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Television music.

A term for all music that is broadcast on television. It has functioned in several different ways, reflecting the array of genres and modes of broadcasting. In American television, music has been heard as entertainment through the performances of songs and instrumental works by classical, jazz, country, pop, rock, and other performers, in other words, music presented as music. It has also been heard as “production music,” to underscore dramatic programs, enhance mood and narrative structure and meaning, similar to music’s function in films, and as a way to mark transitions within a television program and between programs. Music has functioned in these ways in both programs and in commercials. During the early years of television, these modes of television music were discrete, but from the 1980s the distinctions in the form that music takes has been blurred.

The functions of television music listed above may be generalized in three categories, using terminology for narrative agency. First, it can be “extradiegetic”—used to navigate and transition through the many programs and advertisements of a broadcasting schedule, often called the “flow” of television: from program to station break and vice-versa, and between station breaks, public service announcements, program promotions, and commercials. Second, television music can be “intradiegetic,” where it is used as background or mood music within narrative programs, such as situation comedies, dramas, and documentaries. Intradiegetic music is usually “acousmatic,” meaning the source of the music is not seen on the screen. Finally, television music can be “diegetic,” that is, music whose source appears on screen and is heard as part of the action or the mise-en-scène of a program. Diegetic music is often performed by musicians shown on the screen in genres such as musical variety shows, late-night talk shows, and music videos, but may also be featured in a narrative program.

A historical periodization of music practice in television is tied to developments in broadcasting practices and technology of the medium itself. However, music practice periods in TV differ somewhat from many media theorists’ periodization of television in general. As in any periodization, there are significant overlaps where traits of a certain period can be found earlier and continue on into the next period. With these caveats, the history of television music in television can be viewed as progressing through four overlapping stages: a “pre-broadcasting” period (c1925–48), an experimental era during which television and television programs served as exhibitions and curiosities for demonstrations private and public; a “radiophonic” period (c1948–55), in which television music borrowed heavily from vaudeville, live theater, and radio (its immediate electronic media predecessor), while also experimenting with new modes of presentation; a cinematic period (c1955–80) marked by improved production and broadcasting practices of diegetic and extradiegetic music, but also by the involvement and influence of film studios in television production, when music followed the conventions of Hollywood film scoring; and a “televideo” period (from 1981) characterized by a proliferation of music styles and a breakdown of intertextual boundaries that has been marked by the importing of popular music into TV episodes, but also the export of music from TV episodes to CDs, Internet websites, and podcasts.

Music has been an integral part of American television from its earliest days and has served as a reflection of the musical tastes of the American public through the years. This reflection can be found in the historic shift from light classical and popular standard musical styles used between the 1940s and 1970s to the rock and pop music that was adopted in the 1980s. Moreover, the dual function of television music as artistic text and commodity text has reflected perceptions of television as a whole and is perhaps a uniquely American way of utilizing artistic texts such as music for commercial ends. Much of what has been seen and heard on television has been of high artistic quality, but it has also had to be popular with a significant portion of the viewing audience in order to attract and maintain sponsorship from private corporations.

Early experimental broadcasts in the 1920s, such as those of the television pioneer Charles Jenkins, often featured musicians as subjects. The era of broadcast television can be said to have begun on 21 July 1931 when the CBS network went on the air with the “Television Inaugural Broadcast,” airing on W2XAB, an experimental station in New York. The broadcast featured Kate Smith and other singers, as well as George Gershwin, who was interviewed and who played some of his piano pieces. NBC began experimental broadcasts from New York’s Empire State Building in 1932, but did not begin public broadcasting until 1939, when its “First Night” program featured the musician Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians.

World War II delayed the widespread development of television, but after the war television stations began public broadcasting on a national scale. The first post-war musical variety show was “Hour Glass,” which debuted on 9 May 1946 and featured Dennis Day and Peggy Lee as regulars on the show. The show retained a vaudeville concept from radio and theater, featuring comedy sketches, ballroom dancing, and musical numbers accompanied by a live orchestra. Uncertain of the role of music on television, James Petrillo, the president of the AFM, sought to ban live music on TV until a remuneration schedule could be worked out. The ban was lifted on 20 March 1948 when the major networks (NBC, CBS, ABC, and DuMont) worked out an agreement with the union, and musical variety shows flourished. While continuing the “vaudeo” (vaudeville on video) format of “Hour Glass,” “Texaco Star Theater” (starring Milton Berle) set a musical standard by hiring an orchestra and the singer Pearl Bailey to feature as regulars on the show.

