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Harris Blackwood: Old TV theme songs take us back in time
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Television networks need to squeeze out every minute they can these days. One of the ways they have done it is to limit TV theme songs. I miss them.

When I heard two long blasts from the horn sections, I knew “The Dick Van Dyke Show” was coming on. A few bars later came the little pause where Dick would tumble over the ottoman in the family living room.

The bouncy theme of “Leave it to Beaver” had no words, but if we heard it, we knew we were going to the Cleaver household.

Perhaps the king of TV show themes was David Rose, a songwriter, pianist and orchestra leader. He was famous for “Holiday for Strings,” which was the theme for “The Red Skelton Show.” Rose also composed music for “Bonanza,” “Highway to Heaven,” “Little House on the Prairie” and “Highway Patrol.” He wrote many of the TV music under the pseudonym, Ray Llewellyn.

I don’t know if he had some reason to hide, but he won four Emmys for his work. He was also married for a few years to Judy Garland, not long after her work in “The Wizard of Oz.”

The other theme song guru was Earle Hagen, who co-wrote and whistled “The Fishin’ Hole,” the main theme to “The Andy Griffith Show.” There are actual words to the song and Andy Griffith recorded it, but folks seemed to prefer the whistled version.

Hagan also wrote the themes for “Make Room for Daddy,” “I Spy,” “That Girl” and “The Mod Squad.”

In 2000, he wrote an autobiography, “Memoirs of a Famous Composer Nobody Ever Heard Of.” It is interesting you could probably whistle the Griffith theme, but never knew who wrote it.

Another of the unknown writers is Mike Post, who came to fame as the writer and performer of the theme from “The Rockford Files.” Post went on to write theme songs for most of the police dramas in the 1970s and beyond.

At the age of 24, he was musical director of “The Andy Williams Show.”

Williams usually started his show by singing a few bars of his biggest hit, “Moon River.” It was his theme song. He closed with “May Each Day,” a song that included the line “May the Lord Always Watch Over You.” We could use more theme songs like that.

I think the thing I missed most about old memorable and sometimes singable theme songs is that the lead into shows often had a moral compass. You didn’t have to look in the corner of the screen for an advisory if the show was unsuitable for people of certain ages. It may have not been great theater, but it was good TV.

I didn’t believe a genie would pop out of a bottle for an astronaut or a family of millionaire hillbillies would drive a rusted out old truck to Beverly Hills, but it took you away for a little while and made you laugh. It was not political, except the time that Granny ran for Possum Queen of Beverly Hills. I don’t think that counts.

I’m glad there were little memorable tunes that introduced the shows of yesteryear. I’m glad I can hear them and be transported back to a different time and place.


Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on