Finding darkness at comedy’s core

Billion-Dollar Composer: Steve Jablonsky

For “Desperate Housewives” creator Marc Cherry, the challenge was to find a composer who understood the unconventional tone of the series — part comedy, part drama, part mystery, part satire — and translate it into music.

Danny Elfman wrote the theme but wouldn’t do the weekly scores. The producers tried two other composers before settling on Steve Jablonsky, who has scored 178 episodes since early in that first season eight years ago.

“I kept saying to him, ‘The comedy should have a sense of darkness, and the drama should have a twinkle in its eye,'” says Cherry, “and he really captured that. At some point he played me something that reminded me of Kurt Weill, jaunty but dark. And I went, ‘That’s it!’ and he began.”

Each episode of the ABC series demands 20-30 minutes of music, written over about five days every week during the season.

Jablonsky composes for one of the more unusual ensembles in TV: seven string players whose bowing and plucking are augmented by Jablonsky’s own synthesizers and samplers in his Santa Monica studio.

“I’m not honestly sure where (the sound) came from,” admits the composer. “I didn’t have time to think about it. It’s what came out — a little bit of orchestra and some synths. The tone of the pilot was funny, but also with a thread of ‘something’s not right, they could all be dangerous,’ and that’s what I leaned towards.”

Cherry acknowledges the music’s signature qualities. “Steve gave us our sound,” he says. “It’s such a deliciously specific kind of music, and it’s become one of the things the show is known for. He’s as much of a storyteller as I am.

“He replicated my voice,” Cherry adds. “He heard the tone of my writing — I have a very specific voice — and he managed to musicalize it. And for that I will be ever grateful.”

Billion-Dollar Composer: Steve Jablonsky
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