Rockers name that tune

This fall, Clint Black, Carly Simon, Los Lobos, Glenn Frey, Delfeayo Marsalis and even David Cassidy will boldly go where the likes of Nelson Riddle, Duane Eddy and Lalo Schifrin have gone before.

The new crew of TV theme-song writers will be belting out tunes for CBS’ “Harts of the West,” ABC’s “Phenom,” Fox’s “Front Page,” CBS’ “South of Sunset,” ABC’s “Moon Over Miami” and NBC’s “The John Larroquette Show.”

With two of the four networks courting a hip, younger audience, it makes sense for new series to use marquee-name musicians.

Sometimes, as in the case of FBC’s “Front Page,” a band gets the nod because its appeal matches the show’s demos. In other cases, the recording artist is selected because his or her sound encapsulates the timbre of the series.

Occasionally, the exec producer is a fan. Whatever the reason, in today’s competitive primetime environment the theme has to conspire to draw viewers in and keep them tuned in.

So how does a producer decide that a certain performer is right for a series? And, if toe-tappers like Black’s theme song for CBS’ “Harts of the West” (“In a Laid Back Way”) goes double platinum, who gets the dough?

On “Harts of the West,” creator and executive producer Robert Moloney drew up a short list of country performers whose sensibilities he felt would capture the timbre of his Saturday night hour. “Harts” is about a Chicago lingerie magnate (Beau Bridges) who decides to follow his dream of living in the West. Lloyd Bridges plays the old mule-skinner who coaxes the Windy City tenderfoot through his rustic adjustment.

A Black theme

A producer on the show had contacts with some Nashville agents, and the “Harts” staff got a copy of the pilot to Clint Black, who agreed to write the theme.

The phrase “Harts of the West” appears in the song, but Moloney did not want to set any parameters on Black’s composing. He merely suggested the song “have something to do with wanting to change your life and simplify it.”

The songwriter retains the publishing rights for the theme “In a Laid Back Way.” If it becomes a hit, Black, not “Harts’ ” production company (Kushner-Locke), stands to profit.

By contrast, “South of Sunset” exec producer Stan Rogow says any revenue from Glenn Frey’s title track will flow into the profit pool for the show.

The selection of the former member of California rock band the Eagles as the theme performer was a natural, since he plays the lead in the private eye series.

The producer wanted the show to have the desultory-yet-cool feel of the Sunset Boulevard locale.

Says Rogow: “When you think Los Angeles and rock ‘n’ roll, you think about the Beach Boys, and they weren’t right. Then you think about the Eagles. And, lo and behold, while we were casting this series there was Glenn Frey, so we started talking about music.”

Several seasons back, Rogow had used jazzman Wynton Marsalis on “Shannon’s Deal.” Rogow showed the musician the pilot before Marsalis composed the theme. This season, Marsalis’ baby brother, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis, is scoring ABC’s “Moonlighting”-type comedy “Moon Over Miami.”

Potential viewers were likewise a major concern in formulating the theme music of Fox’s newsmagazine “Front Page.” The show’s exec producer wanted to craft a program that would appeal to a younger audience, and he wanted a theme to convey the fact it was the first national newsmag produced from L.A.

Corvo told Los Lobos the show would originate in L.A.’s photogenic Bradbury Building, and showed them sketches of the opening montage.

Says Corvo, “I wanted something that would appeal to a younger viewer … Los Lobos had a nice, unplugged sound; and they’re from L.A.” The group deliveredsome signature guitar music, drums and humming as an intro for the hour. Los Lobos retain publishing rights to the theme.

Actor-songwriter David Cassidy submitted a scat-blues tune under the pseudonym of Blind Lemon Jackson to Don Reo, exec producer/creator of “The John Larroquette Show.”

Reo and the other producers listened to 10 entries and felt “Jackson’s” composition best captured the feel of a sitcom set after midnight in a St. Louis bus depot. They discovered his real identity when they called him in to talk about recutting the tune to fit the credits.

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