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 Posted:   Dec 15, 2000 - 4:11 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

There is much to be said about soap operas, but one thing is certain: only the news as genre can match it in terms of paradigmatic complexity (the different codes at play).Ferdinand de Saussure, the famous semiologist, separated between LANGUE and PAROLE. Simply put, langue referred to the overarching linguistic system that we use every day subconsciously - the system of distinctive features that form the difference between, say, "cat" and "hat". Parole is the lexical, direct statement that we use in colloquial speech, the physical expression. Is it possible to say something about the langue by only studying the parole? I think it is, particularly if the langue of the text is built up by strict, well-organized rules (as is the case with soap operas, of course).

That's why I think it is possible to say something about, in my case, the famous DYNASTY soap as a whole by studying the intricately detailed and polysemic title sequence. I'll leave the discussion of the visuals and organization of visuals in the title sequence for now (of which there is much to be said), and move on to one of most important aspects of the TV title rhetorics - the music.

Bill Conti's indelible DYNASTY theme was not just a classy tune that opened the weekly show. It was an incredible example of effective rhetorics in film music. The title sequence was actually made to fit the music. Let's look at it in more detail:

It is a very simple and highly conventional tune structured in three parts: first a main melody or theme, then a contrasting middle section and finally a repeat of the main theme. Conti's piece is thus formed not so much as an overture to a (soap) opera, but rather as a sonata (home-away-home again). This is a very narrative approach.

The simplicity of the tune is very conscious in order to make this narrative "understandable" to western audiences: The main theme, particulalrly the first two bars, is constructed on quart-, quint- and octave intervals characteristic of military fanfares and royal rituals. This carries connotations to glorified power, both royal and military. The brass tone of a trumpet carries similar connotations.

The key is also relevant: It is in C major, which is "among the brightest and most extrovert of the major keys" (Bjørkvold 1988:66). This emphasizes yet again that the show is about the glorification and celebration of power and wealth. The contrasting middle part consists of rapid sequences by a solo cornet, which clearly imitates baroque style. It contains some chords in minor key, adding melancholy to the lot and making this section stand out as more "mundane" than the rest. The main theme is also safely molded in the late romantic style of Hollywood films, connoting DYNASTY as a sort of "epic", involving characters and events loaded with symbolic, cultural significance.

Now, how does the music "work" in relation to the visuals? The visuals are fit to the music within a split second (the upward swirl is accompanied by a tilt up the Carrington skyscraper etc.) and is thus the narrator of the sequence. The upward swirl connotes a sort of "climbing up the social ladder". Its fanfaric tone tells us that Blake Carrington and Krystle are among the main characters. The second, "mundane" part emphasizes the lesser importance of those characters while the final repeat of the fanfare pops up when Alexis is shown. The piece ends on a superhigh, clear C accompanied by an extreme bird's eye view of the Carrington mansion.

To sum up then, "[the music provided] formal coherence, a degree of semantic clarification, and narrative progress and closure to the quite disparate, poetic visual "montage", attempting to set or guide the overall mood of the viewing experience" (Gripsrud 1995).

Well, there it is. I think I'll agree with Jeff Bond in that this type of narrative TV theme is a dying breed (the preposterous STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION title sequence belongs to the exceptions, of course), and that this was a thing of the past. That is unfortunate. These days, it seems that the TV theme works as nothing more than a brief, 15 second musical appetizer of the show that has no relation to the contents whatsoever. Answering to visually hardened and more impatient audiences, it seems like it goes the way of the film overture...Anyway, do you know of any other TV themes - past or present - that work like the above? If so, which, why and how?

-------

Source: Jostein Gripsrud: "The Dynasty Years" (1995)

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 15, 2000 - 7:47 AM   
 By:   Spacehunter   (Member)

Well, I'm not sure if it works the way your described, but Louis Febre's theme for the TV show http://www.angelfire.com/tv/laheat/multimedia/downloads.html" TARGET=_blank>L.A. HEAT is similar in that it has three sections: it starts with a saxophone stating the main theme, then has a middle section with what is probably synths, then finishes with a repeat of the them on saxophone.

And unlike just about all the other shows I'm familiar with, L.A. HEAT actually used it's title theme in almost every single episode of the show's 48 episode-run. Hell, the various composers even did variations on it. There's one episode where the theme is performed on what sounds like a pan flute.

