How this research began
The start of the "American TV Series
The fragmentary nature of custom TV
Sources of TV Themes:
This site is an attempt to collect and preserve information about the
valuable cultural heritage of good music from various pop orchestral
(light music) sources. These sources include pop songs which lend
themselves to instrumental treatment, broadway show tunes and themes
from motion pictures, radio and television circa 1930 - 1965.
Although people of the "post-war baby boom" generation may
identify with certain melodies they grew up hearing on radio and TV,
it is not just for nostalgic reasons that this effort has been
undertaken. Arguably the popular music of this period evolved from
the best traditions of classical composition and arranging. This
period of the 1930s through the mid 1960s yielded melodies that were
artfully composed and arranged with craft and good taste. It was an
oasis in time that should not be forgotten, so it can continue to
nourish the spirit of our musical culture.
So part of this is a quest to identify and inspire new recordings
of GOOD TUNES along the traditions of the days when American popular
music was an inspiration to the world. Hopefully there will be a time
when again American popular music could stand for quality and
In this quest, some material at libraries and departments of
special collections has revealed some surprises. The more obscure
source material was sometimes fragmentary to begin with. The pieces
that may have been associated with a particular radio or TV series
may have been written for an entirely different purpose and
"re-cycled" either by the original composer or by a music packager or
How this research began
Collecting and researching old TV themes grew out of a personal
collection of over 45 years.
If you ever tried to find sheet music or recordings of the THEMEs
to "My Little Margie" or "Treasury Men In Action" or any of the early
TV series in the early 1950s, you might have called your local music
store. And typically you would get a response that "it hasn't been
commercially recorded" or "there is no sheet music yet." So you might
have wondered if it wasn't commercially recorded or written down,
then how was it recorded for use on TV? Who writes music that is NOT
to be commercially recorded? What was going on here?
A local TV station audio engineer explained that there existed
European and American "mood music" or "production music libraries"
that were used only by TV and radio stations. Such libraries were the
source of some of the obscure pieces heard on the air that were not
"commercially recorded." The engineer provided a copy of the "master
tape" used for local TV theme music, which also contained some
network themes from the same production libraries. So the quest began
in earnest, and the collection began to grow.
Some of the questions about THEMEs began to appear in TV Guide
articles beginning in 1956. Some of these articles were in response
to the obvious public interest in such obscure music. But it was
indicative of a trend that finally got recognized by the commercial
An early effort in 1956 by beautiful music arranger Hugo
Winterhalter had the title "Great Music Themes of Television." It was
the first time the commercial recording business gave recognition to
the fact that some pretty great music came from this genre. When the
soundtrack albums for "Peter Gunn", "Mr. Lucky", "Checkmate" and
others came out and became popular in 1959-1960, there was a way to
actually buy some of this music in a series of well-produced
authentic-sounding LPs. And then there were the wonderful collections
of TV tunes arranged by Ray Martin called "Impact" and "Double
Impact" which arrived around this same period. Then Frank De Vol put
out two albums of radio themes in 1961 - 1962. That burst of
recording activity showed that the public was indeed interested in
music used on radio/TV series.
These recordings were showing the quality and versatility of early
radio/TV music. Finally the window on this obscure world was
beginning to open just a crack.
The start of the "American TV Series Theme List"
We began calling and corresponding with television stations and
production companies in 1960--the year credited as the start of the
official "American TV Series Theme List". We learned of the existence
of cue music/production music libraries such as Chappell, KPM, and
their US distributors Emil Ascher and Thomas J. Valentino. We wrote
and received catalogs from them, and bought a few 78rpm disks.
In 1964, in a mezzanine above a scene storage area at a local TV
station, a collection of disks called the "Capitol Q-Series Library"
was located -- a library of disks on 12" 78rpm reference disks (which
used content produced by a company known as MUTEL.) Later this source
helped us understand the nature of TV themes were "re-cycled" for
In 1985, we published a reference book in the form of a
spiral-bound limited-edition report, called "TV Theme Guide", which
was our first attempt at publishing the list. Our knowledge of
publishing, printing and marketing was very limited. We used an early
data-processing computer and Xerox reproduction, and the book was not
a commercial success.
