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Nets pay the piper for ‘Titanic’-sized themes

Horner, Williams collect backend coin for news music

Cue the trumpets.

Katie Couric‘s Sept. 5 debut as anchor of the “CBS Evening News” was heralded by a fanfare from “Titanic” composer James Horner, while NBC’s new “Sunday Night Football” is being ushered in with a dramatic march from “Star Wars” cleffer John Williams. Both used L.A. studio orchestras of 85 to 90 players.

Those familiar with the process say the upfront “creative fee” was probably small and that nets usually own the music outright. The big money comes on the backend, as composers collect “performance income” from multiple TV plays over time.

One source suggests Williams has made $15 million-$20 million on his news music alone.

Horner says CBS “didn’t want it to sound like a Madison Avenue corporate logo” and that Couric sought a “more cinematic, sweeping, Americana-ish” theme.

NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol says Williams’ long association with the network — his NBC News theme has been on the air since 1985, and he has written four Olympic themes — led to the football gig. Williams delivered four themes, which will be parceled out among the NFL games and studio show “Football Night in America.”

The composer, who has never attended a pro football game, says he tried to invoke “a gladiatorial spirit, but also identifiable as an American experience.”

The webs tend to hire lesser-known composers like Bob Israel (ABC’s “World News Tonight”) and Edd Kalehoff (CBS’ “48 Hours”) for music.

But in the days of Edward R. Murrow, Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” opened “CBS Reports.” NBC’s “Huntley-Brinkley Report” closed with Beethoven’s Ninth. Henry Mancini’s “Nightly News” signature didn’t last long, but his “Decision ’76” march introduced election-night coverage for 16 years.

ABC hasn’t had a star composer for years, but it hired Marvin Hamlisch for the original “Good Morning America” theme in 1975, and Bill Conti for several themes including “PrimeTime Live” in the late ’80s.

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