I feel that if you're going to have a theme (meaning an actual developed piece of music and not just a 7 second guitar riff for the title of the show), you should use it more than once. Obviously, don't over-do it, but at least make use of it occasionally. So naturally, I'm quite pleased with the new FUGITIVE, which features the main theme not just in the ultra-cool opening title sequence, but in the actual episodes, too. Not surprisingly, THE FUGITIVE is also scored by Febre. Perhaps he understands the "creative value" (I guess you could say) of actually using the show's main theme within the episodes.
[This message has been edited by Spacehunter (edited 15 December 2000).]

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 15, 2000 - 9:39 AM   
 By:   Spacehunter   (Member)

Well, imagine my surprise tonight while watching NASH BRIDGES. Towards the end of the show, composer Ray Bunch ended a scene between Don Johnson and Cheech Marin with a quiet statement of his new theme for the show. Could this be the beginning of a new trend, Mr. Bunch?

(Tonight's episode also had a bit of a SHAFT-feel to the music in several scenes. Bunch has also worked on numerous episodes of QUANTUM LEAP and BRISCO COUNTY, JR., incase no one recognizes the name).
[This message has been edited by Spacehunter (edited 15 December 2000).]

 
 Posted:   Dec 16, 2000 - 1:20 AM   
 By:   ZapBrannigan   (Member)

Although I never watched Dynasty, I'll always remember the theme music. It was wafting into my father's hospital room, from somewhere, the night he died. That was 18 years ago. And I enjoyed the objective description. If it weren't already on my CD rack (Television's Greatest Hits, 70s and 80s), I'd pop over to Napster and get Dynasty now.

Picket Fences had a terrific title sequence. An introductory piano part covers some establishing shots of small town America. Then the main melody is played and the top-billed stars are seen. Then comes a middle section, more serious sounding. The visuals here introduce certain characters who seem to be differently painted by this section of music. Then the main melody resumes and concludes as better-admired supporting characters are shown.

Year One of Space 1999 by Barry Gray comes to mind. It had a middle section in its title music to show that Professor Bergman (Barry Morse) was an older, more serious character than the others. There was also a shot of an Eagle spacecraft falling to a crash, accompanied by a sharply descending violin figure.

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (by Jay Gruska) was enormously discriptive, with victorious brass marching along and the same kind of upward swirls that Thor mentioned regarding Dynasty.

NYPD Blue's title sequence matches up some of its visuals to the music, especially as the Chinese fireworks explode at the end.

The Six Million Dollar Man went so far as to run some film backward in its titles, so that it would compliment the music. The final shot of Steve running in slow motion toward the camera is played in reverse, so that the sudden flare of sunlight on the lens will coincide with the theme's final crescendo. I like the way they did that.

 
 Posted:   Dec 16, 2000 - 11:01 PM   
 By:   ZapBrannigan   (Member)

Thor, you never explained what was preposterous about Star Trek The Next Generation's main title.

It begins with the famous narration over gentle strains of Courage's fanfare, and then blasts into the Goldsmith victory march. It worked for me.

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 16, 2000 - 11:05 PM   
 By:   Spacehunter   (Member)

Me, too. I love it.

np THE NET (first time listening to it, so there's no rating at the moment, but so far so good)

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 16, 2000 - 11:41 PM   
 By:   H. Rocco   (Member)

DYNASTY was a wonderful theme ... I was disappointed when the cast got larger and Conti (or someone else?) had to rearrange the theme into something a bit less wieldy.

Remember Conti's FALCON CREST?

For my money, Goldsmith's STAR TREK: VOYAGER is the best TV theme of the past several years, although some interesting work continues to be done, e.g. Hans Zimmer's HIGH INCIDENT.

This is as good a time as any to mention ONCE AGAIN one of my favorite ignored TV themes, Mike Post's beautiful BAY CITY BLUES (1983, I think.)

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 18, 2000 - 6:08 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

Thanks for all the theme mentions, everyone. Let's dig up some more.

Zap:

I'm sorry for the misunderstanding. Of course I love the ST:TNG title sequence. When I said it was preposterous, I meant that in a positive sense, i.e. breaking "preposterously" with the current norm: the brief, function-less opening "riff" that starts most shows.

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 23, 2000 - 5:09 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

I did not spend more than an hour on research and writing just to have this thread dwindle away like this!

COME ON!...let's do a little analyzin':

1) Pick you favourite TV theme
2) Tell me why you think it's so great
3) How does it work in relation to the visuals?
4) How does it work in relation to the series overall?

Easy, no?

