News from the Archive

TV Tunes: Some Thoughts on the Theme Song

September 30th, 2016
It's Garry Shandling's Show

Television theme songs, at their best, trigger an almost Pavlovian response in the viewer. After seven years, when one heard, “Woke up this morning…” one became instantly primed for the superb writing, fine acting, and sometimes horrifying violence of The Sopranos. The jaunty I Love Lucy theme always got us ready for black & white hijinks and laughs. The serious, hard-hitting theme of The McLaughlin Group meant it was time to open your ears and mind for intelligent talk and opinions.

There are several different types of theme songs. There’s the instrumental with a sweeping orchestra like Dynasty or The Simpsons. These kinds of theme songs get the audience ready for the show by duplicating the mood the series is going for. These instrumentals are sometimes huge hits, like the quieter Hill Street Blues theme, or the theme from Peter Gunn. An unusual example was the Taxi theme song. The show Taxi was uproariously funny, at times, but also had its moments of melancholy. Their theme song, originally written for the classic season 1 episode “Blind Date” and known as “Angela’s Theme,” focused on the melancholy. 

In another type of theme song, the lyrics spell out the theme of the show, or hint at the storyline without getting too specific. These are your Welcome Back, Kotters or your Laverne & Shirleys. These songs can also become big hits, as in the case of “Believe it or Not” from Greatest American Hero or “Everybody Knows Your Name” from Cheers. It was very common in the ‘70s and early ‘80s for some of these songs to get massive radio play. And, before watching a second of the show, you’d get a pretty good idea of what it’s about. A great example (which actually reached number 1 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart) was Charles Fox’s theme to the short-lived Donna Pescow vehicle Angie. Sung by Maureen McGovern, the song was arguably better than the series! Mr. Fox gave us the thrill of a lifetime when he played a bit of it for us during his interview.

NOW, to get to my favorite - it’s a long, lost art- the theme song that tells the specific story and premise of the show. This would mean that any first time viewer could be caught up instantly no matter which episode they see, because in those days nothing of lasting consequence ever happened during the run of a typical sitcom. The classic examples are The Beverly Hillbillies, The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, and my favorite obscure one, The Pruitts of Southampton, starring Miss Phyllis Diller. Then there was the Chico and the Man theme. It was such a big hit for Jose Feliciano that they actually had him sing it on the show, directly to the characters it was about!  

My personal favorite theme song of all time defies characterization, as it is unique. The theme to It’s Garry Shandling’s Show was a meta-commentary on the nature of the theme song itself. Complete with a Randy Newman-style “whistle break,” this was truly the theme song to end all theme songs.

Today, while the television theme song with any kind of lyrics is sadly disappearing, the instrumental theme song is growing strong. The ‘80s, synth theme to Netflix’s Stranger Things is absolute perfection. When you hear it, it puts you squarely back in 1983 reading a Stephen King novel. The Game of Thrones theme makes one want to hop up on the couch and hoist a sword of Valyrian Steel in the air. Ok, maybe that’s just me, but it’s still a great one!

We’re particularly proud of our vast collection of interviews with the great composers of television. In addition to Charles Fox, we have Mike Post, Vic Mizzy, Mark Snow, and Alf Clausen. To hear from them and others about your favorite television theme song, search the collection!

- by John Dalton

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Remembering Agnes Nixon

September 28th, 2016
blog post image

We're sad to hear that soap opera creator Agnes Nixon passed away this morning at the age of 88. Nixon started in soaps shortly after graduating college when she was hired by the legendary Irna Phillips to write for Woman in White. She then moved to New York and wrote for anthology dramas Robert Montgomery Presents and Hallmark Hall of Fame as well as for the early soap Search for Tomorrow. She worked for Phillips on Guiding Lightco-created As the World Turns with Phillips and Ted Corday, and also created the soap operas All My Children, One Life to Live, and Loving

Below is an excerpt from her 1997 Archive interview on creating One Life to Live:

Watch Agnes Nixon's full Archive interview and read her obituary in Deadline.

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Felicity Huffman And William H. Macy Prove Love And A Whole Lot of Talent Are Alive And Well In Hollywood

September 27th, 2016
Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy

They're a celebrity couple, but I got the sense that they're way more couple than "celebrity." They’re down to earth, extremely skilled at their craft, and delightfully warm towards each other. I not only got to witness what a loving relationship looks like when I recently sat down with Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy, I also had the pleasure of listening to incredibly eloquent responses about getting big breaks, creating characters, and prepping for roles. 