From 1948 music developed in the three modes of broadcasting. The remainder of this article will cover each in turn, along with historical coverage of music in animated cartoons and television advertising.

1. Extradiegetic music.

Extradiegetic music is a musical category unique to broadcast media like television and radio, where many texts are temporally juxtaposed against each other in broadcasting time in a phenomenon called “flow.” Extradiegetic music, or music outside of a “diegesis” (story), often serves as transition between these texts. Some examples of extradiegetic television music are theme music, music for station breaks, network logos, and “bumpers.”

Studio logos are brief musical mottos that help to identify the network on which a program is being viewed or the studio that produced a particular program. Although these musical texts are brief, they have significant histories and have been written by composers who work for particular studios. Perhaps the most famous of these is the three-note motif (G–E–C) that has been used to identify the NBC television network. Employing the motif reportedly took three years to implement, and it was finally played on a glockenspiel in 1926 for NBC radio. It was later transferred to television. The other networks also employed such musical logos: CBS used compositions by Jerry Goldsmith and Bill Conti, and ABC employed logos by Dominic Frontiere and Harry Geller. Musical logos identifying production studios have also been used at the end of TV programs, with notable examples by Stanley Wilson, Walter Greene, Quincy Jones, and Pete Rugolo (all for MCA/Universal), and William Lava, George Duning, and Frank Comstock (all Warner Bros.).

Perhaps the most popular musical aspect of television is theme music. Musical themes carry both extradiegetic and intradiegetic traits, transitioning broadcasting away from the flow of television and into the diegetic world of a particular TV show. Themes to TV shows have several functions: extradiegetically, they announce that a particular show is about to air and entice the viewer to come and watch, a mechanism that Tagg (2000) calls an “appellative” function. Intradiegetically, a theme provides a narrative frame to a show, serving as opening and closing, while also identifying the genre or overall mood of the program. Composers of TV theme music seek to create music that is unique to the particular program, while also providing musical style traits, or “topics,” that are familiar to the audience. Certain style topics of music have been associated with certain TV genres, usually based on pre-existing patterns with which the audience is familiar. For example, a situation comedy may feature light, upbeat music, while dramas feature more somber, serious-sounding music. Television themes are perhaps the greatest source of television discourse, as the themes repeated week after week are retained in the audience’s memory. Some themes have reached such popularity that they have been disseminated through commercial recordings, the sale of sheet music, and performances by professional and school groups. Notable themes in this regard have been those to Peter Gunn (Henry Mancini), Bonanza (David Rose), Hawaii Five-O (Morton Stevens), and The Rockford Files and Hill Street Blues (both Mike Post).

Many early television programs used fragments of pre-existing music as themes. Some early effective examples of this practice are: Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, which used Reznicek’s overture to Donna Diana; The Lone Ranger, which employed part of Rossini’s overture toGuillaume Tell, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which drew on Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette. Other programs relied on libraries from small B-movie studios for their theme music. Early filmed TV Westerns, such as Hopalong Cassidy and The Cisco Kid are among these programs.

Theme music in television has developed through two generic categories: instrumental themes and theme songs (with lyrics). Of the notable theme songs in American TV history, several have persisted in American cultural memory, beginning with “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” by Tom Blackburn and George Bruns, and continuing with, among others, “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” (from The Beverly Hillbillies) by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs (music) and Paul Henning (lyrics), “The Brady Bunch Theme” by Frank De Vol, “Three’s Company” by Don Nicholl and Joe Raposo, and “I’ll be there for you” (Friends) by David Crane, Marta Kauffman, Michael Skloff, Allee Willis, Phil Sōlem, and Danny Wilde. Perhaps not coincidentally, many theme songs have correlated with situation comedies, Westerns, or children’s programming, while instrumental themes tend to correlate with dramas, news, and documentary programs.

Although themes have been used to denote particular television programs, the musical style in which these themes have been composed has often served to connote the genre of the program. Musical style in this sense can be understood in relationship to commonly disseminated labels that have been popular with mass audiences, particularly the stylistic categories that have been adopted from format radio. Stylistic labels such as classical, jazz, rock, and country have been useful as signifying devices that correlate with television shows. For example, situation comedies of the 1950s usually featured music that could be described as light classical, and detective and private investigator programs of the 1960s often used jazz. The history of network television programs may be seen as a shift from light classical and the cinematic Hollywood symphonic style to a plethora of musical styles that includes rock and pop music.