The idea of a web site featuring Light Music and "Classic Themes" was
born very early in 1994. A few years later we realized that Old-Time
Radio should also be included since some of those THEMEs were written
by some of the same composers we found researching Classic TV THEMEs,
so we began including "OTR" THEME information into a form that could
be posted on the Web as well. Right now it is in an abbreviated form
which will be expanded later to be the same as the TV THEME
We hope to improve over time the available knowledge of such music
which is a valuable heritage that should not be forgotten.
The "fragmentary" nature of custom TV themes...
There is one fact we have come to realize, in the course of trips
to research libraries, studying the actual manuscripts by media
composers like Alexander Laszlo, Jack Meakin, Miklos Rozsa, Nathan
Van Cleave and others. Contrary to the way most pop music tunes are
composed (with an "A" theme and a "B" theme and sometimes other
sections), many compositions written as Main Titles or End Credits
may not be whole compositions -- but exist only in a fragmentary
form. We assume that there exists somewhere a three-minute
composition from which these fragments derive. But that whole
composition may have never existed (unless some clamor for a "Theme
from" the movie or show requires the composer to sit down and put one
together after the fact.) We discovered that some of the most
recognizable melodies from that bygone era of Classic TV were
actually be composed only as a series of one or more short cues
lasting a few seconds before they "petered out" into a neutral chord,
or segued into another cue.
For example, let's suppose that a composer was hired to write for a
variety show. When the show begins there might be an :15 arrangement
of the sponsor's jingle, which seques into a :05 fanfare and timpani
roll, which then may seque into a series of introductory vignettes or
a :15 teaser, and then finally there may be a :15 snatch of melody as
the star walks on which is his "Opening Theme" or "Play On", the
melody of which is reprised over end credits and cast list. The
longest cue in the above group may be the End Credits music which is
heard behind applause, and not total more than :30 - :45 seconds at
the most. And this was in the "Golden Age" of TV, before the current
trend of talking right over the end credits about the next show.
So it is possible that the main melody for such a show, despite being
heard for many years, never even has a "B" theme. Think of the melody
for Billy May's "Bozo The Clown" theme, Ray Bloch's "Toast of the
Town" theme, or Laszlo's "My Little Margie." Can you hum a "B" theme
for any of these? Despite introductory and coda material and "A"
themes, there really aren't a contrasting "B" theme or "bridge"
section per se. They both are made from an easily repeated phrases
with a few extensions. The whole tune may be no more than the length
of an advertising jingle. In fact, if you listen to enough of the
original versions on a CD of "Television's Greatest Hits", they even
begin to start sounding like commercials after awhile.
So its short fragmentary nature, is one reason that a TV theme may
not be recorded commercially. If the theme or show does become
popular, then demand may be such that the composer will "revisit" his
melodies, and find a way to expand the material for the purpose of a
record, into a more standard song form, arranged to fit 2:30 to 3:00
minutes in length.
And if the show is so popular that an entire LP album is warranted,
then sometimes the composer will develop fragmentary background
themes into whole compositions, as was done for "Danger", and
"Asphalt Jungle" and "Peter Gunn". There may even be new tunes
developed "in the style" of the show which only appear on the
LP...etc. Mancini admitted that some of the tunes developed for LPs
found their way back into later seasons of the show -- a kind of
"reverse pollination" effect to be sure.
Naturally, there are some other sources of themes such as Production
Libraries which may have cuts of 1 - 2 minutes, which do not take a
lot of work to expand. The only problem then is the licensing of the
library track for its use as a commercial recording, which means it
would not be as useful in the future, within the library by other
producers, if the library will allow it to be licensed for home
listening at all.
These facts taken together may explain why TV theme music remained
rather obscure over the years, compared to feature film main titles,
despite its omnipresence of these tunes in our collective
Still, there are "diamonds in the rough" -- gems of melody to be
found among the TV tunes of days gone by. That is why there are those
of us who will dig and try to find the sources, so that someday
perhaps this material might be expanded and licensed, and we can hear
some of these great old melodies in a format that all can enjoy, and
played by a good studio orchestra.
TV music themes originate from several diverse sources. Here
are some of the ways:
Themes written expressly for a series
When we wrote our first book on the subject of classic television
themes ("The TV Theme Guide") in the early 1980s, we found that only
1/3 of the early TV series (from the 1950s and 1960s) used Main Title
themes commissioned expressly for them. It was surprising that the
actual percentage of several thousand themes surveyed was nearly
exactly 33%. That is in contrast to the later practice during the
1990s of many shows commissioning theme songs.