First up was Felicity, who, unbeknownst to me, gave me bunny ears while she hugged me as I sat next to her to do the on-camera slate. (That's a helluva start to an interview, in my experience. LOVE!) We chatted about David Mamet, working in theater, Sports Night, Frasier, Desperate Housewives, and her latest show, ABC’s American Crime, to name just a few of the topics covered. Here’s a snippet of how she got cast in one of her most popular roles, that of "Lynette Scavo" on Desperate Housewives:

Next up was Bill (he said to call him Bill), and two hours of conversation revolving around ER, his Emmy wins for the TV movie Door to Door, "Fargo" (I had to ask), and Shameless. Here’s how he explained playing sober “Frank Gallagher” on Shameless:

And finally I sat down with Felicity and Bill together for an enjoyable hour of the pair talking about how they met, projects they’ve worked on together, and how they help each other prepare for roles. 

So fear not, Brangelina fans - Bill and Feclity give me hope that love is alive and well. Enjoy Felicity Huffman and Bill Macy's full interviews - their joint interview is the last part on each of their pages - and see how these two mastered their craft and their wedding vows. 

- by Adrienne Faillace

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Guest Post: Pop Culture Passionistas Share Their Highlights from the 68th Emmys Red Carpet

September 26th, 2016
68th Creative Arts and Primetime Emmy Awards

Our good friends the Pop Culture Passionistas helped us cover the red carpet and press room at the Emmys this year! Here's their behind-the-scenes scoop on the 68th Creative Arts and Primetime Emmys - enjoy!

We are pleased to say that for the seventh straight year the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television asked us to help them cover the Emmys on the red carpet and in the pressroom. And we must say, it never gets old. As two sisters who spent our youth inches away from the TV, watching every show we could cram in between school and homework, seeing so many of our childhood idols (and some new favorites) is a thrill that we never tire of. How did we get so lucky?

We spent two full days at the event — Saturday, September 10, for the Creative Arts Emmys, and Sunday, September 18, for the Primetime Emmys. We interviewed a star-studded stream of talent on the red carpet, snapped more photos than we thought possible, talked to winners in the pressroom and even shared a few intimate celebrity moments at the Governor’s Balls.

We couldn’t possibly cover it all in one blog post but here are our personal highlights.

Charo, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Gary Johnson and Mr. Belding

It was like the Red Sea parting as bejeweled and bow tied television stars made way for one of the ‘70s most iconic performers — Charo. We couldn’t believe our eyes. The Cuchi Cuchi Girl was standing before us in all her glory. But why? We quickly found out that she was arm candy for Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Why they were being chaperoned by Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson and Mr. Belding from Saved by the Bell, we may never know. But this we truly believe — if Gary Johnson had Charo on his ticket he would have rated high enough in the polls to qualify for the debate. Here’s a clip of Triumph’s date, Charo, reflecting on her career in show business.

William H. Macy

If you’ve ever wondered how great an actor William H. Macy is, all you have to do is meet him. Many TV fans know him only as the despicable low-life Frank Gallagher on Shameless. In the role, he plays a self-centered drunk who is constantly disappointing everyone around him. But after spending a few minutes chatting with Macy on the red carpet it becomes abundantly clear that he’s nothing like his TV persona. This is a man who’s thoughtful, amiable and appreciative of the people in his life. No wonder that despite all the bad Frank does, Bill is able to make him likable. Here’s Macy trying to sum up what makes Frank so appealing despite his flaws.

Bryan Cranston

A few years ago at the Primetime Emmys, we had a crushing brush with Bryan Cranston where he skipped over us in favor of another interviewer on the press line. So when we noticed him walking the carpet this year, we saw our opportunity for redemption. But as he passed by our spot and our chance grew dimmer, we knew we had to grab the bull by the horns. Adrienne and Jenna, our red carpet counterparts from the Archive, flagged him down and pointed us out. As we cried his name and held out our hands, we caught his gaze and reeled him in. He extended his arms and stretched to reach us. He dramatically made his way through the crowd to grasp our hands and said, “We made it. Now we’ve shared something.” We got in one quick question about playing a fictional versus a nonfictional character in reference to his Emmy-nominated turn as LBJ in All the Way, before he was whisked away. We shared something. Indeed.

- by Pop Culture Passionistas

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Learn the Facts of Geri Jewell’s Life in her Archive interview!

September 13th, 2016
Geri Jewell

As Cousin Geri on The Facts of Life, Geri Jewell broke ground on American television: she became the first person with a visible disability to have a recurring role on an American primetime TV series. The character was tailored to Geri, a real-life stand-up comic, and at times incorporated jokes from her own comedy routines. Geri Jewell as Cousin Geri literally changed the face of television in 1980.

Geri had another long-standing role in 2004, when David Milch created a role specifically for her on his new HBO series, Deadwood. She not only played Jewel, Al Swearengen’s cleaning lady/cook at the Gem Saloon; Geri also helped create the backstory for her character. 

In her Archive interview Geri also talks about appearing on 21 Jump Street, The Young and the Restless, and Glee, and offers advice for people with disabilities who want to go into entertainment.

Today Geri Jewell turns 60 - celebrate her birthday by watching her full Archive interview!

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