Seattle Opera The Life and Times of MalcolmX McCaw Hall Seattle Washington

PuzzleWatch: Tuning In – The heyday of TV music

From Andy Griffith to Mary Tyler Moore, test your memory of TV's most memorable tunes.


The puzzle’s author in 1961, when photographic pride of place was always granted to the new TV.

By 1960, 90% of American households had a television set, and with this new technology came an outpouring of new content: news, dramatic shows, comedy, educational programming, and more. Of special interest to some budding musicians (like me) were Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s (like me) Concerts, which ran from 1958-1972. These were enriching and unabashedly erudite, with wonderful music and an accessible sophistication. 

This crossword puzzle is not about that television music. It’s about another genre of music that exploded with the widespread broadcast of TV shows in the 1960s. It’s about the brief, corny, sometimes laughable, but easily recognizable “theme songs” that would signal the beginning of a program. Songwriters churned out these little ditties, which not only set the scene – you knew immediately you were in Mayberry, on the Ponderosa or the starship Enterprise – but which could also introduce an entire storyline in less than 50 words: “Come and listen to my story ‘bout a man named Jed; / A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed…” (from The Beverly Hillbillies theme song by Paul Henning).

The names of most of these prolific composers – like Earle Hagen – are mostly unknown. Did you know, for instance, that actor Alan Thicke wrote over 40 themes for games shows and a handful for situation comedies such as Diff’rent Strokes? And many other composers made their mark writing background music that accompanied the onscreen action.

So, just for fun, take on this tickler about television themes. (Beware the earworms.) You can do it! “You’re gonna make it after all” (from the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song by Sonny Curtis).

Tuning In – The heyday of TV music – Click here for an interactive puzzle you can fill out in your web browser

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Daryl Browne is a music educator, alto, flutist and writer who lives in Beaverton, Oregon.

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