On January 15, I was invited to the recording session for episode 15 of Star Trek: Discovery, the season finale of the CBS series. It was all very mysterious. All we were told was that something special would happen and that we could not give anything away until after the show aired on February 11. It turned out that the Discovery would encounter the USS Enterprise in the closing minutes of the show; that composer Jeff Russo would, appropriately, invoke Alexander Courage’s original Star Trek fanfare; but even more importantly, Russo was going to conduct 74 musicians in a fresh new version of Courage’s famous Trek theme (complete with wordless soprano solo, beautifully performed by singer Ayana Haviv) that would play under the show’s end credits. Here is that story, published in Variety the next day.
We got the sad news about Dominic Frontiere’s death through an offbeat source: a paid death notice that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. It took an entire day (including calling every funeral home in the Santa Fe area) to confirm the news, and in that time I assembled an obituary that covered the high points of his long career. Frontiere composed several classic themes of 1960s TV — including The Outer Limits, 12 O’Clock High, The Flying Nun, Branded, The Invaders, and The Rat Patrol — as well as such memorable movie scores as Hang ‘Em High and The Stunt Man. He won an Emmy and a Golden Globe and even his forgotten shows had great themes (I especially love The Immortal, Search and his miniseries Washington: Behind Closed Doors). Here is the obituary I wrote for Variety.
Renowned film and TV composer Lalo Schifrin turned 85 this year, and the occasion was commemorated Saturday night with a concert featuring many of his memorable themes — everything from Mission: Impossible and Mannix to Bullitt and Dirty Harry. It was a co-production of Musicians at Play Foundation and Varese Live, with proceeds benefiting the Music Fund of Los Angeles. The show consisted of nearly three hours of great big-band performances, beautifully rendered songs and rare video clips of the maestro at work; veteran Varese producer Robert Townson hosted. My review of the evening is here.
In his first interview about scoring the new Star Trek: Discovery series, composer Jeff Russo talks about how he came up with the theme, the use of full orchestras (now a rarity in weekly TV scoring), and about the idea of a more nuanced approach to scoring the Klingon Empire. Variety published this today, just a few days before the Sept. 24 debut of the new sci-fi series on CBS All Access. Discovery producer Alex Kurtzman also chimed in on the importance of music in his new series. Russo recently won his first Emmy for Fargo.
Writer-director-actor-singer Seth MacFarlane loves the orchestra — not just as backing for his albums and live musical appearances, but for his movies and TV shows too. He is a fan of classic movie scores and understands the value of real musicians helping to support the emotional needs of both drama and comedy. So for his new sci-fi series The Orville, debuting Sunday on Fox, he enlisted the services of three of the finest orchestral composers in Hollywood: Bruce Broughton, who scored the pilot and wrote the theme; Joel McNeely and John Debney, who are scoring the individual episodes. They are using orchestras of 60 to 70, which is much larger than the average TV ensemble these days. In this story for Variety, MacFarlane, Broughton and McNeely talk about the challenge and the fun involved.
Strange as it may sound, this story may have had the widest global repercussions of any story I’ve ever written for Variety. I learned that composer Alf Clausen, after scoring more than 550 episodes and winning two Emmys for his music, had been fired from The Simpsons after 27 years on the job. It was shocking, but after talking with Alf about it, we decided to go public on Aug. 30. I filed the story at 11:50 a.m., Variety posted it at 12:15, and within hours virtually every outlet in the world was repeating the news. It even made the front page of the BBC. Fox declined comment at the time, and was clearly unprepared for the worldwide outrage that would follow. Clausen is not only highly respected within the musical community, he earned nearly two dozen Emmy nominations for his work on that show alone — and is believed to hold the record for scoring the most episodes of a prime-time network series in television history.
Every year for Variety‘s late-summer music issue I prepare a chart examining every nominee in the Emmy music categories. This year the number expanded from five to six, with the new music-supervision category, so the “chart” now encompasses two pages instead of just one. We looked at the nominees’ past Emmy record, and created a line or two that gives a sense of the music, the song, the music direction and whatever else seems to be relevant. This content is rarely posted online, so here’s what they looked like in this week’s issue.
There is tremendous excitement among Marvel Comics fans about the upcoming Inhumans series on ABC, which has a a big orchestral score by Sean Callery (24, Jessica Jones). But, in fact, the Marvel TV universe encompasses a wide variety of musical sounds and styles, which I explore in a piece in this week’s Variety. In addition to Callery, I interviewed Bear McCreary (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Ali Shaheed Muhammad (Luke Cage), Jeff Russo (Legion), Trevor Morris (Iron Fist), Tyler Bates (The Punisher), John Paesano (Daredevil, The Defenders), Siddhartha Khosla (Runaways) and ABC music exec Dawn Soler.
In September of 2014, the classic spy series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. celebrated its 50th anniversary with a weekend of U.N.C.L.E.-related events in Culver City, Calif., where the Robert Vaughn-David McCallum adventure was filmed in 1964-68. The event was capped with a live performance of music written for the show by a great six-piece jazz band, and it’s no exaggeration to say that — as host and, with my good friend Robert Short, one of the producers — it was one of the greatest nights of my life. We recorded it, and it’s now available on CD: live concert performances of terrific, fun, romantic and exciting U.N.C.L.E. music by Jerry Goldsmith, Lalo Schifrin, Gerald Fried and Robert Drasnin, in many cases playing the original arrangements for the first time since they were recorded 50 years ago. Here is a lot more about it, and information about how to order.
If you left Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 unexpectedly moved by the finale, you can thank composer Tyler Bates, whose symphonic and choral work was perhaps his most accomplished yet in films. Bates, a former rock guitarist who still goes out on the road with Marilyn Manson from time to time, has not only built an entirely new career composing for films and television, he has built a very loyal clientele. As director David Leitch (the soon-in-theaters Atomic Blonde) told me for this latest Billion Dollar Composer section in Variety: “I don’t want to do a movie without Tyler Bates.” And as Guardians director James Gunn put it in a second story: Bates is “the most undervalued part of both Guardians films. They aren’t the Guardians of the Galaxy without Tyler Bates.”