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 23, 2000 - 5:39 AM   
 By:   lars b   (Member)

1) Knight Rider
2) Well, it's very catchy
3) It's just perfect for opening credits.
4) The techno rhythm just tells you that car is full of technical wizardry.

Close second : 'Cagney and Lacey'

 
 Posted:   Dec 23, 2000 - 9:59 AM   
 By:   ZapBrannigan   (Member)

"Jack Of All Trades," from the same New Zealanders who made Hercules and Xena, has a rousing, march-like drinking song for a main title.

Almost every line of the song lyric, which is sung by a lusty, enthusiastic male chorus, has been carefully matched to an action shot. The remainder are matched to costumed dancers who lip-sync and do some well-choreographed carousing in a pub.

An example: when they sing "...sailing 'round the bloody world to defend democracy" the picture cuts from a sailing ship to a shot of Jack saluting, right at the word "defend."

The title sequence generates excitement and a sense of fun. It portrays the charisma, friendship, and daring of the two principals. It's irresistable.

 
 Posted:   Dec 23, 2000 - 9:21 AM   
 By:   meegle   (Member)

Well I always liked the DYNASTY theme BUT what do u think about the theme to THE COLBYS? I love THAT theme. Even though I expect Christopher Reeve to come flying.

On another thread here I posted the pics of a homemade compilation of TV Themes I made called "REMEMBER T.V.?" Here are the track titles...

1. I Dream of Jeannie (first)
2. I Dream of Jeannie (second)
3. Have Gun Will Travel
4. Petticoat Junction
5. The Green Hornet
6. The Six Million Dollar Man
7. The Bionic Woman
8. Shazam
9. The Mighty Isis
10. ElectraWoman and DynaGirl
11. Lidsville
12. Land of the Lost
13. The Electric Company
14. PBS theme
15. The Benny Hill Show
16. The Mod Squad
17. The Rockford Files
18. Barnaby Jones
19. The Streets of San Francisco
20. Police Woman
21. Battlestar Galactica
22. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
23. Space: 1999
24. U.F.O.
25. Stingray
26. The Prisoner
27. Logan’s Run the series
28. Planet of the Apes the series
29. The Magician
30. Misfits of Science
31. Remington Steele
32. Streethawk
33. Automan
34. Square Pegs
35. The Dukes of Hazzard
36. The Equalizer
37. Pee Wee’s Playhouse
38. Police Squad
39. Moonlighting
40. Falcon Crest
41. The Colbys
42. Fantasy Island
43. Fantasy Island ‘99
44. Mission Impossible ‘88
45. HBO Feature Presentation
46. Violent Content Warning
47. Tales From the Crypt
48. Amazing Stories
49. The Outer Limits
50. The Outer Limits ‘96
51. The New Twilight Zone
52. Tales From the Darkside
53. The Flash
54. Lois and Clark
55. The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
56. Acapulco Heat
57. Teletubbies
58. Mystery Science Theater 3000
59. The Drew Carey Show
60. That 70’s Show
61. Malcolm in the Middle
62. Freaks and Geeks
63. Action
64. Sex and the City
65. Survivor
66. Babylon 5
67. X-Files
68. Millennium
69. Stargate SG:1
70. seaQuest
71. Star Trek: Voyager
[This message has been edited by meegle (edited 23 December 2000).]

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 24, 2000 - 9:21 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

That's a fine list of TV themes, meegle, but do you have a favourite among those? If so, why? And how does it work in relation to the visuals/series?

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 2, 2001 - 12:25 AM   
 By:   Spacehunter   (Member)

Well, I'm not sure how the music fits with the visuals, but the theme for the classic FUGITIVE series is similar to how you describe the structure of the DYNASTY theme. It opens with a statement of the main theme, then has a middle section performed by what I think is a violin, and then finished with a second statement of the main theme that wraps up with a nice little finish.

Also, the theme for the new FUGITIVE series is much similar. It opens with a brass statement of the theme, features a middle section, violin-statement of a secondary theme (the theme heard in the track "It's Over" on the score for the feature film), and wraps up with a final statement (and slight variation) on the main theme. Oddly enough, this show (and theme) is scored by Louis Febre, who did the same "three-structure theme" for his L.A. HEAT theme. This guy is a genius (and a helluva nice guy as well.)
[This message has been edited by Spacehunter (edited 02 January 2001).]

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 3, 2001 - 10:37 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

I'm sure you're right, Spacehunter, in that many TV themes follow that structure. It's a very common musical structure, of course (sonata).

