Cue theme music: Earle Hagen
About a month back, I immersed myself in the 1960s espionage show I Spy, which was coming out on DVD, for a crazy, wonderful interview with Robert Culp. For an entire week, I roamed the halls of TOC quietly humming the I Spy theme music. Catchy as all get-out.
Little did I realize that Earle Hagen, the man behind that theme, basically shaped my entire childhood with his catchy (some would say annoyingly so) theme music for television shows. Hagen, who died yesterday at the age of 88, wrote that whistle-happy Andy Griffith Show theme, the Mod Squad theme, and the wheep-boom that cued Dick Van Dyke stumbling over (or, in later seasons, neatly avoiding) the ottoman in the Petrie living room on Bonnie Meadow Road (Did I mention I watched a lot of The Dick Van Dyke Show as a kid?)
Hagen had a knack for a very specific art form; the TV theme of old had to be catchy, but also shorter than most pop songs. In and out in under a minute, defining the mood of the show. The last decade has seen a sharp decline in the TV theme song—now the credits flash under action to save precious advertising-sellable seconds. But even now, there's an occasional theme song, which counts almost as a mark of rebellion. My favorite of the last year or two is probably 30 Rock, written by Jeff Richmond (who is also, interestingly, Tina Fey's husband). Hagen probably appreciated that theme's succinct, breezy quality, but also the orchestration, which feels like a nod to the days of arrangers like Nelson Riddle.
If you're in the mood to sample a little Hagen, you can find them at televisiontunes.com (thanks to Movie City News for ruining my productivity today by posting a link to this addictive site. Sorry, boss, I was too busy listening to the That Girl theme to write those reviews…). But stand forewarned: you're going to be humming one of them all day.