In the early days, writing original music for television was a
specialty of a few composers, most of whom had practiced their craft
writing cues for radio shows. Composers like David Rose, Mahlon
Merrick, Milton DeLugg, Harry Sosnick, Jack Meakin, Albert Glasser
and Ray Bloch were active TV composers in the 1950s. These men were
often orchestra leaders who had previously supplied radio with the
Another group of composers were already veteran workhorse composers
for low-budget B-pictures who took any music jobs offered to them
when TV began, so they simply added TV writing to their credits
--William Lava, Dave Kahn, Joseph Mullendore, and Herschel Burke
Gilbert are three examples of this. In the next decades of the 1960s
and 1970s, composers including William Loose, Earle Hagen and Mike
Post had careers following in the tradition of specializing in
writing for TV.
The main difference was that the journeymen who wrote during the
early days of TV often did so working for a "music packager" like
David Chudnow of MUTEL or Raoul Kraushaar of Omar Music who had
established a connection with TV producers. Whereas the latter-day TV
music specialists became their own "packager" who established their
own connections with producers, and may have even hired their own
"ghost writers" to supply episode cues when they got too busy.
Great composers from the world of motion picture music sometimes
dabbled in the live TV medium, but themes from these legendary film
composers were rare. However, Alex North did compose the "Playhouse
90 Theme". Bernard Herrmann wrote themes for "The Twilight Zone"
and "Have Gun Will Travel." Victor Young wrote theme music for shows
sponsored by "R-C-A Victor." And Max Steiner's music for the film
"The Fountainhead" was adapted for the "Warner Brothers Presents
Theme". But in those early days (as now) a dichotomy existed between
composing for film and for television. There were not too many
legends of Hollywood music scoring involved in helping the early
networks. Part of this may have been due to the prestige factor which
separated film composing from writing for the "small screen", and
part of this may have been a practical result of the fact many
networks were headquartered back East in those early days.
Up and coming arranger/composers who were starting to establish their
own careers (and work cheaper than the legendary names) were eager to
get experience in the any medium. This is how Johnny (John) Williams,
Henry Mancini, and Jerry Goldsmith found themselves writing for
television in their youth. These men didn't remain specialists in TV
music, but continued to work their way into scoring for motion
pictures -- which was perceived as more prestigious within Hollywood
(but no one outside of Hollywood may care about that
Certain songwriters were asked to contribute vocal themes, a trend
which started in the late 1950s. Ray Evans, Jay Livingston, Jerry
Livingston (no relation), Mack David, Vic Mizzy and the Sherman
Brothers are examples of this kind of "theme songwriter." Although
these songwriters would not be called upon for episode scoring as
much as the other composers who wrote "underscores", they could
sometimes pen a catchy theme song in a popular music style.
A statistical analysis revealed that 2/3 of the series in the 1950s
could not afford or did not choose to commission original Main
Title/End Credits themes. The remaining 1/3 of TV series themes came
from a variety of outside sources, such as those seven (7) ways which
1.) Themes which originated with a Radio version of the series
TV series being transplanted from radio, would often keep the same
theme if it was closely identified with the star of the show. This
was especially true in the case of established stars like Fibber
McGee and Molly, Jack Benny, Burns & Allen, Groucho Marx, and
Kate Smith. Of course in many cases, other opening or closing themes
were composed for their TV series, to supplement familiar signature
This was also the case with the early TV soap operas which began on
radio. The characters on these soap operas were as familiar as stars,
to the regular listeners. The melodies which introduced them was
integral to the continuity of life as any other element of the show.
So, when the TV version of the series began, several soap opera
themes were the same as on radio. For example, composer/organist
Charles Paul provided music for both radio and TV versions "The
Guiding Light", one of the more successful transplants from radio to
Depending upon the contract with the original composer for writing
the radio theme, an extra fee for using such music on television may
or may not be included, since the network may already have a contract
stating it is also the music publisher, and may have some auxilliary
use clause in the fine print requiring no further payment.
2.) Familiar well-known tunes used as themes
Old familiar warhorses were sometimes chosen, such as "There's No
Business Like Show Business", which embody the spirit of a variety
show, and may not offend anyone. Classical themes like the "Overture
to William Tell" became associated with The Lone Ranger, although the
galloping effect seen on screen may have been the main reason this
rollicking music was chosen, rather than any subliminal connection
between the legends of archer William Tell and the Lone Texas Ranger.
