Emmy Creative Arts: TV Composers Bid Farewell to Personal Themes

Once common, motifs for characters are now considered passe

Remember when you’d watch “Lost in Space” and, whenever the Robot was making trouble, you’d hear John Williams’ lumbering musical motif? Or when Napoleon Solo would encounter a femme fatale on “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and you’d inevitably hear the love theme?

That doesn’t happen much anymore. Composers still use themes for characters and situations, but they tend to be more subtle.

Game of Thrones” has themes for the Lannisters, the Starks and many subsidiary characters. But the series’ composer, Ramin Djawadi, says, “we didn’t want to overpower the listener, every time you see a different person and hear a different theme.”

It’s similar for Jeff Beal who prefers “storyline themes” in his music for “House of Cards”: “Those long story arcs have their own sound, their own musical expression,” he says.

David Buckley, in his fifth year of scoring CBS’ “The Good Wife,” finds there isn’t really room for themes. “Melodically, the show can’t really take it. There’s no real space for a melody to operate as it would in a movie. As these characters develop, they don’t need that musical identification.”

But Bear McCreary calls his take on themes in “Da Vinci’s Demons” “pretty old school.”

“If a character walks on screen, their theme is quoted,” says McCreary. “Ironically, it might be important that the average viewer is not aware (of the musical identifiers). I want them to just feel the emotion.”

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