I had never given a moment’s thought to music written for television until 1997. I was watching The Late Show with the great Peter Takács when he suddenly – in reference to Paul Shafer – said: “This guy’s a genius.”

While there’s no reason the art of composing for television cannot be done ingeniously, I cannot at the moment think of a television composer who enjoys the status of “genius.” This is in stark contrast to film composers, a small gaggle of whom regularly get the G-word applied to them (Bernard Hermann, Toru Takemitsu, Ennio Morricone . . . ). But what about Mike Post? Or Alf Clausen? Or . . . Michael Giacchino?

The punchline: Lost returns tonight! Hooray! While I admit Giacchino’s work isn’t the first reason I tune in, I am nonetheless looking forward to those low harp plucks, string tremolos, drum thuds, and creepy ostinatos with which he skillfully scores the show. His terse, austere music rarely gets the sort of attention Mama Cass and Drive Shaft have received, but when Giacchino gets a chance to let things rip, the results can be wonderful. My favorite musical moment is from the first season at the end of the episode “Deus Ex Machina:” a plain-spoken but impassioned string section raises magnificently through Terry O’Quinn’s raging words; he is “beatin’ [his] hand bloody” on a door in the ground that just won’t open. But then –

9 Responses to “Oh boy, oh boy!”
  1. Henry Holland says:

    Mr. Salvage, great choice for a Giacchino moment. My favorite is when Ben is serving Kate breakfast on the beach and she says “Why did you bring me here? etc.” As Ben replies, a very soft French horn melody comes in that just kills me every time–it *perfectly* captures the yearning, sadness and despair of that situation. I’m assuming he still records all of his stuff with a live orchestra, not samplers or synths and I think that makes a huge difference. Love the microtones and glissandos, but I’d love to know the notes in the part for horns that is often used as they go in to commericals (more in season 1 than after, it seems).

  2. Tom Myron says:

    Morton Stevens.

    I am counting the days.

  3. Chris Becker says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jim Helms. Composer and conductor of the music for Kung Fu (all three seasons). I was watching an episode last night just to hear the score. His work is/was beautiful. Seth seems to be the only person on the planet who has any idea what happened to him post-Kung Fu. Which is sad.

  4. Seth Gordon says:

    Setting aside theme songs (which are a different kind of thing) some of the old westerns had pretty good scores – Bonanza and Gunsmoke were both pretty good if memory serves me well. And Jan Hammer’s work on Miami Vice might sound a little dated today, but it was exactly right at the time. When they weren’t just playing Phil Collins songs.

    For current shows… Alf Clausen’s work on The Simpsons is pretty great. And I’m pretty fond of Adam Berry’s incidental music on South Park, too – though other people (Parker, Stone and Marc Shaiman) are responsible for the songs.

    And of course, whoever came up with the “dun-dun!” sound from Law & Order deserves some kind of recognition.

  5. andrea says:

    there’s always robert ashley:

    i think kyle gann has called him a genius on more than one occasion.

  6. You can watch a this link a cool sort animated film with music by Michael Giacchino:


    Nice work, don’t you think?

  7. David Hanlon says:

    Whoops, that was me making that last post. No, Snuffy, I’m not going to anonymously flame you.

  8. The first person who comes to mind for me is Mark Snow who composed for The X-Files. It’s enough of a unique body of work that I find I can tell almost immediately that the channel I’ve switched to is showing the X-Files just on the basis of the score (that is unless I’ve already been clued in by the distinctive camera style and lighting, or some other uniquely distinguishing characteristic).

    HBO seems to do well in hiring composers: The music for Six Feet Under is excellent, and the music for Carnivale is also fantastic.

    On a related topic, while The Sopranos doesn’t have a composer or a score per se, they use a lot of popular music as underscoring and their music editor Kathryn Dayak is totally brilliant.

  9. Angelo Badalementi’s music for David Lynch’s Twin Peaks is impressive, although the bulk of his work is in film.