Although David Rose was to go on to write over 20 series themes, his
novelty instrumental "Holiday For Strings" was already a popular
piece back in 1943, prior to its use as the theme for the "Red
To use a piece of music not in the Public Domain as a theme song, a
"synchronization license" must be secured from the publisher, which
is shared by the composer. This is in addition to the normal blanket
ASCAP and BMI useage fees paid by the networks.
When a series was a musical/variety series, the singer/star of the
show may have a favorite song, or use one of his/her hits. So
Rosemary Clooney used "Tenderly", and Jane Froman used "With a Song
In My Heart". Surprisingly, a song which may not have been the
biggest hit might be chosen to emphasize that the star is continuing
past the days of the hit with his/her career. Then you sometimes
wonder why a star chooses a particular song. Judy Garland chose a
closing theme song called "Maybe I'll Come Back" rather than "Over
3.) Themes from European Cue Music/Production Music libraries
Cue Music/Production Music libraries from England had been used in
the radio and film production fields prior to network TV. These
libraries of 78rpm disks had names of music publishers with whom they
were associated, including "Chappell", "Boosey & Hawkes",
"DeWolfe", "W. Paxton & Co." and "KPM (Keith Prowse Music.)". The
libraries included compositions written and recorded expressly for
film and radio use in Europe between the 1930s and 1960s by British
composers who were known for Light Music and film scoring.
This included such British composers as Eric Coates, C. King Palmer,
Frederic Bayco, Robert Busby, Ronald Binge, Jack Beaver, Wilfred
Burns, Felton Rapley, Robert Farnon, Bruce Campbell, Clive
Richardson, George Chase, Michael Reynolds and French composer Roger
Roger. Sometimes, to avoid British musician's union rates, the
recordings for these libraries were even made in France and Denmark,
where orchestras of high quality worked for relatively low rates.
In the U.S. during the 1950s and 1960s these British Production Music
libraries were marketed to television producers via American selling
agents, such as "Emil Ascher" and "Thomas J. Valentino" in New York,
and "Regent Recorded Music" in LA. The producers of low-budget TV
shows only had to buy the discs, and pay a needle-drop license fee to
use the piece on the soundtrack of a television series (a procedure
called "tracking" which the AFM musicians union fought for years to
4.) Themes recycled from a music packager
Music Packaging Services such as Raoul Kraushaar's "Omar Music",
David Gordon's "Gordon Music", Alexander Laszlo's "Guild Production
Aids" and "Structural Music" libraries, David Chudnow's "Mutel (Music
for Television), and the Capitol "Q"-Series Library licensed by David
Chudnow. Such services were in essence re-cyclers of music. Composers
who worked for these companies worked on a "buy-out" basis for a
smaller fee. Sometimes this meant composer credits were hidden so as
to bypass AFM (Musician Union) rules, and share ASCAP and BMI
royalties with the packager.
These companies used contractors in Europe, Mexico, Germany and Japan
to record the scores. This is a sensitive area for those composers
who may have used pseudonyms in the past to be a part of this system,
who have become more well-known, such as David Rose, Jerrald
Goldsmith, and others. Such packagers operated out of Los Angeles
area. The primary reason such packagers were attractive to some
producers was that they operated on a "flat-rate" basis, both for
what they paid the composer, and for what they collected as a
license. Naturally the rates were competitive with what one could
obtain through other sources.
5.) Themes from a composer's own library
In the case of a few enterprising individuals, a Music Library
could be produced and marketed by a single individual who acted as
composer, music producer, and publisher/packager. In the days prior
to synthesizer studios, this was indeed a remarkable achievement. The
customer for his product was primarily for the low-budget TV
producer, but occassionally larger organizations used his cue library
to supplement episode scoring.
This was the case with Alexander Laszlo, a Hungarian-born composer
who worked in Los Angeles in the 1950s. His "Structural Music
Library" was used by several producers of syndicated TV shows
"Waterfront", "My Little Margie", and others. His clients also
included Four Star Television, and Revue division of MCA during their
early years. A nephew of Laszlo confirmed that his recordings were
made overseas in a large radio studio in Stuttgart, Germany. Laszlo,
who was 50 by the time he arrived in Hollywood, acted as his own
composer, orchestrator, recording producer, and selling agent under
the name "Alexander Music", and his own publisher to collect ASCAP
royalties under the name "Guild Publications."
