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Theme songs integral part of classic remakes

Studios capitalize on title tunes familiar to both old and young

In a year when the TV Academy nearly abolished its Emmy “main title theme” category, classic TV themes are turning out to be incredibly valuable properties — especially when it comes to remakes.

An update of “Hawaii Five-O” is coming to CBS in the fall, and Morton Stevens’ classic theme (a top-10 hit for the Ventures in 1969) is not only integral to the show, it’s a major element in the network’s marketing plan.

On the bigscreen, a film version of the smallscreen’s “The A-Team” opens June 11, and composer Alan Silvestri made sure to incorporate the old series theme, by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter, while also writing his own new theme for Hannibal, B.A. and company.

That’s not always the case. Theatrical takes on “Mission: Impossible,” “The Addams Family” and last year’s “Star Trek” featured — and some might say, would have been unthinkable without — their iconic themes. Yet “The Fugitive,” “I Spy” and other movies have ignored the music of their smallscreen origins.

For both of this year’s big TV remakes, using tunes that older viewers remember and younger viewers know either from reruns or the Internet was a no-brainer.

The “Hawaii Five-O” theme “is the most enduring theme in the history of television,” said CBS marketing president George Schweitzer.

“We’re going to treat it as a lead character of the show,” he added, including a full main-title sequence (in an era when there are few left) featuring a new recording of the theme that is “as close to the iconic, classic version as possible.”

Schweitzer believes the “Five-O” theme is not just about nostalgia but appeals to younger converts — as evidenced by the millions of hits on YouTube for multiple versions, including Brian Setzer’s live performance in Japan and various amateur renditions.

For “The A-Team,” how and where to use the Post-Carpenter theme was the subject of considerable discussion, said Fox Music president Robert Kraft. “It was a very big decision. You don’t want the film to feel dated, and yet it’s not in any way divorced from the original idea or characters.”

Silvestri, who composed the score for “The A-Team” film, said, “When you work with a franchise like that, especially after all these years, you have to walk these lines about ‘new movie,’ and all the resonance and nostalgia of the original show. We wanted to find a nice placement for the original theme; hopefully we’ve done a good job with this.”

For “Five-O,” Schweitzer said CBS’ radio network will be drafted into service, playing various versions and possibly even “marathons” of “Five-O” music, which has been recorded by many artists, including Henry Mancini and a bizarre rendition by Sammy Davis Jr.

“We will do many things to market the show just based on the music alone,” Schweitzer said, citing online competitions, mashups and social media. “It’s part of the culture, so we want to make that culture work for modern media.”

Kraft said four remixes of “The A-Team’s” original theme have been done for promotional purposes, particularly for the international market, and “it’s gotten a huge response.”

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