This was a special one. We discovered that John Williams was writing a new theme for Lucasfilm’s Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi and broke the story for Variety in February. Then we got to sit down for lunch with British composer Natalie Holt, who galvanized us all with her Loki music and never stopped for minute, diving into the Star Wars world with her own take on music for the Jedi Master. That interview ran as the series was just beginning in May.
Category Archives: Television Music
The Streets of San Francisco
This was a real labor of love. When we decided to do a series of albums of music from Quinn Martin productions, The Streets of San Francisco was high on my priority list. I knew and loved Pat Williams, a dear friend and brilliant composer who won several Emmys for his TV music. And that Streets theme, with its distinctive clavinet and roaring big-band sound, just screams “1970s cop show” to me and millions of others. I decided to devote the entire 2-CD set to Pat’s pilot and nine episode scores (and it was a bear to track all of those tapes down!), but there was room enough at the end to include his fun pilot score for the short-lived QM spy show A Man Called Sloane.
Musical challenges of ABC’s live “Little Mermaid”
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.
Discovery to Composers: your music is worthless
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 scores “The Mandalorian”
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.
The Grove Music Guide to American Film Music
Nine of the entries in this 2019 collection of pieces about film and TV composers are mine. They were all written in the 2010-2011 period for the distinguished Grove Music Dictionary people when I had more time on my hands. They included John Barry, Bruce Broughton, Jerry Fielding, James Newton Howard, David Newman, Lionel Newman, Mike Post, Laurence Rosenthal and Patrick Williams. While it’s nice to have articles in a Grove Music Guide, it would have been nice if the editors had contacted me about revisions and modifications to the texts (no one did), not to mention consulting me about some of the other entries (the one on Jerry Goldsmith is misleading and the Alfred Newman entry contains errors).
Detailed look at all the Emmy music nominees
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).
“Doctor Who”: new doctor, new composer
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.
Earle Hagen at 100
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.