6.) Themes which originated as motion picture music
A few TV series may used themes from motion pictures. The TV
series "Peyton Place" and "Love and Marriage" both used the motion
picture themes of the same name since both TV series were derived
from the movies.
In some cases, there was no direct relationship between the film and
the TV show. "My Friend Irma" used a haunting bluesy theme (a cue
later titled "Sentimental Rhapsody") from the movie "Street Scene",
even though the film and series were not related. The private eye
series "Meet McGraw" used "One For My Baby" from the Fred Astaire
film "Sky's The Limit", to establish a kind of film noir atmostphere.
Both of these pieces had some minor success as popular recordings
before, which may also have contributed to their appeal.
In yet another case, apparently an obscure film tune was simply one
the producer's liked and felt was appropriate for the mood of the
series. For example, the theme for the soap opera "First Love" was
from the British film "Eight O'Clock Walk."
7.) Themes which were the sponsor's advertising jingle
And of course, the sponsor may have established a commercial
jingle which he wanted to use as the theme of the program in which he
invested. In the early days of TV, sponsorship of entire programs was
the norm. Spot commercials during "breaks" were not the primary means
of advertising. So the first blockbuster network hit TV show, Milton
Berle's "Texaco Star Theatre" began with what was, in effect, a gas
station commercial. A male singing group dressed as gas station
attendents came out in front of the curtains and sang the same song
every week with the orchestra, "We Are the Men of Texaco". This was
the Texaco advertising jingle which had been heard on radio for
Similarly, the "Dinah Shore Chevy Show" began with the star singing
the sponsor's jingle "See The USA in a Chevrolet." It would seem odd
for a star of a TV series today to do that, mixing program content
with commercialism. But in the first decade, program sponsorship was
integrated into many facets of the program. The music was just
another facet, for many early series producers. Some early producers
were actually departments of the sponsor's advertising agency.
Acknowledgements and Thanks...
Many people have helped us in our efforts to collect information
over the past five decades. We are indebted to San Diego area
broadcast personnel L. Scholes, K. Teeples, B. Stevens and D. Erwine;
The Horowitz family who ran the "Groovy Treasures" record store in
San Diego during the 1980s; and Mr. E. Durbeck of Encinitas; who were
all directly or indirectly "instrumental" in helping get our
collection efforts started.
We acknowledge the friendship and invaluable assistance of fellow
enthusiast T. Perrone who generously located Copyright information
and research materials at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC
which help place the time sequence of various themes, and verify
We also thank fellow collectors R. Clark, M. Koldys, G. Newton, F.
Patten; CD producer and production library expert P. Mandell;
Librarian and soap opera music expert D. Jackson; author and game
show expert D. Schwartz; and D. Ades of the Robert Farnon Society for
their help in obtaining information on rare recordings.
After the Web Site appeared, many individuals contributed unique
information and materials for further research (in some cases their
families included composers of radio/TV music); these include E.
Anderson (daughter of Leroy Anderson), R. Guenther (nephew of Mahlon
Merrick), J. Mack (daughter of Jack Meakin), J. Rines (nephew of
composer Joe Rines), A. Schiller (nephew of Alexander Laszlo), and J.
Thompson (son of composer Bob Thompson) and D. Livingston (son of
Last but not least, we are also very grateful to the staff of the
American Heritage Center, at the University of Wyoming (at Laramie)
for providing me access to the papers and manuscripts of radio/TV
composers Alexander Laszlo, Albert Glasser, Nathan Van Cleave and
others for which we were able to do in-depth research. The gracious
and helpful staff of this wonderful facility included L. Olson, C.
Bowers, M. Richards, and M. Sprinkle.
We also appreciate the value of the few books written on this obscure
subject of TV Theme music by S. Gelfand, C. Pattillo, and J.
Burlingame, whose information helped us verify titles in some cases,
and clear up some discrepancies which crept into our data. Likewise,
we found a few innacuracies in these sources, but the use of multiple
sources remains the best way to verify the truth, about a relatively
closed world of the TV theme.
And now, on with the show...
Much of the fun for us has been to discover the names and origins
of signature pieces used for TV themes and to discover the identities
of their composers. After a while, many of the same names appear. A
picture emerges of the talented composers working tirelessly in the
early days, who provided themes for American TV music from Europe,
New York and Hollywood. The start of the nascent medium of TV was a
fascinating period, and so we present for your enjoyment, the "1950s
Classic TV Series List."