Along with theme music, other extradiegetic musical devices are notable for TV: the “bumper” is a brief segment (three to five seconds) of music derived from the theme accompanying the logo of the show that is broadcast during commercial breaks. The bumper’s function is to remind viewers that the show will return after commercials. Act-ins and act-outs are transition segments of music that transition from show to commercial or commercial to show. Musical act-ins have usually been accompanied by an establishing shot of the narrative setting, while act-outs have been accompanied by “stage waits” where the actors freeze a pose, usually in reaction to a suspenseful event. Both types of cues are heard as intradiegetic music (during the action of the show), but serve to transition to or from a commercial break.

2. Intradiegetic music.

Music also plays a role in narrative television by furnishing background, or “underscore,” music for narrative programs, similar to the role of music in narrative films. Like film music, intradiegetic television music often uses themes as leitmotifs to signify characters and settings in a TV narrative. Music also creates moods in the story, recalls past events or predicts future events, builds action or suspense, reveals the inner thoughts of characters, and transitions from scene to scene. In the early years dramatic music on TV functioned much like its counterpart in film, often anchoring the audience to the image and sounds of a program and adding another dimension of sound and meaning to the show.

During the radiophonic era dramatic genres such as anthology dramas and soap operas were acted live on stage, and live music accompanied the action. In these programs a pianist, organist, or small orchestra would play as live action took place in an adjacent studio, with the conductor or solo performer watching a monitor. Because such production practice was expensive, many producers soon opted to use recorded music, where a music editor would “needle drop” musical cues from a vinyl LP record. This practice led to the AFM banning recorded music from its members until a deal for a system for paying royalties was negotiated in 1950 (even though no such system existed for the film industry).

As TV emerged in the late 1940s, film studios regarded it as a rival medium and either ignored it or sought to limit its influence. At the same time small, independent film companies sprang up to make films for television. Frederick Ziv, who developed a radio–television syndicate, became one of the most famous of these independent producers and began his career with the daytime children’s Western series The Cisco Kid, with music by Albert Glasser. Glasser set the trend in early TV scoring by recording a set of cues in France to circumvent the expense of hiring union musicians and to avoid the AFM ban. These cues were recycled in the show and even sold to other shows, creating a library like those used in B movies.

Glasser’s work compiling his small library of cues for specific TV series led to imitators. The MUTEL (“Music for Television”) Music Service was created by David Chudnow, a former music editor for Republic and Monogram film studios, in 1951. Many of the cues in MUTEL probably originated in stock tracking libraries that Chudnow had assembled for B movies in film studios where he was a music supervisor. Chudnow created MUTEL in part because of the AFM’s ban on recording cues for TV tracking and partly as a way to market his pre-existing stock cue library. The MUTEL scoring service provided both custom themes for such early TV series as “The Adventures of Superman” and a library of cues for tracking episodes of many shows. Among the other TV series that made much use of MUTEL were Racket Squad, Captain Midnight,Broken Arrow, Annie Oakley, Sky King, and Ramar of the Jungle. Other TV music packaging services followed, including Omar Music, Gordon Music, Guild Production Aids, Structural Music, and the Capitol “Q”-Series Library (see Production music).

The major film studios ended the boycott of network television in 1955, when Warner Bros. produced three programs, Cheyenne, Kings Row, and Casablanca, based on their earlier studio films. Of the three, only “Cheyenne,” a Western starring Clint Walker, was successful. Music for the series was scored by the B-movie composers William Lava and Leith Stevens; the other two programs contained music by David Buttolph. As other film studios followed, many film music composers tried their hand at composing for the new medium. Bernard Herrmann, who had scored Citizen Kane and many of the Alfred Hitchcock films of the 1950s, composed the original theme music for The Twilight Zone and Have Gun—Will Travel and provided music for several episodes of these programs as well as cues for Gunsmoke and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Leonard Rosenman, who composed scores for such films as The Cobweb and East of Eden, scored several episodes of Combat!, Marcus Welby, M.D., and The Virginian, among other TV shows. Hershel Burke Gilbert, who composed several Academy Award–caliber film scores (The Moon is Blue, Carmen Jones), composed music for such TV Westerns as The Rifleman and Gunsmoke and for popular shows like Perry Mason and Burke’s Law. As television gained viewership, a symbiotic relationship between film and TV scoring became apparent, with many film composers working in television, but also newly minted television composers moving to film. Jerry Goldsmith worked primarily in television in the 1950s, scoring programs like Climax!, Dr. Kildare, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., before breaking into film in the 1960s with scores forLonely are the Brave, Seven Days in May, and Von Ryan’s Express. John Williams, who began his career as a TV music copyist, scored programs like Kraft Suspense Theater and Irwin Allen’s sci-fi series The Time Tunnel and Lost in Space, before composing for blockbuster movies including the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films.

