Drama Division, by Rich Paschall

You have clearly been waiting patiently for the coming of my next top 10 list.  Well, wait no more.  I have diligently gone through the memory banks to produce a list for you.  After compiling a hefty list of TV theme songs, I find that I had to limit the category.  Out went the novelty songs like The Addams Family and Gilligan’s Island.  Out too were the comedy themes of note like Welcome Back, Kotter and the theme from Cheers, where everybody knows your name.

We could not include your cartoon favorites or even the great pieces written for news broadcasts or special events.  The Olympics theme that NBC gets to overuse with each Olympics is a stand out piece introduced in 1984 and easily recognizable now.  I could make a case for a hundred songs if I did not find a theme for this list, so drama shows is the category.

Now I admit I do not watch a lot of television shows anymore, aside from sports, so most of these will not be of recent vintage.  But it is uniquely my list and may include a few of your favorites.  Please add to the list in the comments below.

Getting an honorable mention is the theme from MASH.  You may say that it is a comedy, but many considered it a serious show with some dark humor tossed in.  Also, the theme song, Suicide Is Painless, was actually written for the movie and wisely used without the words for the television show.  Along with the series, the theme reached iconic status.

Another honorable mention goes to the Star Trek themes.  Many will tell you that the second series, The Next Generation, improved upon the original song, scripts, and special effects.  I still like the original series with William Shatner chewing up the scenery at every chance.

10.  Believe It Or Not, The Greatest American Hero. The unlikely hero of this show (William Katt) gets a superhero suit, but no instructions. The recording by singer Joey Scarbury stayed 18 weeks on the Top 40 and made it to number 2 in August of 1981.

9. Hill Street Blues theme, by Mike Post who also co-authored Believe It Or Not. The 1980’s cops drama was a critical success and ran 7 seasons.

8. Rockford Files theme, Mike Post teamed up with yet another person to pen this tune. The 1970’s detective drama starred James Garner and ran 6 seasons.

7. Bonanza. This instantly recognizable theme was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans for the long running television western. The insanely talented songwriting duo also gave us the theme to Mr. Ed and the Christmas classic, Silver Bells, among many others.

6. Hawaii Five-0. The iconic tune was updated and reused for the current series. There’s not much difference to my ears.

5. A few notes in and you will immediately know the music for the spy thriller Mission Impossible. The show is pretty dated now, but still fun to watch. Here Lalo Schifrin plays his famous composition:

4. Rawhide launched the career of Clint Eastwood. The theme song was not written for the Blues Brothers movie, as some might think, but instead for this much earlier classic western series. The vocal by Frankie Laine was a big hit.

3. Doctor Who theme. The current theme is an updated version of the original but is still pretty good. Can you imagine the Doctor travelling in the tardis to any other music? Here are all the versions, just in case you need them.

2. Perry Mason theme. For some unknown reason, this did not even make some lists I reviewed. I think it fits the show perfectly. It was reused in a series of Perry Mason movies long after the television series. The movies also starred Raymond Burr as the lawyer who never loses.

1. The best television theme was the classic tune by Henry Mancini for Peter Gunn. The private detective series featured jazz music like any good film noir detective movie of the 1950’s. The music was also recycled in the Blues Brothers movie. Mancini won an Emmy Award for the music and a Grammy for the album.


Believe It or Not, Wikipedia
Livingston and Evans
Peter Gunn, Wikipedia

Next week: Top Television Theme Songs II, Comedy Division



  2. I would almost argue that #10 is on par with the novelty/comedy themes.

    I have the themes to Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere on my computer; best instrumentals, besides the ones you listed go to What’s Happening! (by Henry Mancini), Sanford & Son (Quincy Jones) and The A Team.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those are all good ones. I remember Believe It or Not as a pop hit on the radio more than from the television show actually. Greatest American Hero was only on for three seasons.


  3. BTW, themes are what gives a radio, or TV, program and early identity, and I worked hard on the ones we used for over 20 years at K-BACH. However, in a brash move, near the end of my employment, our new manager decided to get rid of all themes, stating that radio was now going in a new direction, one of, in my words, amorphous nothingness. He based this on his familiarity with internet radio.., yet every radio and TV program I have heard since contradicts this in the extreme. He must not have gotten through to them ’cause there are themes-a-plenty, good and bad, out there to be heard and recognized.., why else would we have this conversation?

    Liked by 1 person

      • Somehow there’s a touch of dread in that statement. You don’t understand, but I’m sure Marilyn does. Those themes, as much as we love them, are like Chinese water torture to a musician. Our musical sense locks into them and we can’t shake ’em for hours, sometimes days. But for a friend I’m willing to run the rapids.., so on with the “western theme sing-a-long.”


      • Rich, this is a doozy of a post! It’s so very subjective and I’m sure you expect lots of conjecture in the comments. One of the “problems” is separating those themes identified by quality of music and those remembered for quirkiness. I’m not a music major so I hope that makes sense.
        “Hill Street Blues” is so very, very evocative in musical terms. I might rate it number one. “Peter Gunn” would get high marks for the same reason. The old “Mike Hammer” series with Darren McGavin also had a nifty jazz theme.
        “Magnum” gets praise not only for its theme but for the individual show scores.
        Then there are the personal favorites like “Rawhide”, “Have Gun-Will Travel”, “Bonanza” (Think “City Slickers”), “Mission Impossible”, “East Side-West Side”, “The Fugitive”, “Harry-O”, “The Richard Boone Show”, “Medic” (“Blue Star” was the theme) and, golly, so many more.
        Hi, Yo Silver!!

        Liked by 2 people

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