help but want to sing (or whistle) along with it.

Wrapping up

With the TV theme song becoming more and more absent from TV…what are your thoughts?  Which ones did you love growing up?  Which ones do you still sing?  Which ones did you hate?

Now it’s your turn – I look forward to seeing your comments.