Much music in this cinematic period of TV was composed in the post-Romantic symphonic style of much Hollywood film music, but other musical styles began to creep into television music. Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn score and other programs of the late 1950s and early 1960s used jazz. The police drama M Squad featured a theme composed by Count Basie and a score by Shorty Rogers. Other shows that followed Basie’s and Mancini’s lead were 77 Sunset Strip and Hawaiian Eye, with words and music by Mack David and Jerry Livingston, respectively. Bluegrass and country music were included in pastoral programs like The Beverly Hillbillies and, later, The Dukes of Hazard, the latter featuring music performed by Waylon Jennings.

Rock and pop music slowly made its way into intradiegetic television music, just as it had with diegetic television music. The first show to treat rock music intradiegetically was The Monkees in 1966. Taking advantage of the popularity of the Beatles’ films A Hard Day’s Night andHelp!, the producers Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson sought to create a made-for-TV group based on the Beatles that could be exploited for record sales. The program featured four charismatic actor-musicians shown performing songs composed by the Hollywood insiders Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart in an unconventional weekly situation comedy format. Songs performed during the show blended diegetic and intradiegetic music that accompanied rapidly paced visual montages of the actors on screen. The commercial success of The Monkees led to at least one imitator, The Partridge Family (1970–74, with the teen-idol singer David Cassidy). The show also set a precedent for featuring pop music within a story line and was followed by programs like Fame (1982–7), a television adaptation of the film musical, and Cop Rock (1990), a bizarre and unsuccessful hybridization of police drama and film musical.

Other TV shows in the 1960s featured music that pointed to an increased influence of rock. Hawaii Five-O, a police drama that debuted in 1968, featured a theme song composed by the CBS music director Morton Stevens with a big band sound and a rock beat played by Polynesian-sounding drums. Ironside (music by Quincy Jones) and The Mod Squad (music by Earle Hagen) also featured rock-influenced theme music as did Mike Post’s scoring for The Rockford Files.

Although these composers paved the way for greater musical stylistic diversity on television, authentic rock music truly came to narrative television with the program Miami Vice. By 1984 music videos had become influential as purveyors of popular music in the United States, and the editing techniques of quick cuts and montage, and surrealistic images of music video became compelling for television as well. The NBC president Brandon Tartikoff appointed Michael Mann to produce an “MTV cops” concept show, and Mann chose the Czech keyboard player Jan Hammer, who had played with the jazz-fusion group the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the 1970s, to compose music for the series. Hammer’s theme suggests truly progressive rock of the 1980s, utilizing synthesizer, distorted guitar, and Latin-style percussion.

Hammer’s music to Miami Vice marked the beginning of a postmodern “televideo” era for TV music in which the use of music on TV expanded, as did the multiplicity of musical styles on TV. Programs like Northern Exposure featured a wide array of intradiegetic music ranging from opera to blues, rock, and pop. The soundtrack of the show is permeated with music, and the distinction between diegetic and intradiegetic music is blurred. Post continued his work with scores that could be called easy listening or smooth jazz in Hill Street Blues, and rock and world music in NYPD Blue. Also, the proclivity demonstrated in Miami Vice to feature pop tunes in its narrative was copied by shows like Beverly Hills, 90210, The O.C., Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek, and Grey’s Anatomy. In turn, from the 1980s music exhibited postmodern traits of self-reflexive parody and pastiche in programs like Chicago Hope, Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and The Simpsons. Rap music, or at least a version of it, appeared with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Despite the plethora of music styles featured in TV programs of the 1980s and 90s, the overall trend in narrative shows was to include less music. Shows like Frasier and Seinfeld had attenuated theme music at the beginning in order to get viewers into the show more quickly and to provide more time for advertising.

With the advent of cable television in the 1980s, and its specialty channels such as Home Box Office (HBO) and MTV, a strategy of narrowcasting was developed which involved programs being marketed to specific demographic audiences. Programs would also feature popular music that was often compiled on CD or MP3 downloads, and websites would be developed based on the show. Popular music that would appeal to this demographic was featured in episodes of the show, and music from these episodes in turn would be marketed through the sale of CDs and MP3 downloads and broadcast from Internet websites generated by the production studio and from fans. The result of such intertextual and intermedia proliferation of music has demonstrated the importance of multiple modes of presentation and highlighted the dominance of large corporate conglomerates that own both TV network and recording companies. Programs in the 1990s and 2000s like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek, Beverly Hills, 90210, and The X Files generated many websites and music CD sales, all of which generated more interest in the TV show.

