Oscar-nominated, Grammy- and Emmy-winning composer Alan Silvestri received BMI’s Icon Award Wednesday night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. His was the top honor among dozens distributed by the performing-rights society. The evening was a who’s-who of composers, songwriters and music supervisors active in films and TV. Variety asked me to cover the event, so I managed to sneak in a little time with the composer of Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Cast Away, TV’s Cosmos and so much more. Among others in attendance: Tyler Bates (Guardians of the Galaxy), Brian Tyler (Fate of the Furious), the legendary Mike Post (Law & Order), W.G. Snuffy Walden (The West Wing) and many others. Excerpts from my red-carpet interviews are included in this video.
Mike Post is widely considered the most successful composer in the history of television, having scored more than 6,600 hours of TV over the past 45 years — and winning four Grammys and an Emmy for his TV themes along the way. On Wednesday I conducted an hour-long Q&A with Mike at L.A.’s downtown Jonathan Club about his extraordinary career, including how he met producers Stephen J. Cannell (The Rockford Files, The A-Team), Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue) and Dick Wolf (the Law & Order franchise) and wound up composing the memorable themes and dramatic underscores for all those shows.
My first book was about TV themes, so it was a special honor for the Television Academy to invite me to participate in an evening celebrating that unique art form with some of its greatest practitioners. Earle Hagen (The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show) received a special award “for his pioneering work and enduring contributions,” and part of my job was interviewing Earle onstage, as well as longtime collaborators Mike Post and Steven Bochco about their work on shows like Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law. Vic Mizzy brought the house down with his amusing anecdotes about scoring The Addams Family and Green Acres. Here’s a story about the evening, and here’s a great BMI photo op with both Post and Hagen.
One of my favorite moments was when Robert Vaughn, introducing the spy-TV segment, was summoned to the podium by his old Man From U.N.C.L.E. pen communicator. Writer Arthur Greenwald, like me, was a great U.N.C.L.E. fan, and he supplied the prop; the audience loved the gag.
Everybody loves TV themes — from the silly Mr. Ed and The Addams Family to the intense Mission: Impossible and Peter Gunn to the atmospheric Hill Street Blues and The X-Files. But few people know how this music is made, or the stories of the men and women who have worked tirelessly (and often anonymously) to create it.
This book offers the complete story of this important musical field, giving it the serious, and colorfully anecdotal, history it deserves. Divided into chapters on each genre — from “Crime to a Beat” detailing cop and detective shows, through Westerns, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, TV Drama, Sitcoms, Action-Adventure, News and Documentaries, Cartoons, and Movies and Miniseries — Burlingame provides the real stories of the composers who worked behind the scenes to create the memorable music we all love.
Among those who have written and performed for television series are many famous musicians — like jazz pianists Dave Brubeck and Duke Ellington, arranger-producer Quincy Jones, film music giant John Williams, Broadway composer Richard Rodgers, and classical composer Morton Gould. Illustrated throughout with rare photos of the composers at work, this is a fascinating story of how a new genre of musical artistry was created.
A few reviews:
“Here’s a book that combines lengthy and impressive research, and tons of interviews, with good old-fashioned, behind-the-scenes stories…. Everyone will find something fun here… sets the record straight while providing a very enjoyable read.” — David Bianculli, New York Daily News
“Impeccably researched… crammed with musical facts, footnotes, biographical data — but also, lucky for us tune-deaf types, tons of juicy anecdotes about the making of our favorite tunes.” — Diane Werts, Newsday
“A far richer, more intelligent book… Burlingame has had one of those so-obvious-it’s-clever ideas and did a ton of research to dig up anecdotes about the theme songs and background music that are the soundtrack to a TV watcher’s life.” — Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly
“A serious, professional and comprehensive history of the songs and music that accompanied virtually every major show from Mr. Ed to The X-Files…. a required addition to any serious film or television library.” — Kathleen O’Steen, Emmy magazine
“A landmark historical overview of prime-time TV music from its beginnings to present day… comprehensive, informative and interesting.” — Lukas Kendall, Film Score Monthly
“Thoughtful and well-researched… Burlingame deserves high points for all the work involved; he spent several years tracking down the history of the medium, interviewing producers and composers.” — Billboard