Eight Theme Tunes No TV Show Could Live Up To

A television theme tune serves many purposes – it establishes the start of the show, and it stops all the programmes running together and becoming totally incomprehensible. (“Jon Pertwee was battling the Daleks, and now there’s a man reading the news? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON???”).

It also sets the tone for what is about to follow.  Exciting – spooky – newsy – scantily-clad – all these ideas can be conveyed in theme tune form. The theme tune may be on the way out, with shows like Lost and Torchwood abandoning the concept of the title sequence, but a great theme tune can live forever.

But what if the theme tune is… too good? Is it possible for a theme tune to promise something so exciting, so spooky, so newsy or so scantily-clad that the television show simply cannot live up to it?

Yes. Yes, it is.

Following are 8 theme tunes that no show could live up to. It doesn’t mean the shows were bad, it just means the themes promised such excitement, such drama that the shows were – perhaps – found lacking.

Survivors

Survivors followed the few people left alive after a pandemic wipes out most of the world’s population, and it ran for three seasons from 1975 – 1977. It was created by Terry Nation, who also created the Daleks, and as we mentioned a few weeks ago it’s coming back in remake form. Unlike some of the other shows on this list, Survivors was actually pretty good. There was just no way it could live up to the theme tune by Anthony Isaac – both ominous and epic, it was married to a superb credit sequence showing a scientist accidentally unleashing a killer virus on the world. Oh scientists, when will you learn?

Isaac also wrote the theme to The Omega Factor, a proto-X Files series that hasn’t aged so well.

Lost In Space

Running for three seasons from 1965, Lost In Space took the idea of the Swiss Family Robinson and put it into space. And that’s all. There was also a robot, and a dodgy man who was often left alone with the smallest child (who was played by Billy Mummy, a legal requirement for all shows at that time). The theme tune for the first two seasons was pretty unmemorable, but for the third (and final) season it was replaced with something much catchier. This up-tempo and very exciting theme promised adventure and action – the show gave us a bunch of forgettable characters and a chimpanzee in a fur hat. Both theme tunes were written by John Williams, who would later write the music for Star Wars over and over again.

Hart To Hart

When I asked around for opinions on themes to include, it became obvious there are really only two genres of television affected by Far Too Promising Theme Syndrome – science fiction and action. This may be that it’s not possible to write a drama theme that promises “too much drama” – with the possible exception of Dallas.

While the science fiction themes often promise eerie worlds not achievable on a limited budget, the action themes promise more action than would be humanly possible. A excellent example of this is the theme to Hart To Hart. Running from 1979 to 1984, it starred Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers as a couple who – well, this is how Max puts it in the opening credits: “This is my boss, Jonathan Hart, a self-made millionaire, he’s quite a guy. This is Mrs H, she’s gorgeous, she’s one lady who knows how to take care of herself. By the way my name is Max. I take care of both of them, which ain’t easy ’cause when they met it was MURDER!”

Wah-wah guitar, sweeping strings, disco-stylings – Mark Snow‘s theme promises there’ll be either a hovercraft chase or a sexy party – if we’re lucky, maybe both. And yes, that is the same Mark Snow who later did the music for the X Files.

Space: 1999

Remember back in 1999 when the moon was blown out of orbit? It was big news for a while, but then East 17 split up and took all the media attention… Space: 1999 was a Gerry Anderson production, a man known for his puppet shows including Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90, and the live action series UFO. All of those were composed by Barry Gray, who produced stellar work for Anderson across his many film and television productions. Space: 1999 ran from 1975 to 1977, and while it has a certain insane charm, it certainly doesn’t match the glory of Gray‘s music. Impressively, this theme manages to do both epic AND action, although not at the same time.

UFO

See above. Although this one has kinkier outfits. 1970 – 1971.

Chopper Squad

Hurrah! An Aussie theme! As mentioned above, it’s hard to say “this show has more horses than you’d expect” or “look at all the mundane suburban drama”, so it’s not surprising there are no Australian themes that promise more than they deliver. Except Chopper Squad. Following the adventures of a helicopter rescue team in Sydney, 26 episodes were produced for Channel 0 in 1978/79. The theme was by Mike Perjanik who also wrote the themes for A Country Practice, Kingswood Country and Hey Dad. Here his music promises endless action and topless ladies, while the show actually delivers wooden acting and – surprisingly – Jeannie Drynan. So it’s not all bad.