Only occasionally, though, does that musical structure have something to say in relation to the visuals (the middle part of DYNASTY musically connoting the mundane character of the semi-protagonists etc.).

And now that you've mentioned it, Spacehunter, I'm very curious if someone (Marcelo?) could tell me how the FUGITIVE theme worked in relation the visuals?

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 2, 2001 - 11:11 PM   
 By:   Spacehunter   (Member)

Yeah, he seems to love the original.

I do know that the theme for the new FUGITIVE works pretty good with the visuals. During the opening and closing statements of the theme there are visuals with action, but the middle section with the violins underscores images of Dr. Kimble walking on desolate stretches of road and images of his wife, and the music here really helps to accentuate those visuals.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 3, 2001 - 1:34 AM   
 By:   Stephen Lister   (Member)

Some themes that spring to mind that I like a helluva lot:

ANGEL. This one's deceptively simple - in fact when I first saw the opening sequence I didn't really think much of it - but it's grown on me. Atmospheric, plaintive violin accompanies the opening shots of lost and vulnerable people - and then - bang, Angel comes through the window, all fanged-up, and the theme really kicks in with a heavy rock beat, taking over from the lone violin in a way that always raises the hairs on the back of my neck. Simple, predictable even, but the pro-vigilante anthem gets me going just as effectively as the almost identical opening to THE EQUALIZER. It transforms nicely into what sounds like a bridging sequence (faint, half-imagined female voice) but then ends abruptly instead - too damn short, is my only complaint.

BEARCATS. One for the oldies among us. I can't remember exactly what was going on in the title sequence, but when I tell you this was a quasi-western series about two guys doing heroic deeds in a Stutz Bearcats automobile, which they sometimes rode tire-less along railroad tracks - you can imagine what the title sequence looked like. Galvanising this opening with a fabulous, rousing, pumped-up theme that started like it meant to go on - fast - John Andrew Tartaglia wrote, in my opinion, a tragically forgotten and neglected classic. I would pay dearly to have a recording of this - it's really superb. It seemed to promise unashamedly manly thrills and spectacular high adventure - which the series itself perhaps failed to deliver. It starred the great Rod Taylor as the older of the men, and Dennis Cole as his young sidekick. Anyone remember this?

THE PERSUADERS. I'm almost tempted to say "Nuff said" about this one, because anyone familiar with it will know why I'm mentioning it. John Barry's truly amazing theme accompanies a well-structured opening that recaps the two main characters' lives - Tony Curtis' rags-to-riches jetsetter and Roger Moore's silver-spoon aristocrat - and then, as the two heroes' fates intersect and the phrase "buddy-buddy" leaps into the mind, Barry deepens an already compelling theme, adds an extra percussive beat under it all, and gives the powerful impression the show you are about to see will blow your socks off. Which it doesn't - quite. The really strange thing about this theme is how incongruous it actually is - dark and faintly ominous, for a show that was light and frothy. However, it works perfectly, and if there was a top ten list of all-time classic TV themes, this would have to be on it.

 
 
 Posted:   Jun 7, 2001 - 6:34 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

Something occured to me the other day.

A TV theme that does absolutely NOTHING to support or complement the visuals is Evan Chen's theme for the BABYLON 5 spin-off series CRUSADE (defunct after 13 episodes, I believe?).

A vibrant visual montage of exploding spaceships, swirling cameras, rapid rides is interspersed with some poetic dialogue. A narrator asks "who are you?", "what do you want?" and the captain of Excalibur replies. On the question of "who do you trust?", there is no verbal answer but rather a visual listing of the protagonists.

This is a nice opening.

And since there are no sound effects, the music is meant to carry the scene. Too bad, then, that Chen ruins it. He starts off with a few, barely audible, electronic "plings" and the rest of the "theme" is simply a mish-mash of synth effects. No musical structure in and of itself, and certainly not structured to fit the onscreen editing, mood, action etc.
[This message has been edited by Thor (edited 07 June 2001).]

 
 
 Posted:   Jun 7, 2001 - 8:05 AM   
 By:   Spacehunter   (Member)

I never did get to see CRUSADE, but I believe it was always intended to run with just a certain amount of episodes. It was more of a mini-series than an actual season-long series run.

 
 
 Posted:   Jun 7, 2001 - 10:37 AM   
 By:   imagin8r   (Member)

j. goldsmith's "the man from u.n.c.l.e."...the long first season version which unfortunately had some narration during the first part.

...and from all indications, "crusade" was intended to be a long-runnning series, but not quite as story-arc driven as babylon 5.

 
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