TV Academy humming and hawing

Music branch undecided on main title theme Emmy

The Emmy for main title theme music isn’t dead yet.

On Monday, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced that because of “the decreasing number of traditional television main title theme(s),” the category honoring them would be replaced next year by a new one, “music composition for a nonfiction program.”

Later that day, ATAS issued a clarification, indicating that while this had been recommended by the Acad’s 10-member music peer-group exec committee and approved by both the awards committee and the board of governors, a final decision was still “pending approval from the music branch.”

Despite the apparent backtracking, nostalgia-filled “end of an era” essays began appearing in the mainstream press, lamenting the loss of a television art form that had given us familiar tunes from “Gilligan’s Island” and “Green Acres” to “Mission: Impossible” and “Friends” (none of which, incidentally, ever won a music Emmy).

The fact is, according to Acad music branch governor Mark Watters: “It has become a lost craft in our business. Many TV shows don’t use them and if they do, they’re 15 seconds (or less). The day of the great themes that you and I grew up with is gone.”

Nevertheless, the music branch is now being asked to decide whether to keep the theme category or replace it with a one for documentary scores.

The Acad this week sent out “pro” and “con” documents to the music branch. Ballots are due back May 6.

Watters authored the argument to dump the theme category, asking, “Does 15 seconds of music warrant an Emmy award?” He argues that a category rewarding docu scores is “essential,” citing recent films as HBO’s “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” and Discovery’s “Life” as examples of shows with great scores that merited consideration. Docs are eligible for music composition for a series or music composition for a miniseries, movie or a special, but few are entered. Composer George Fenton won in 2007 for an episode of Discovery’s doc “Planet Earth.”

Former music-branch governor Ray Colcord argues against the change, citing notable main-title sequences in shows from AMC’s “Mad Men” to the HBO miniseries “John Adams.”

If any category should be eliminated, Colcord said, it should be the music direction category, which only had 11 entries last year.

Said Watters, “It is our responsibility to constantly adjust this process to maintain the Emmys’ relevance in the changing world of television.”

But Colcord maintains that “I don’t think we should be trading away our main title category. It has too much importance, too much history, and the music it celebrates has a place in our hearts.”

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