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.