‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ Composer Jeff Richmond on the Power of Theme Songs

jeff richmond unbreakable kimmy schmidt
Patrick James Miller for Variety

Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” hails from “30 Rock” exec producers Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, who are no strangers to blending cynicism with whimsy for comedic results. Following the show’s critically acclaimed freshman season, composer (and Fey’s husband) Jeff Richmond discusses creating the show’s signature sound.

It feels like “Kimmy” might have single-handedly revived the TV theme song, judging by =the way people have embraced it.

Wouldn’t that be great? I’d love if theme songs came back. Nobody wants to make room for them on broadcast anymore. They don’t have the luxury of time to spend 30 seconds to enjoy a song about your show. You’re lucky if you can get three notes in. I think people remember the shows they loved through their theme songs.

How did you come up with it?

Tina and Robert declared when they made the pitch that this show was going to have a theme song and it was going to be exactly what we ended up having — she comes out of a bunker, she’s been there 15 years, held captive. She’s going to head to New York and we’re going to hear her story told every week through a viral video. We ended up settling on these big declarative words like “unbreakable” and “miracle” and “dammit,” and built a loop around that.

What do you think makes a good theme song?

Something that’s catchy and immediately grabs people’s attention. When we were writing the theme, I remember Lorne Michaels had said, “When you hear it playing in the other room, you want to know that your show is starting.” With “Kimmy,” no matter how grim this woman’s backstory is, we’re going to visit it through this sunny, bright, almost anthemic piece of music.

Given that backstory, how do you keep the tone light through the music?

It’s the world and New York City as seen through Kimmy’s eyes. It’s not jaded and cynical and dark and oppressive, because when she gets out of the bunker, there’s a real world that she didn’t think existed anymore. I said, “We’ll do instruments that could be played at a gazebo in a town square” — trumpets, woodwinds, tubas — stuff that just sounds like resilience and happiness.

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