The Tomorrow People

A truly brilliant theme to a truly awful programme. The original series ran from 1973 to 1979, a re-imagined version from 1992 to 1995, and Big Finishproduced an audio series from 2001 to 2007. According to wikipedia, “all three incarnations have been cancelled mid-season”. The Tomorrow People DVD commentaries are the only place you will hear people enviously complaining that they didn’t have the extravagant budgets of Doctor Who, which gives you some idea of the production standards. The theme is by Australian-born Dudley Simpson, who also wrote most of the music for Tom Baker‘s reign in Doctor Who. He also wrote:

Blake’s 7

The most suggested theme on this list, the Blake’s 7 theme is truly fab. And the show is full of good ideas, it’s just some of the execution is… a bit… well… still, it’s a nice theme. Actually the first season is pretty great, but by the fourth (and last) season in 1981 things had gone a bit wrong. The theme is by Dudley Simpsonagain, and the show was conceived by Terry Nation.

To finish, what would you get if you took the science fiction theme and the action theme and somehow put them together? What sort of transcendent brilliance would you create? The Outland Institute’s best scientists have been working day and night in the audio laboratories, and have assured me the world’s most exciting theme would go something like this:

Hmmm. Back to the drawing board….

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12 Responses to Eight Theme Tunes No TV Show Could Live Up To

  1. Narrelle says:

    What is with Elizabeth Sladen’s hair in that promo? Didn’t the budget stretch to a hairdresser?

    Re Blake’s 7 – I only have the first season on DVD, but it’s one of the few instances when the menu music is really really good when you have the disk in but haven’t selected an episode yet. It’s a really quiet, haunting arrangement of the theme which is beautiful and subliminal, and segues neatly into its loop so you don’t really notice when it starts and finishes. It doesn’t have you starting an ep and then pausing it just to escape from the hideousness of the menu music, and actually it shows it up as a well written piece of music.

  2. Janet says:

    I used to watch ‘Chopper Squad’ because Dennis Grosvenor (of Clayton’s fame) was in it. He’d been in the tail end of ‘Homicide’ and in a moment of madness I thought he was cute. ‘Chopper Squad’ cured me of that. I was young, what can I say?

  3. outlandinstitute says:

    I should also mention the Magnum P.I. theme, which fits under the same general description of Hart To Hart in it’s incredibly exciting actionness. Also, Hawaii 5 0 would have been on the list, as it’s one of the most exciting tunes ever, except the actual version from the show itself is a bit lacklustre. Perhaps it was being performed by Leslie McBlande and the Bored Session Players Orchestra.

    https://outlandinstitute.wordpress.com/2008/09/11/artistic-shorthand/

    And Mission: Impossible obviously has one of the best themes in the world, yet I think most episodes involved Martin Landau and Barbara Bain standing around looking confused. A bit like Space: 1999.

  4. Dan Cardone says:

    This is quite possibly the most brilliant entry you have ever done. Of course, I say that now, but who knows what tomorrow might bring?

    I think the earlier theme for Lost In Space was just as good, although it has much less go-go girl potential that the one you have here. And I’d forgotten just how brilliant Space 1999 was. I love a good bit of abstract Barbara Bain.

    Strangely, I lived though both 1999 and the 1980 as depicted in UFO and i really don’t remember either year quite like they appear here – except for the string vests.

    I think another column could be ‘Theme Songs That Are Depressingly Indicative of the Show They Represent”… Any suggestions?

  5. Dan Cardone says:

    My first suggestion is ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century’. ARGH!

  6. Sam says:

    What a hoot – I’m so glad I missed K-9 and Friends… but for me nothing goes past The Avengers theme… preferably with Dianna Rigg, it really is the only way to open champagne

    here’s a link:

  7. Narrelle says:

    Barbara Bain! Good Lord!! Tim and I used to cry with laughter at the title sequence, when everyone turned to face the camera for a posed shot when their name came up, except Ms Bain, who kind of swivelled, like someone out of shot was pivoting her action-figure stand. How good was that? Such a wooden actor, she actually had to be pivoted BY SOMEONE ELSE cos she couldn’t convincingly turn to face the camera.

  8. Dan Cardone says:

    This quote was used once in regard to Rachael Ward, but I think it could also apply to Barbara Bain; “I don’t think she could believably scream for water if her hair was on fire”.

  9. Narrelle says:

    *weeps with laughter*

  10. outlandinstitute says:

    Anne-Marie suggested “The Good Life” as a theme for this article, but after listening to it again I realised it fits Dan’s ‘Theme Songs That Are Depressingly Indicative of the Show They Represent”…

    And I was talking about the Barbara Bain swivel only last night on Boxcutters!

    http://boxcutters.net/blog/2008/09/23/ep-150-futurama-fringe-again-is-television-any-better/

  11. Dan Cardone says:

    A favorite element of title sequences is when they edit together exciting scenes from the series in a montage that will hopefully prevent the viewer from switching over to the weather channel. The Hart to Hart opening is a brilliant and often mystifying example of this. Yes, we have car chases, explosions, trap doors, skiing and parachuting…but we also have a song and dance number, a dog with jewelry in its mouth, a parrot, much hair-tossing and a mirror with some lights turning on.

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