3. Diegetic television music.

The broadcasting of diegetic music—musicians performing on the screen—on early television was prevalent for two reasons: music performance was a continuation of the broadcast practices on radio and audiences were used to broadcast music; and music acts were inexpensive for fledgling TV stations to program.

As a novelty, early television broadcast a wide range of programs, from sporting events to current news events, as well as live artistic performances. Classical music broadcasts, in particular, were prevalent on American networks in the late 1940s and early 1950s, in part because television was considered an elite medium in its early years. Television sets were expensive, and owned only by a wealthier demographic, so programming was designed to cater to this audience. NBC, in particular, continued many of its musical programs from its radio broadcasts of the 1940s, such as ten televised concerts of the NBC Symphony Orchestra between 1948 and 1954, when Arturo Toscanini retired as its conductor. These concerts were simulcast on NBC radio and television stations, a practice unique at the time. The NBC Opera Company produced 43 different broadcasts from 1949 to 1964, beginning with Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief on 16 March 1949. The one-act opera was commissioned for NBC radio in 1939. NBC’s first made-for-TV opera was Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, first broadcast on 24 December 1951. Other television operas commissioned by the NBC Opera Unit included The Marriage by Bohuslav Martinů (1953), Griffelkin by Lukas Foss (1955), and La grande Bretèche by Stanley Hollingsworth (1957). CBS countered with television operas by Norman Dello Joio, Carlisle Floyd, Ezra Laderman, and Igor Stravinsky (The Flood, 1962), but perhaps became more famous for the broadcast of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, broadcast from Carnegie Hall from 1958 to 1972. NBC broadcast its last opera, Menotti’s The Labyrinth, on 3 March 1963, while CBS halted opera broadcasts with Benjamin Lees’s Medea in Corinth on 26 May 1974. ABC, while not specifically commissioning operas for television, periodically broadcast performances from the New York Metropolitan Opera in the early years of the network.

As TV sets became less expensive, more viewers from a wider demographic were able to buy them, and thus a plurality of musical styles was broadcast to appeal to the mass viewing market. Eventually, the special broadcasts and commissions for new classical works died out as other TV genres such as dramas, situation comedies, sporting events, and news and current events programs gained popularity. Almost all classical music broadcast in both opera and the concert hall was taken over by such public television networks as PBS, which began in 1961.

The influence of Broadway on television was evident in the NBC broadcast of the Broadway musical Peter Pan starring Mary Martin in the title role. The musical was broadcast in color on 7 March 1955, as a special live presentation on the program Producer’s Showcase, a 90-minute weekly anthology series. The musical was so popular, it was presented again in 1956 and 1960, with nearly the same cast for each broadcast. CBS responded later, by broadcasting Once upon a Mattress, a popular 1959 Broadway musical starring Carol Burnett, on 3 June 1964. Her appearance on this show catapulted her career with the network, leading to her presenting her own comedy–variety show (1967–78).

Also in this early period, variety shows were developed to feature musicians who adapted to the medium and were popular with audiences. One of the earliest musical stars was Perry Como, a popular crooner from radio whose smooth, satiny voice adapted well to television audio. Other popular musicians followed, notably, the singer Dean Martin (who co-hosted The Colgate Comedy Hour with Jerry Lewis), Arthur Godfrey, and Frank Sinatra, all of whom hosted their own TV shows. Some big-band personalities also made the transition to television: Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey hosted the program Stage Show (1954), the bandleader Fred Waring hosted The Fred Waring Show (from 1949), and Paul Whiteman hosted Paul Whiteman’s Goodyear Revue (1949–52) and On the Boardwalk with Paul Whiteman (1954). The most successful was the bandleader Lawrence Welk, who hosted The Lawrence Welk Show for more than 25 years from 1955.

