ABC, which is owned by the Walt Disney company, re-staged The Little Mermaid in a live telecast on November 5. But how, exactly, did they conceive and execute this mostly underwater adventure with songs and music? The editors of DGA Quarterly, the magazine of the Directors Guild of America, asked me to investigate, so I called Hamish Hamilton, who directed the show (which, one hastens to add, was among the highest-rated live TV musicals of the modern era). Hamilton pointed out that “we had puppets and effects and props and projectors and music and mermaids and flying and performers in very unwieldy costumes!” The story, in DGA Quarterly‘s winter edition, can be read here.
A couple of weeks ago, I was tipped off to a shocking payment plan that the Discovery Networks (a conglomerate of cable channels that includes Discovery, Animal Planet, HGTV, Food Network and others) were demanding that composers accept by year’s end: Composers (already poorly paid for their work on all these shows) would no longer be able to receive U.S. royalties for their work when broadcast, a right that all media composers have enjoyed for decades. I interviewed more than half a dozen top composers for this Variety story, all of whom were appalled at the demand and said they would not agree — in large part because they rely on their residuals to keep working. The story generated hundreds of responses on social media, and numerous top composers (including Oscar winner Michael Giacchino, who went on a Twitter tirade about it) have lined up in opposition to what Discovery Networks has proposed.
Ludwig Goransson, the Swedish-born composer who won last year’s Oscar for his terrific music for Black Panther, resurfaces with an original score for the new Star Wars series The Mandalorian, which debuted on Disney+ on Nov. 14. Goransson invited me to his comfy, colorful studio for this Variety piece in which he discusses his fresh, unusual but effective musical approach for the series. Producer Jon Favreau chimes in with some behind-the-scenes thoughts on why Goransson was the right composer for the project.
For our second volume of music from classic Quinn Martin television shows, we chose The Invaders, the short-lived (two seasons, 1967-68) science-fiction series that starred Roy Thinnes as an architect who stumbles upon an alien invasion of Earth and then has endless trouble convincing anyone of his story. Dominic Frontiere wrote the theme and three scores, which occupy the first of our two discs. The second disc consists of suites from all of the other scored shows, including music by Duane Tatro, Richard Markowitz, Irving Gertz and Sidney Cutner. The colorful 20-page booklet was designed by Dan Goldwasser (who also designed this website for me). This was all possible because The Film Music Society, a vital film-music preservation organization, is the home of an estimated 500 reels of QM music, saved when the company went out business back in the early 1980s.
Every year at this time, Variety asks me to view all of the Emmy nominees in the music categories, interview as many as possible, and write a bit about their accomplishment. It’s gotten more complicated as the years have gone by, as there are now seven categories (music composition for a series, for a miniseries or movie, and for a documentary; songwriting; music direction; main title theme; and music supervision). The chart now covers two pages of the August Music for Screens issue, and is rarely reproduced online. Click on the individual pages (and then zoom in for a closer look at each).
The casting of the new Doctor Who — Jodie Whitaker, who is wonderful as the first female doctor in the 55-year history of the BBC sci-fi serial — demanded a new musical approach, too. Producers recruited Segun Akinola, who holds a slightly different distinction: he’s the first person of color to score Doctor Who. I had a fascinating conversation with him about the joys and challenges of adding his unique voice to the long-running franchise; it appeared in Emmy magazine earlier this year and is now online here.
I couldn’t let the 100th anniversary of the birth of Earle Hagen — one of the most important and most successful composers in TV history — pass without a look back at his massive impact on the medium. For this Variety story, I revisited the interviews I did when the Andy Griffith Show and Dick Van Dyke Show composer was posthumously inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2011. Van Dyke, Marlo Thomas from That Girl, and Stacy Keach from Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, all talked about Hagen’s role in setting the time, place and mood of each show. Hagen’s own words; those of fellow Emmy-winning composers Mike Post and protege Bruce Babcock; and YouTube clips of his classic themes, including I Spy and The Mod Squad, are also included.
I knew him as the composer of the themes for The Patty Duke Show and The Trials of O’Brien back in the 1960s — and as the creator of the “Come Alive!” Pepsi Generation jingle sung so memorably by Joanie Sommers in that same era. But Sid Ramin, who died July 1 at the age of 100, was much more than that: He won the Oscar, and a Grammy, for adapting Leonard Bernstein’s music for the West Side Story movie (which he and Irwin Kostal had originally orchestrated for the Broadway show in 1957). He was a triple threat composer, arranger and conductor, and one of the nicest men in music. I wrote this obituary for Variety.
This year there are seven music categories at the Emmys, the most for any craft discipline except for editing, which has eight. For many years there were five (original music for a series; music for a TV-movie or miniseries; music direction; song; main title theme) but in the past two years the TV Academy has added two more (music supervision; original music for documentaries). So covering this vast field has become infinitely more complicated; there were an estimated 700 entries from the 2018-19 season. My stories for Variety included an early overview (including The Orville, Succession, Leaving Neverland, The Umbrella Academy); music for drama (Yellowstone, Orville, Twilight Zone); music for movies and miniseries (Good Omens, Catch-22, The Bad Seed); music for comedies (Veep, Pen15, Russian Doll, Arrested Development); and music for documentaries (Love Gilda, RBG, Our Planet, Hostile Planet).
Together with The Film Music Society and La-La Land Records, I have launched a new series of albums of classic TV music we are calling The Quinn Martin Collection. Martin was one of TV’s top producers in the 1960s and ’70s, and he enjoyed considerable success in the law-and-order arena. Volume 1 is subtitled “Cop and Detective Series” and features the pilot scores for Barnaby Jones (1973-80, by Jerry Goldsmith), Most Wanted (1976-77, by Lalo Schifrin), Dan August (1970-71, Dave Grusin) and Cannon (1971-76, John Parker). Rounding out the two-disc set are additional scores by Bruce Broughton, Grusin and Parker (for Barnaby Jones, Dan August and Cannon, respectively) and themes from other ’70s QM series including The Manhunter (Duane Tatro), Caribe (Nelson Riddle), Bert D’Angelo / Superstar (Patrick Williams) and Tales of the Unexpected (David Shire). In the colorfully illustrated 16-page booklet, I discuss all of the series and the circumstances of these top composers working in series television.