The Theme Song Lives: “Main Title Design” in 2009-10
April 19th, 2010
There’s a lot of news posts out there today which are viewing the elimination of the “Outstanding Main Title Theme Music” Emmy Award as a long overdue decision, a logical move to reflect the “death” of the theme song in modern television. I understand this impulse, and certainly think that there is an element of lament and loss to this particular development.
However, my immediate thought upon hearing this news was that it was perfectly logical: however, it is perfectly logical not because the theme song is irrelevant, but rather because the theme song is no longer a distinct element of a show’s identity. Just look at the winners over the past three years: two went to theme songs to anthology series (Masters of Horror in 2007 and Great Performances in 2009), and the other went to CBS’ Pirate Master (which was a complete and total bomb). The fact of the matter is that these are probably very impressive compositions which have had absolutely no staying power as pieces of music due to their lack of connection with the role of the Main Titles, as I discussed in earnest a few months back.
Really, the award for “Main Title Theme Music” is now wrapped up in the “Outstanding Main Title Design” category – I would personally consider theme song to be part of the opening credits design, and I’m presuming that a good theme has played a role in past winners like Six Feet Under, United States of Tara and Dexter taking the award. While I don’t know if the Academy would go so far as to include composers within this category as a way to honour them for their work (for the record, I support such a motion), I do hope that the role of the theme song within these openings becomes more important. It’s always one of my favourites to predict in each given year, and I think that this almost makes that category more interesting as we see whether a quality theme song plays an even more substantial role in this year’s winners and nominees.
And so out of respect to the composers who continue to write main title themes, and due to my love for both main title sequences and Emmy predictions, I figured I’d run down the contenders for this year’s Emmy for Outstanding Main Title Design (all of which feature effective use of music, albeit some using pre-existing musical soundtrack).
By cleverly combining the most buzz-worthy (the sex) and the most subtle (post-recession America) qualities of the series into a single set of images, the opening very clearly lays out both the tone and the premise of the show in an iconic fashion.
HBO’s The Pacific
I will be honest: I’m not a huge fan of this credits sequence. As impressive as the style of the piece is, and as strong as the theme may be in its own right, I think it’s honestly too long and has absolutely no sense of narrative or function beyond the stylistic flourishes of the charcoal. They’re guaranteed a nomination based on the strong technical work, but I haven’t watched them since the premiere.
FOX’s Human Target
While these credits deserve to be here stylistically, I think that the thematic value of these credits is perhaps their most important role: they very clearly place the series within the area of James Bond through the aesthetic choices, and the great main theme song from Bear McCreary informs us that this will in some ways be a throwback to something familiar and that some would consider to be old-fashioned. It really captures the tone of the series, which is something that any Main Title should strive towards.
While there isn’t anything particularly inventive about the idea of using documentary images in order to capture post-Katrina New Orleans in David Simon and Eric Overmeyer’s new series, the theme song does a lot to remind us that the show is about the culture threatened by the mould and the floods rather than the floods themselves. The opening scale shot, showing the entire storm and then the carnage of the flooding, nicely fades into more of a cultural retrospective, the focus on photos reminding us of the history in danger of being lost in Katrina’s wake.
HBO’s How to Make it in America
Perfect length, perfect theme song, perfect focus – this is, perhaps, one of the greatest main title sequences ever created. Aloe Blacc’s “I Need a Dollar” is completely infectious, but it also breathes life into already stunning images which capture a sort of “real” New York that gives the show a sense of authenticity which it used to its advantage. I seriously do not believe there is enough hyperbole to emphasize just how perfect this sequence is, and how much it contributed to my desire to keep watching the merely average series.
HBO’s Bored to Death
I would probably put this in over The Pacific if you were asking me for five selections: it’s just a really well-designed sequence, and from a technical standpoint it is certainly one of the most inventive of the year while not becoming too enamored with its techniques.
AMC’s The Prisoner
The miniseries itself was a mess, but I thought the credits did a better job of making it seem interesting, so perhaps the Emmys could take a liking to the Miniseries despite what is ultimately not that impressive a sequence.
HBO’s Big Love
I don’t know if HBO is able to resubmit for this award (no show has successfully done so, although Monk did win the Main Title Theme award twice), but I think they’ve got a decent shot here – while the thematic value of the original opening was unquestionable, this is one visually stunning piece of filmmaking.
FOX’s (Retro Credits for) Fringe
I don’t know if enormously clever one-off credits are eligible, as I’d have to look it up, but these are certainly masterfully designed.
I’m not a huge fan of this intro, but I felt like I needed both another example that wasn’t from HBO and another opportunity to point out that Bear McCreary has yet to win an Emmy, and this is another layered, intriguing opening theme with great resonance throughout the series. Also: that last shot is a doozie.
Showtime’s Nurse Jackie
Because the Emmys might just hate me that much.
- The spinoff of this category is that it’s being replaced by “Music Composition for a Non-Fiction series,” which will hopefully clear some room for Bear McCreary and Michael Giacchino in the other Music Composition category. Yes, that is my only priority.
- I don’t know if I’m missing any other potential credit sequences, but be sure to let me know if I’ve forgotten one (remember that they need to have premiered since last June).
- Semi-relevant observation: Nurse Jackie is going to have to choose between Season 1 and Season 2 episodes to submit for the Emmys, as both would have aired during the eligibility period – I wonder if this has happened before.
- In related news: I need a dollar, dollar, dollar that’s what I need (I said!). That is all.