During the 1950s and 60s diegetic music on television developed primarily in two areas: the musical variety show that abandoned the vaudeville format and sought greater sophistication through jazz and Broadway music; and the late night talk show. In the variety format, stars like Sinatra and Como continued hosting programs in which they and guest stars sang jazz standards and Broadway show tunes. Nat “King” Cole, a talented jazz pianist and vocalist, sought to break the color barrier on television with The Nat King Cole Show in 1956. Seeking to host his own show after scoring many hit records in the 1950s, Cole sang, played piano, and featured dozens of renowned jazz artists. Although NBC was supportive of the show, a sponsor could never be found, and Cole cancelled the show after a one-year run. Dinah Shore proved that women musicians could host their own programs, starring in The Dinah Shore Chevy Show that began in 1956 and ran through 1963. The popular film and Broadway star Judy Garland also hosted her own show for a season (1963). Other shows followed, hosted by the musicians Sammy Davis, Jr., Steve Allen, Leslie Uggams, Danny Kaye, Steve Lawrence, and Dean Martin. Perhaps the most popular and successful of all variety shows was The Andy Williams Show, which ran off and on from 1962 to 1971. As rock music became more popular, shows by the Smothers Brothers and Sonny and Cher were featured as experiments as to how the new musical form would adapt to the old format of the variety show. While these programs sought to cater to a new generation of TV watchers, they mostly rehashed the old formulas of standard variety shows.

Despite the popularity of musicians hosting their own programs, the program perhaps most responsible for broadcasting the widest variety of musical styles on television was The Ed Sullivan Show, hosted by Ed Sullivan, a former newspaper columnist and critic. Sullivan had a talent for identifying performers, especially musicians, who would attract viewers to the program. His show was one of the longest running in television history, beginning in June 1948 and running until CBS canceled it in 1971. Along with comedy, dance, and acrobatic acts every week, Sullivan featured music performances of classical, jazz, Broadway, opera, folk, rock, and soul. The show was especially noted for introducing Elvis Presley (1956) and the Beatles (1964) onto the American music scene. In addition, Sullivan brought to the show such rock bands as the Rolling Stones, the Four Seasons, the Animals, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and the Who; such jazz greats as Cole, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Mills Brothers, and Louis Armstrong; and classical and pop-classical artists like Sergio Franchi, Jan Peerce, Liberace, Roberta Peters, and Itzhak Perlman. Sullivan’s show exemplified the musical eclecticism of network TV that was prevalent in its formative years but which had waned by the 1980s.

Music also played a significant role on late-night talk shows. One of the earliest experiments in late-night television was Tonight!, which premiered in 1953 and starred Steve Allen, a notable comedian, jazz pianist, and writer of more than 8000 songs. The show featured plenty of jazz played by Allen himself and the NBC Orchestra, which at the time was a jazz big band directed by Skitch Henderson. Allen also hosted jazz musicians on the show, blazing a televisual trail for African American jazz artists including Earl Hines, Billie Holiday, Lionel Hampton, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis. After Tonight! Allen went on to host other late-night and prime-time shows including The Steve Allen Show, featuring the Donn Trenner Orchestra, which included such virtuoso musicians as the guitarist Herb Ellis and the trombonist Frank Rosolino. Later incarnations of Tonight! included the same high standards in music. Jack Paar’s show featured his orchestra director José Melis. Skitch Henderson returned in 1962 with The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, but left in 1966 and was replaced first by Milton DeLugg, who was in turn replaced by Henderson’s lead trumpeter, Carol “Doc” Severinsen, who headed the NBC Orchestra until Carson’s retirement in 1992. After Carson, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno featured the jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis as bandleader from 1992 to 1995; Marsalis was replaced by Kevin Eubanks, a Berklee-trained musician who was the band’s guitarist. After Allen’s show, music was used mostly for “play-ons” and “play-offs,” that is, music to bring guests onto and off the stage. However, talk shows frequently had the orchestras play to the audience during commercial breaks and often featured the band alone or with guest performers.

Jazz and swing artists dominated both variety show and late night talk genres in the 1960s and 70s. Big bands were led by such swing artists as David Rose (The Red Skelton Show), Les Brown (The Bob Hope Show, The Steve Allen Show, The Dean Martin Show, The Hollywood Palace), Sammy Spear (The Jackie Gleason Show), Skitch Henderson (Tonight!), Severinson (The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson), Mitch Miller (Startime, The Mitch Miller Show, Sing along with Mitch), Johnny Mann (The Joey Bishop Show), and Mort Lindsey (The Merv Griffin Show), among others. Jazz pianist Billy Taylor became the first African American to become music director of a talk show, performing on The David Frost Show” from 1969 to 1972. By the 1990s and 2000s successful imitations of Carson’s talk show included The Late Show with David Letterman, featuring Paul Shaeffer, a keyboard player who started his career on Saturday Night Live; The Arsenio Hall Show with bandleader Michael Wolff; and Late Night with Conan O’Brien, featuring the Max Weinberg Seven, whose leader was also the drummer for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

Despite the hegemony of jazz, Broadway, and Tin Pan Alley standards, rock gradually made headway in American television, beginning with Elvis Presley’s appearance on Stage Show on 4 February 1956. That same year, he also performed for The Milton Berle Show, The Steve Allen Show, and The Ed Sullivan Show. After Presley’s success on his show, Sullivan, in particular, began to feature rock-and-roll artists, which culminated in his hosting of the Beatles on 7 February 1964, another landmark event.

