Television Theme Tunes: A Lost Art (My Top 20 TV Themes)

Television theme music seems to be becoming a thing of the past, which is a shame.

Many shows – like Breaking Bad, Grey’s Anatomy and Castle to name but three – are skipping the traditional TV themes altogether now, with a mere 2 or 3 second jingle 10 minutes into the show to signify the ‘Opening Credits’.

There are loads of other shows that still use a ‘theme’ but just borrow a section of an independently released song from a mainstream band and call it their own.

Of course, there are exceptions to that, but on the whole, it would seem the more recognisable theme tunes – the ones you wouldn’t mind adding to your MP3 playlist – are from a by-gone age.

Excluding shows with good themes that have borrowed songs from elsewhere – shows like One Tree Hill, Community or How I Met Your Mother to name but three – here are 20 of my favourite TV themes. It was going to be 10 but I couldn’t whittle it down, so decided to round up instead.

Dr Who

The only question you might ask here is ‘Which Dr Who theme’, but for me, there can be only one. The one most commonly associated with the 5th Doctor is the best version by a mile, and should still be the theme to this day.

He Man & The Masters of the Universe

I love the He-Man theme, but the theme itself is a lot better than the opening credits, which spend a bit too much time telling the story.

Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads

I actually bought the DVD of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads on the strength of loving the song. Lucky it turned out to be an astute buy.

Dexter

The only theme from a show that is on TV today, I wind up my brother by making him sit through the entire opening credits whenever we watch a new episode.

Going For Gold

Would you believe this was written by acclaimed composer Hans Zimmer? Of course you would, because it’s fantastic. I’d love a CD quality version of this theme if anyone could tell me where to get it. I know it exists because it was played in a pub one night, and it has been one of life’s ‘side-quests’ for me to find it ever since.

Miss Marple

I’ve never seen Miss Marple, but there are two different themes from two different eras; both the polar opposite of each other and both brilliant.

The West Wing

It suits the show brilliantly and most episodes had a fantastic build up to the intro.

Sportscene (1985)

Have you heard what rubbish they play as the theme to Sportscene on BBC these days? THIS is a proper football theme.

The Family Ness (opening and closing themes)

I’d like to think someone will be skimming through this article and suddenly think ‘Shit…there’s full single versions of the opening and closing credits to Family Ness?!’. You’d have to be Scottish and roughly 30 years old to appreciate it I think.

Howard’s Way

I’ve always liked this theme, even though it came from one of the most boring shows ever made.

Knightmare

Who doesn’t love the Knightmare theme?

Bertha

Just like the Family Ness theme, I was amazed to find the BBC actually released this as a single in the 80s.

Henry’s Cat

It’s not an amazing song but it’ll give you a chuckle.

But who was Henry?

Alvin & The Chipmunks

Anyone from my year at school reading this will get a laugh from it. They know why…

Around The World With Willy Fogg 

On Youtube, you only seem to get adverts on videos that get viewed a lot. The Willy Fogg theme is the only one I’ve come across that gets that many views. But I’m sure if you grew up in the 80s you’ll know it and love it.

UK Rampage

When I said that TV shows these days have a tendency to use already available songs as their theme tunes, WWE is a classic example. Back in the day, their TV shows and individual wrestler’s themes were so so much better and had more character because they were suited to the person or occasion.

I don’t know why such a basic tune is so catchy to me; it just is.

New Girl

It’s nice to see, despite TV Theme tunes being a lost art, that a show can still come along with one that I want to listen to.

And it’s specifically made for the show too!

Happy Days

Another US theme. Happy Days is another show I wouldn’t watch now if you paid me, but nobody can argue it’s a catchy tune.

Muppet Babies

One thing about this tune. The lyric is supposed to be “I like adventure, I like romance, I love great jokes, Animal Dance” but that is not what is said. Listen to it; it sounds more like “And I’m on fire” rather than “Animal Dance”

Supergran

I couldn’t find a youtube video of the CD quality version of this song, but let me tell you this. If you are driving a bunch of people home from a meal where the beer and wine has been flowing and this song comes onto the stereo, they’ll sing it. And they’ll sing it loud. And demand the windows go down so passers-by can hear them.

Class.

Worst TV Theme?

All of themes above are great for their own reasons, but what’s the worst?

Well there are so many, but in terms of it being something I just can’t watch or listen to because it’s so offensive to my senses – even if it works within the context of the show – I’ll have to say Homeland.

Why no video? Well nobody likes it enough to upload it onto Youtube.

And that says a lot if you ask me…

Additional….

Of course, TV themes are important because they set the tone for what you’re about to watch. Here’s a classic example of that from the opening credits of Diffrent Strokes

Here’s the original version

As you can see it’s a happy looking show about a bloke who has adopted two kids.

Now watch this…

…and shudder as you watch the intro to a TV show about child abduction and possible murder.

Agree or Disagree?

So those are my favourites, but what are yours if they aren’t on this list? Let me know, either my leaving a comment or tweeting me @SGMilne

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7 Responses to Television Theme Tunes: A Lost Art (My Top 20 TV Themes)

  1. I have always found something nightmarishly disturbing about the frozen lion head child Carrie on the Homeland opening.

  2. Woodg says:

    You missed all the good ones! The Rockford Files, Hawaii Five-0, Hill Street Blues (never watched the programme, listened to theme tune, then turned it over), Quincy, Cagney and Lacey, The Waltons, Grange Hill, Starsky and Hutch, The A-Team, Magnum P.I.

  3. Eugene says:

    So much to discuss here, but for the time being thanks for the Happy Days theme. Whilst the show is retrospectively a pile of shit, the theme is wonderful.

  4. […] Television Theme Tunes – A Lost Art (My Top 20 TV Themes) Things That Annoy Me In TV & Film – Part One Things That Annoy Me In TV & Film – Part Two Things That Annoy Me In TV & Film – Part Three Things That Annoy Me In TV & Film – Part Four Things That Annoy Me In TV & Film – Part Five Things That Annoy Me In TV & Film – Part Six Things That Don’t Make Sense About Zombie Apocalypses  […]

  5. […] Last year I also did one on TV Theme tunes, which you can read here […]

  6. “I’d like to think someone will be skimming through this article and suddenly think ‘Shit…there’s full single versions of the opening and closing credits to Family Ness?!’.”

    My very thoughts exactly! You included some corkers in here – Bertha, Around the World With Willy Fog, Going for Gold. I, too, must find these singles.

  7. […] love a good TV Theme Tune and have even written an article on my Top 20 (which you can read here) but I must go on record and say I absolutely hate the theme to this […]

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