These composers make the smallscreen sing

Think fast on your feet, don’t ever drop the ball and be able to turn on a dime: These attributes may describe Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, but they just as surely apply to any TV composer.

“Great composers who do TV have to be able to satisfy everyone with extreme quickness,” says Steve Schnur, Electronic Arts worldwide executive of music.

It’s not a job for the faint of heart. “The (only) answer is ‘Yeah, I can get that done for you,’ ” says Geoff Bywater, senior VP of TV music for 20th Century Fox Television. “In the world of film, it’s all about the director. In TV, it’s about the producers and showrunners; you can have 10 directors. You’ve got to be very flexible.”

Variety asked a number of high-placed music execs to name a composer they respect who works primarily in television, the caveat being they could not promote one of their own clients.

“Half of what makes someone very successful in TV is defined by how well they can handle delivery dates and business aspects, whereas in film, you have a little more leeway to be creative sometimes,” says Doreen Ringer Ross, BMI VP of film/TV relations. “With TV, once you’re done, you’re done.”

“When there’s a storyline that goes on and on, they have to come up with something that fits but is unique enough that it’s different from the week before,” says Nancy Knutsen, ASCAP senior VP of film/TV.

Here, then, are the execs’ picks:

BLAKE NEELY

Neely (“Brothers and Sisters,” “The Mentalist,” “Eli Stone”) was picked by BMI’s Ringer Ross. “He was in the trenches with Michael Kamen; his musical sensibility comes from that camp. It goes beyond being classically trained. It has to do with your humanity and who you are, and that comes through in his musical palette. He was trained in feature films and ended up working in television. He’s got the whole package. Blake is also killer on the podium; he’s an incredible conductor.”

JAMES MICHAEL DOOLEY

Dooley (“Pushing Daisies,” “What About Brian”) was picked by EA’s Schnur. “The music for ‘Pushing Daisies’ was so intelligent. He manages to mix the qualities of lighthearted and darkhearted humor,” says Schnur of the Hans Zimmer protege. “He has the ability to record with a live orchestra; many TV composers don’t have that ability afforded to them. … I’d put Jim Dooley on a pedestal of who I have to work with next.”

CHRISTOPHER LENNERTZ

Lennertz (“Supernatural,” “Saint Sinner”) was picked by Fox’s Bywater. Yes, Lennertz toggles among TV, videogames and film, but Bywater thinks his sense of humor comes through whatever the medium. “He’s really good at nailing comedies, which most people will tell you is some of the hardest work,” Bywater says. “He’s right there as a go-to guy. I like his work a lot.”

JAMES LEVINE

Levine (“The Closer,” “Nip/Tuck,” “Damages”) was picked by ASCAP’s Knutsen. “He’s very musical, and what he writes fits the shows so well,” she says. “Even when he’s working on concurrent series, everything is unique to that (show) and doesn’t sound like the other series.”

EXTREME MUSIC

Extreme Music was picked by SESAC exec VP Dennis Lord. It’s not the conventional choice, but Lord says he sees the future, and it will be companies that offer pre-cleared tracks like Extreme, the worldwide production music unit of Sony/ATV Music Publishing. “What these guys have done is manage to dive into the 21st century in a big way,” Lord says. “They’ve managed to cross genres and be extremely relevant in a contemporary setting with a number of composers and writers who otherwise don’t do library music. When I look at what I see on networks (and) companies like ESPN, a lot of the music departments are getting the edict handed down from above that you will use even less expensive music than you have been.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more