Although shows like Sullivan’s helped to bring rock music into the TV mainstream, rock and pop music was popular on locally produced shows that aired to local youth audiences. One such show was American Bandstand, which made the jump from a local TV music show in Philadelphia to a nationally syndicated series on 5 August 1957. The show began as a local music show in 1952, hosted by two Philadelphia DJs. When Dick Clark took over the nationally syndicated version in 1957, he brought in top pop acts daily until 1963, then weekly until 1987. The show featured ordinary (but auditioned) teenagers dancing to recorded music and guest artists including, among others, Danny & the Juniors, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Connie Francis, Fabian, and Patsy Cline (in the 1950s); Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and Cass Eliot (1960s); Stevie Wonder, Billy Preston, Tony Orlando, Marilyn McCoo, and Michael Jackson (1970s); and Billy Ocean, Gary U.S. Bonds, and Huey Lewis and the News (1980s).

The success of American Bandstand marked a shift in musical style on television, as appearances of jazz and Tin Pan Alley musicians began to decline, while appearances by rock stars became more frequent. Clark produced a spin-off show called Where the Action Is (1965–74), in which many top American and British acts starred, including Otis Redding, the Four Seasons, the Association, the Zombies, Peter and Gordon, and the Everly Brothers. Regulars on almost every show were the made-for-TV pop group Paul Revere and the Raiders. Shorter-lived, youth-oriented variety shows were Shindig (1964–6, on ABC), which was hosted by the DJ Jimmy O’Neil and featured its house band, the Shindogs, and a female vocal quartet, the Blossoms; and Hullabaloo, a more buttoned-down show on NBC. Other rock variety shows that aired on American television through these years included The Lloyd Thaxton Show, Solid Gold, Soul Train, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, and The Midnight Special. Of these, Soul Train, an African American version of American Bandstand hosted by Don Cornelius, was still in syndication in the early 2010s after beginning in 1971.

Country music also had a few outlets in national television, notably Ozark Mountain Jubilee, (ABC, 1955–61), The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show (NBC, ABC 1955–65), and The Johnny Cash Show (1969–71). Hee Haw, a comedy–variety show starring the country musicians Buck Owens and Roy Clark, was also popular, and Austin City Limits (from 1975) has featured blues, rock, folk, bluegrass, and related styles broadcast from the public television station KLRU (formerly KLRN) at the University of Texas, Austin. Finally, the folk music movement was represented in its heyday by ABC’s Hootenanny, which debuted in 1963, but lasted only one season due to a controversy created when Pete Seeger and the Weavers refused to sign government loyalty oaths to appear on the show.

Perhaps the shift toward pop and rock reached its greatest outlet on television with Saturday Night Live, an innovative comedy–variety show that aired during the late-night talk show slot on Saturday on NBC. The program began its run in 1975 and was still being broadcast in the early 2010s. Besides featuring its own house band, the show presented a weekly guest musical group, usually a popular rock band or solo artist. By the beginning of the 21st century, the show had employed a variety of music directors.

Yet another diegetic music genre is the talent show, in which non-celebrities perform on television. An early version was The Original Amateur Hour, which was an adaptation of a radio favorite, Major Bowes Amateur Hour. A few other programs followed, including a comic spin on the genre with The Gong Show, and in the 2000s shows like America’s Got Talent appeared. The genre reached its most elegant and popular form with American Idol, in which amateur singers compete for a major recording contract.

With the advent of cable television, audiences became more fragmented, as new networks sprang up trying to appeal to target audiences. As the three primary networks lost influence and audiences, others changed the face of music in television. The greatest of these new musical cable networks was MTV, which began broadcasting music videos in 1981. Imitations of MTV were developed for other niche demographic markets during the 1980s and 90s, notably VH1 (for older rockers), Black Entertainment Television, Country Music Television, and the Nashville Network, not to mention music specials on premium cable channels such as HBO and Showtime. The popularity of music videos soon became apparent as another medium by which to broadcast music and to bolster record sales.

