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).
It seems like the whole world is gearing up for the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, the fantasy series that returns to HBO on April 14. In anticipation of this, I interviewed Ramin Djawadi — who won his first Emmy last year for his music for the final episode of the seventh season — about his history with the show. For this Variety story, he talks briefly (without spoilers) about working on the final season, about what the journey has been like (including a world tour with live orchestras playing the music) and what his top five musical moments in the series have been. Game of Thrones, you’ll not be surprised to learn, has changed his life.
Composer Benjamin Wallfisch — recently Grammy-nominated for his contributions to the Hidden Figures and Blade Runner 2049 soundtracks — has no fewer than three major projects being released in April: feature film scores for Shazam! (a big symphonic approach for the comic-book adaptation), Hellboy (a punk-infused score for the reboot) and Hostile Planet (a six-hour nature documentary for National Geographic). London-born, thoroughly trained in the classical world but relatively new on the Hollywood scene, he talks about his life and recent career in this story for Variety. And Hans Zimmer talks about their collaborations in this second story from the same issue.
His music was an integral part of our young lives, a Christmas tradition in many households — watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town and so many other holiday specials: Maury Laws was the unsung musical genius behind them all. As musical director for Rankin-Bass, the animation company that produced all of those shows (not to mention The Hobbit and Wind in the Willows), Laws was responsible for arranging the songs he didn’t write (as in Rudolph) and composing many of the songs in subsequent specials. He even earned a Grammy nomination for The Hobbit. Laws gave few interviews but, in later years, seemed genuinely surprised and grateful for the attention. He died on Thursday in Wisconsin; here is my obituary for Variety.
A trend in journalism is generally defined by three or more happenings in the same field. So when I discovered that James Newton Howard (The Hunger Games) had written a cello concerto, Danny Elfman (Alice in Wonderland) a violin concerto and George S. Clinton (the Austin Powers movies) another violin concerto, I thought “here’s a trend” and decided to write a story. In fact, I discovered at least half a dozen concert works by composers generally known for their film music are getting premieres in the next six months — and that more than a half-dozen others had debuted in the past year, with still more on the way. It’s not just John Williams, it’s Michael Giacchino and John Powell and Bruce Broughton and Jeff Beal and many others. Here is that story for Variety.
This was long in the making. There were only six episodes of this 1975 TV series starring Brian Keith as Ross Macdonald’s L.A. private eye, but the theme (and pilot score) was by the legendary Jerry Goldsmith — so naturally I audio-recorded one episode for posterity. When the original recording sessions were unearthed 40 years later, I asked to write the notes — and I dug out my old reel-to-reel tape of that forgotten NBC show. Goldsmith was doing a lot of TV in that era (Barnaby Jones, Hawkins, Police Story, etc.) and in fact this was the last hour-long series television episode he would ever score. My notes explore the backstory of the series, why it didn’t last, Goldsmith’s involvement, and a bit about Warning Shot, the 1967 cop drama whose music is also featured on this album.
Every December I review the top 20 “classic soundtrack” albums: expanded reissues, first-time releases of great film music of the past, and re-recordings. This year, for the first time, Variety agreed to publish it. It’s a bounty of great movie music, including four John Williams scores, three by Jerry Goldsmith, more by Dave Grusin and Nino Rota, and two from the new Universal Heritage series. Here is the list, with commentary about each.