10 Greatest TV Themes of All Time

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The X-Files

Chris Carter and the other creators of The X-Files were aces at scaring the holy living fuck outta the show's viewers. And they could do it in only two minutes or less.

Many episodes of the groundbreaking 1990s sci-fi/horror freakshow kickstarted with short, thrill-packed teasers that quickly introduce the particular monster of the week -- be it liver-eating mutants, killer cockroaches, or shape-shifting aliens -- and build to a stunning and sudden climax of the terrifying or adrenaline-pumping variety.

Before viewers could catch a breath (or climb down from the ceiling), they're immediately slammed with a crash of synthesizers at the beginning of composer Mark Snow's otherworldly theme song for The X-Files. It quickly fades into a series of mysteriously echoing arpeggios and piano riffs that reverberate in eerie fashion and sets the tone of Mulder and Scully's exploration into the unexplained. A warbling undercurrent of murky vibrato lurks along beneath, almost like gloomy whispers of shadowy government conspiracies or answers beyond the realm of perception.

These haunting elements are accompanied by the theme's other signature: The melodic ghostly whistling (performed by Snow's wife and fed through MIDI synth module) that flat-out evokes the general weirdness of the show.

Snow's composition -- which topped the charts throughout Europe and later became fodder for various remixes by P.M. Dawn, DJ Dado, and The Dust Brothers -- fit the gloomy mood of The X-Files as snugly as an anal probe. It helped define the cult hit during the early seasons as much as the ever-overcast milieu of Vancouver where the show was shot and gave geeks appointment television every Friday night. At least until the later years, that is, when the show crashed and burned like a downed UFO. -- Benjamin Leatherman

Taxi

Right now there are dozens of indie musicians trying desperately to mimic the effortlessly smooth flute/sax/trumpet/electric piano vibe of Bob James' "Angela (the theme from Taxi)."

They probably won't nail it -- not that you can blame them for trying. Taxi is maybe the finest sitcom ever; the influence of the show's downcast humor and its cast, which included Judd Hirsch, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Tony Danza, Marilu Henner, Andy Kaufman, and more, is still reverberating within the best TV comedies of today: Parks and Recreation, Louie, and Community.

Like other fine shows of its era (namely Cheers), Taxi mastered the fine art of melancholic comedy, and James' groovy theme captures the mood perfectly, suiting the understated style of Hirsch, the weathered beauty of Henner, and the jazzy improvisational skills of Kaufman and Lloyd. It plays like Vince Guaralid's Peanuts holidays music: warm but bummed, spritely but shrugging.

Modern TV themes try to get out the way as quickly as possible (think The Office or How I Met Your Mother), as if any time spent away from the show's characters will make you forget you're about to watch them; Bob James' Taxi theme trusts you more than that, inviting you in, patting your back, and speaking for the show's characters as much as it introduces them. -- Jason P. Woodbury

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23 comments
WeWhoEat
WeWhoEat

Am I the only one that's completely shocked that this list contains nothing (save taxi) from the golden era of TV themes; the 70s?  Hawaii 5-0, SWAT, Streets of San Francisco, Dallas just to name a few.  Although not from that era, but definitely along the same lines are Hill Street Blues and Cheers and Miami Vice.  Those themes hit you with impact and you enjoyed every moment of the opening credits; they were nearly as much an experience as the show was.

Robden Brethauer
Robden Brethauer

Dallas, Boston Legal, The Sopranos and The Dukes of Hazzard!

Leah Miller
Leah Miller

Nanny and the professor - look it up!

Brad West
Brad West

Sledge Hammer! or the original Lalo Schrifin Starsky & Hutchison.

Natalie Gossen
Natalie Gossen

Why the heck was Fresh Prince of Bel-Air not listed?

JohnQ.Public
JohnQ.Public

You missed Movin' On Up from the Jeffersons.

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