03.04.21



In the Key of TV: The Synergies Between Classic Television and Music



Starting with the post-World War II Baby Boomer generation, television has served as a primary source of entertainment for Americans of all ages. As both children and adults, we have eagerly anticipated the exploits of our favorite characters as they unfold on each episode of our treasured TV shows. However, beyond providing entertainment, television has influenced what we listen to and wear, the words we speak, and more. Just briefly looking at the relationship between classic television and popular music by itself offers some interesting insights into this cultural phenomenon. Many Baby Boomers can readily identify iconic classic TV themes after hearing only a few notes of the compositions. In fact, even people who are not familiar with 1960s comedies like The Addams Family, Mister Ed, or Green Acres can still likely recognize the tunes. Likewise, Boomers and beyond can invariably cite at least one classic TV theme “ear worm” that gets stuck on continuous repeat in our mind.
Naturally, numerous television themes have reached the upper ranks of the Billboard charts, with some even snaring the No. 1 spot. For example, in 1976, John Sebastian topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart with the theme song from Welcome Back, Kotter. The composers and musicians responsible for these timeless themes ranged from classically trained composers such as Henry Mancini (Remington Steele, Newhart) and Elmer Bernstein (Ellery Queen, The Rookies, Julia) to former big-band songwriter Vic Mizzy (Green Acres, The Addams Family) and bluegrass legends Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs (The Beverly Hillbillies). The relationship between classic television and popular music was certainly not a one- way link instead, it was a reciprocal association.




Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs







The Irish Rovers



Classic TV shows also picked up on the teen dance craze epitomized by American Bandstand and similar national and local programs. Even The Munsters and The Addams Family joined the dance fad with “The Munster Creep” and “The Lurch” respectively.

Also during the late 1960s, trailblazing classic television shows also began integrating music into episodes in innovative ways. For example, over a decade prior to MTV’s debut, the daytime Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows inserted a music video featuring David Selby and Nancy Barrett performing “I Want to Dance with You” into a 1969 episode. Later, the fusion of cinematography and music reached new heights in Miami Vice (1984–1989), a trendsetting crime drama which combined Miami’s art deco style scenery with the pulsating rhythms of Genesis and other bands playing as the action unfolded in each episode. Although television critics have often differed with the general public with respect to the artistic and cultural merits of television programming, over the last half-century, classic television series have indubitably influenced popular music and vice versa.Moreover, music also played a key role in making the series beloved by audiences in their time and fondly remembered even today.



For example, the “British Invasion” of the early 1960s even swept into the fictional hamlet of Hooterville, the setting for the rural comedies Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. In a 1964 episode of Petticoat Junction, the Bradley Sisters and their friend formed a female Beatlesque band, The Ladybugs. On March 22, 1964, the quartet, complete with mop-top wigs, appeared in character on The Ed Sullivan Show, two days before they appeared on their home series Petticoat Junction. Moreover, a host of other singers and musicians from sundry musical genres also periodically appeared and/or performed on television series of the era, including westerns. For example, the Irish Rovers, a folk group best known for the whimsical 1968 single, “The Unicorn,” made several appearances on The Virginian.