Kelsey Grammer was at a Robert Plant concert in Los Angeles this spring when the rocker and his Band of Joy performed the track "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down." Listening to the song's lyrics as he sat in the Greek Theatre audience, Grammer realized the song was a perfect match for his character on Starz's Boss, the mercurial mayor of Chicago.
Grammer passed the song along to Russell Ziecker, head of TV music at Lionsgate (which produces Boss), and it eventually became the show's main title theme. "It works so well," Ziecker says. "Kelsey nailed it."
TV theme songs used to be ubiquitous (think The Brady Bunch, The Addams Family or, more recently, Friends). But as the networks looked to keep viewers from zapping channels (and shows lost length time anyway), opening credits were seen as expendable.
They haven't completely disappeared, however. Iconic themes still abound — everything from the Barenaked Ladies' The Big Bang Theory opener to House's chilling theme song (Massive Attack's "Teardrop"). This season, just a handful of new shows boast actual theme songs. Some were written specifically for a show — such as an original composition J.J. Abrams created for Person of Interest — while others are commercially available tracks that were licensed.
In the case of new CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls, co-creator Michael Patrick King fell in love with "Second Chance," a song by Peter Bjorn and John off their album Gimme Some. "It is vibrant, current and unique and it was a sound that was not exclusive feminine and both guys and girls would respond to," King says.
Ziecker admits that when series producers fall in love with a certain song, it sends a chill down his spine. "I start thinking, 'Here goes 200 hours of my life to put this together.'"
That's because securing the rights to a pre-existing track is never easy. A TV studio usually needs to either purchase (or buy a stake in) the song's publishing rights in order to exploit it globally. Otherwise, you might be forced to cut out the show's signature theme on DVD or internationally.
Ziecker, who years ago put together the Frasier soundtrack, says he knew Grammer would have some thoughts on what Boss' music voice should be. At first, Ziecker says he thought "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down" might be "too on the nose" for Boss, but flew down to New Orleans to meet with Plant and see the rocker perform at Jazz Fest. He was soon sold on the track — with some changes.
"We deconstructed the song and put it back together, adding a few influences and subtracting a few," he says. That included removing a banjo and mandolin from Plant's original version and bringing in a "dirtier electric guitar influence" to reflect Boss' Chicago setting. Ziecker and Plant's camp went back and forth on the song while Plant toured Russia and the Ukraine this summer, before the musician finally signed off on the changes.
The remix also gave Lionsgate the opportunity to retain a percentage of the song. "It took two or three months and a long of signoffs," Ziecker says. "When it was done I poured myself a beer and that was it." All that work may explain why so many shows eschew theme songs all together these days (or stick with original compositions).
Here's a round up of this year's new theme songs and who performs them:
2 Broke Girls
The Song: "Second Chance," from the 2011 album, Gimme Some
The Artist: Peter Bjorn and John
The Song: "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down (Boss Remix)," from the 2010 album Band of Joy
The Artist: Robert Plant and the Band of Joy (remix by Boss composer Brian Reitzell)
The Song: "Pleasant Nightmare"
The Artist: Dominican rocker Alih Jey
American Horror Story
The Song: "American Horror Story" / Instrumental
The Artists: Former Nine Inch Nails member Charlie Clouser and sound designer Cesar Davila-Irizarry
The Song: "Hey Girl (Theme from New Girl)"
The Artist: The show's star, Zooey Deschanel
Person of Interest
The Song: "Person of Interest Theme Music" / Instrumental
The Artist: The drama's creator, J.J. Abrams
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