4. Cartoon music.

Children’s cartoon shows provided the same types of music as that found in adult programming. Although many early cartoons on television were transplants from earlier film shorts (MGM’s Tom and Jerry, Warner Bros.’ Merrie Melodies, and Fleischer Studios’ Popeye the Sailor), made-for-TV cartoons developed by the late 1950s and flourished by the 1960s. To appeal to the new baby-boomer generation, a spate of cartoon shows were produced by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera (The Ruff and Reddy Show, The Huckleberry Hound Show, The Yogi Bear Show, The Flintstones, and The Jetsons), whose scores and theme songs were composed by Hoyt Curtin; these continued through the 1990s with programs like Smurfs (which included collage scores containing classical pieces), Scooby-Doo, and Jonny Quest. Walt Disney adapted his cartoons to television along with its entire production stable, and by the 1990s the studio had its own network on cable television. Another notable cartoon series was Rugrats, produced in 1991 for the Nickelodeon children’s cable network with music by Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh; the former was a founder of the band Devo and composed music for other shows like Clifford the Big Red Dog, and Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Subsequently animated shows such as The Simpsons (theme music by Danny Elfman, music by Alf Clausen), Family Guy (music by Walter Murphy and Ron Jones), and King of the Hill (theme music by the Refreshments, music by Roger Neill and Greg Edmonson) have followed the format of The Flintstones as adult cartoons and have employed music imaginatively, using musical style and specific pieces to conjure up parody, metaphor, and irony in their narratives. These programs have also revealed a different kind of labor separation in the TV music business, as numerous composers, orchestrators, conductors, and arrangers have been involved in their production.

5. Advertising music.

Music in TV advertising reflects many of the trends for television music in general. As in television programming, music in commercials may also be considered to operate extradiegetically, intradiegetically, and diegetically. In its early form it tended to be in a light classical style (although several popular songs were also appropriated with new lyrics extolling the product), with some experiments with jazz, and rock and pop styles were developed from the 1970s to the 2000s. The primary form of musical advertising in the early years of television was the jingle, usually defined as a brief, catchy tune with lyrics that included the name of the product being advertised. Like TV themes, jingles have persisted in the memory of many American TV watchers. Such jingles as “You can trust your car to the man who wears the star” (Texaco), “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” (Kellogg’s Rice Krispies), “When you’ve said Budweiser, you’ve said it all” (Budweiser), and “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should” (R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.) were common during the heyday of the televisual jingle. Like television music itself, commercials evolved to use pop and rock music, begun perhaps by the cola wars of advertising between Coca-Cola and Pepsi. In 1969 the Coca-Cola Co. bought into an advertising campaign in which hundreds of youths from around the world were pictured with bottles of Coke singing a pop-style song, “I’d like to teach the world to sing.” Pepsi followed suit with their own advertising campaigns, eventually using celebrities in their commercials: from 1984 Michael Jackson sang new lyrics to his pop songs (for example, “You’re a whole new generation” to the tune of his hit “Billy Jean”) and allowed the use of his songs as underscore (“Bad”); and from 1991 Ray Charles sang the jingle “You’ve got the right one, baby.” Another notable campaign was the “Like a Rock” campaign for Chevrolet (General Motors) trucks in the 1990s, which used the song by the American rock singer Bob Seger. After the 1990s, jingles as an advertising strategy were used less and less by advertising agencies, causing several jingle composers to bemoan the loss.

Besides jingles, music in commercials has often served to underscore dramatic action on the screen. In this regard TV commercials can be segmented into several types, such as mini-narratives (“slice of life”) and testimonials, all of which flourished side by side in network television. Regardless of form, both advertising professionals and music scholars have commented that music functions in specific ways in successful campaigns, notably by creating moods and feelings, and can unify aspects of an advertisement by being entertaining and able to wed the visuals to the message, highlight the action, embellish the optical effects, and give an inexpensively and locally produced spot the feeling of being a Hollywood production. It has been said that music should arrest the viewer’s attention and provide a structural continuity to the ad.

Much early thinking about music in advertising centered on the philosophies of Rosser Reeves, who believed music should contain a strong advertising message and appeal to the widest possible demographic. As television evolved, however, music followed the narrowcasting strategy of targeting specific market demographics by using rock and pop for young audiences, country music for rural audiences, and so on. Most theorists on advertising music agree that, above all, music in commercials should be entertaining, with a lyrical language that simultaneously establishes authority or advocacy for a product, while producing an artistic surface message that sugar-coats the appeal to buy a commodity with an aesthetic dimension of music.

See also Film music and Television musical.


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