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.
I am delighted to announce my latest project as producer: the very first authorized soundtrack from the classic 1960s series The Wild Wild West. Many of you will remember the Robert Conrad-Ross Martin series, a kind of “James Bond in the Old West” adventure that aired Friday nights on CBS. Despite its popularity, no recording (even of its memorable theme by Richard Markowitz) was ever issued of this music. La-La Land Records, in the wake of our success with Mission: Impossible, authorized a two-year project involving a search for original musical elements, a massive restoration and eventual creation of a 4-CD box consisting of the excerpts from the 26 best scores over the series’ four seasons. The set even premieres the original recordings of an unused Dimitri Tiomkin theme for the series. Among the other composers represented: Robert Drasnin, Richard Shores, Dave Grusin, Harry Geller, Jack Pleis, Fred Steiner and Walter Scharf.
To launch this season’s Variety coverage of the Emmy race in the music categories, I talked with a TV Academy governor and five music supervisors who may be possible nominees (for such diverse series as Halt & Catch Fire, Outsiders, Empire, Star, 13 Reasons Why and Ray Donovan) in the new category of Outstanding Music Supervision. Voters will judge these shows on the best use of songs (both original and licensed) in their dramatic contexts. For a second story about this year’s scores and songs, I interviewed the composers and songwriters of four of the season’s most talked-about TV shows: The Crown, Feud and Stranger Things and, for songs, that musical episode of The Flash.
One of my proudest accomplishments this year: unraveling the previously untold backstory of the music for Jonny Quest, arguably the greatest animated adventure series in TV history. Originally produced for prime-time by Hanna-Barbera (the people behind The Flintstones, The Jetsons and many other popular ’60s cartoons) and designed by genius artist Doug Wildey, the series lasted only one season on ABC but reran seemingly forever, especially on Saturday mornings. Those of us who grew up in the ’60s never forgot it (I still have a Jonny Quest poster on my office wall). The thrilling music, by veteran H-B composer Hoyt Curtin and newcomer Ted Nichols, remains an indelible part of our collective childhoods. In addition to chronicling the saga for La-La Land’s 2-CD set — its first official release, in spectacular sound — I served as album consultant, having done the research (including tracking down cue titles, recording dates and musicians’ rosters) some years back.
Bob Drasnin was one of the last of the great composers of the classic era of TV that spanned the 1950s through the 1980s. He scored everything from The Twilight Zone and Playhouse 90 to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible. I was proud to have included excepts from all of his U.N.C.L.E. music on the albums I produced for FSM a few years ago. In his later years he was a teacher and mentor to dozens if not hundreds of film-scoring students… and he was a nice guy with great, often very funny, stories about his years in the trenches. Here is the obituary I wrote for Variety; and here is a longer, more detailed appreciation of his work.
I’ve participated in many concerts over the years, but few can compare with the extraordinary evening of television music we did at UCLA’s Royce Hall Wednesday night. I was honored to host, and to conduct on-stage interviews with the likes of John Lunn (Downton Abbey), Alf Clausen (The Simpsons), Sean Callery (Elementary), James S. Levine (American Horror Story) and Walter Murphy (Family Guy).
A sold-out audience got to hear music by all these composers, plus Jeff Beal (House of Cards), Bear McCreary (DaVinci’s Demons), Trevor Morris (The Borgias) and Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones). One of my favorite moments was introducing Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman (Nurse Jackie) and declaring that they are “leading the way for the next generation of women composers in Hollywood.“ Here is a rundown of the evening; here’s Variety’s story; and here’s another one from the TV Academy itself with more fun photos.
This was another favorite assignment. Most of this 5-CD set consists of TV-movie scores composed by some of the greats of the ’60s and ’70s: Lalo Schifrin (Earth II), Dave Grusin (Assignment: Vienna), Leonard Rosenman (The Phantom of Hollywood), Don Ellis (The Deadly Tower), Billy Goldenberg (High Risk), Jerry Fielding (Shirts / Skins) and George Duning (…Then Came Bronson). Throw in a TV-episode score by Johnny Williams (for The Eleventh Hour), George Romanis’ theme for Assignment: Munich and Richard Chamberlain’s vocal from Dr. Kildare and you really do have a potpourri of great TV music from 1962 to 1976. It was especially exciting to revisit Grusin’s three jazzy scores for the short-lived Robert Conrad spy series Assignment: Vienna (part of The Men trilogy on ABC, 1972-73) and Schifrin’s wonderful score for the Earth II pilot of 1971.
Earle Hagen, who composed the iconic themes for The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Spy and many other TV classics, died at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. I knew Earle well and I loved the guy. We first met when I was writing my first book, on TV themes; he allowed me to audit his BMI film-scoring class; and I consulted on the writing of his autobiography, Memoirs of a Famous Composer Nobody Ever Heard Of. Here is the obituary I wrote for Variety; here‘s a longer appreciation I created for The Film Music Society; and here is the five-hour interview we did together in 1997 for the Archive of American Television. I was glad to contribute a few quotes to the Los Angeles Times obit on Earle, too.
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