It’s pitch dark in your living room as you turn on the TV. It’s late but you want to get in one more episode of The X-Files before bed. You scroll to Netflix, choose an episode called “Ice” that sounds just creepy enough for being home alone and start to watch. If you can just get through those opening few minutes, you’re fine. But then you hear those first few notes, followed by that creepy whistle, and you’re terrified. You know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.
A good theme song has the ability to transport you into the world of the show itself — often better than any exposition or dialogue. Whether it’s silly or scary, a good theme song is as much a part of the show as the title and another way for a creator to tell their story. These days every extra second counts, so oftentimes theme songs are used as part of the narrative: providing insight into the characters’ psyche, set the location, or simply to portray a distinct feeling to the audience. Here’s a few reasons why a good theme song is still important.
Literally, what’s happening?
Theme songs can often be a catchy way to quickly give the viewer important plot information. This might help catch the viewer up or just give a general overview of what they’re about to watch. Either way, this use of a theme song is important for gaining new viewers. How much more likely are you to watch something if you don’t have to wonder WTF it is for 20 minutes?
Examples: The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Sponge Bob Squarepants, The Brady Bunch, iZombie
Characters have layers
If you want to get all clever, why not add some character clues into your theme song? When using a theme song with specific lyrics for a designated reason, a whole new aspect of a character can be revealed. In Veronica Mars, “We Used to Be Friends” was just such an accurate statement and put the audience directly into Veronica’s brain. Gilmore Girls’ “Where You Lead I Will Follow” theme really encapsulated the mother-daughter relationship central to the show automatically giving an importance to their relationship in the minds of the audience.
Examples: Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls, The Wonder Years
Where are we?
There are many shows where setting is almost its’ own character. Sometimes, it’s much easier to use the theme song to set the location for the show than give some sort of character insight. The Weeds theme song “Little Boxes” immediately paints a picture of the setting of Agrestic. Not a line of dialogue is needed to explain what type of environment it is. More explicitly, the entire Game of Thrones theme song is played over maps of Westerns, giving the audience a chance to figure out where the heck things are in relation to one another.
So many feels
Many shows rely on the strong emotions of the audience to be successful. When you hear the theme song for Cheers, don’t you just get all warm and fuzzy? Music can help people form strong associations, meaning that one note of “I’ll Be There For You” and I’m reliving ever hug Rachel gave Monica. This association is yet another way creators can use a theme song to influence the emotions of the audience.
Having a memorable and impactful theme song is important. It not only shows that creators are hip and “with it”, but also provides another opportunity to pitch a show to an audience. Who knows — maybe you’ve been waiting for a song your whole life and your’re one show away from hearing it.
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Television