Radio Big Wig Tom Cuddy told us about a TV Themes promotion he was involved with back when he was VP of Programming at WPLJ-FM in New York. (Actually, the idea came from a happenstance on Scott Shannon's radio program!)
I'll let Tom fill you in on the rest of the details ...
Your invitation to have readers submit a list of their favorite TV themes has brought back some memories.
I believe that over the years TV themes have never received all the respect they deserve. Some of them are among the catchiest melodies of all-time. I have friends who know the lyrics to more TV themes, than hit records!
When I was VP of Programming at New York’s WPLJ-FM, I produced a one-time special event saluting nothing but TV themes. To explain what it was about, I did a Google search last weekend and found a story about this memorable concert written by one of the NYC papers:
WPLJ TOASTS TV THEME SONGS
NY Daily News
It's terrifying, beyond terrifying really, how many TV theme songs unsuspecting Americans carry around. The most casual TV fan hears three notes of "Happy Days" or "The Flintstones" or "Friends" or "The Jeffersons" and suddenly the whole song spools out uncontrollably in his or her head. Now radio station WPLJ (95.5 FM), far from helping cool this addiction, is encouraging it.
'PLJ has rented the China Club April 27 for "TV Tunestock," at which composers or singers of the themes from "Cheers", “Facts of Life” and others will perform their songs live. They will be joined by a live orchestra playing more themes from "Gilligan's Island," "Love Boat" and so on. There will also be sing-alongs, said WPLJ vice president Tom Cuddy, and morning hosts Scott Shannon and Todd Pettengill will perform at least one yet-unselected song themselves.
This whole thing started when Shannon and Pettengill spun Joey Scarbury's theme from "The Greatest American Hero" as part of a flashback feature. Suddenly we started getting calls from listeners talking about how they grew up on that song and other TV themes," says Cuddy. "So we thought, 'We produce special events for our listeners all the time, why not track down these artists?”
So far they're signed up, among others, Scarbury; David Pomeranz, "Perfect Strangers"; Gary Portnoy, "Cheers" and the "Punky Brewster" theme; Greg Evigan, “My Two Dads,” "B.J. and the Bear"; Gloria Loring, "Facts of Life;" David Naughton, “Makin’ It,” and, of course, Scarbury.
Ironically, television itself has devalued themes lately. Some shows have no recognizable music at all. But the people remember.
In 2002, both TV Guide and the TV Land network, whose reruns bring classic themes to a new generation, compiled lists of the top TV themes. TV Land's was a top 40 countdown, with "Gilligan's Island" edging "Happy Days" for No. 1. TV Guide's list ran chronologically, from "I Love Lucy" to "Six Feet Under.”
"These songs are just part of people's lives," says Cuddy. "We've had more calls and E-mails about this concert than almost anything I can remember in a long time.”
Tickets to the show, by the way, are available only through WPLJ contests.
“Greatest American Hero” singer Joey Scarbury and his wife
In tracking down the artists to perform, I found some of them living in NY, including the vocalist who sang and co-wrote the Cheers theme (Gary Portnoy). Gary was a super nice guy, but was so nervous about closing the concert in Times Square at the China Club, that he sweated through his shirt backstage and asked if we could give him a WPLJ T-Shirt to wear on stage, which we did.
The hardest guy to track down was Joey Scarbury. He had retired from singing and was living out of the spotlight as a manger of a California car dealership. He didn’t have a listed number and back in 2005 there was no recent update for him on the internet. I had to use a private detective to track down his phone number. And when I finally spoke to him, he said he would pass. He was uncomfortable flying into NYC after 9/11.
The next day he calls me back and says my wife said I was crazy and that I shouldn’t turn down a free trip to NYC, especially if she could come as well. He asked me if I could throw in some Yankees tickets and he would be happy to participate.
Here’s a rare interview I found with Mr. Scarbury:
Everybody else I reached out to was thrilled to be asked and accepted, except for one: The writer and singer of the Mary Tyler Moore Theme, Sonny Curtis of the Crickets. He said he was flattered to be asked, but because of his age he didn’t want to do the traveling.
One cute story surrounds the Welcome Back Kotter theme, written by the Lovin Spoonful’s John Sebastian. I’m a fan of his work, but I had gone to see him not long before I was producing this concert, and, sadly John, through a medical condition, had lost a great deal of his singing ability. So I didn’t pursue him for our show. Instead, I was told by a NY promoter that one of the stars of the hit “Kotter” TV show, Ron Palillo (Horshack), lived two blocks from the NYC venue we were holding the event. So we surprised our listeners by bringing out Ron, who performed the theme for the first time with a live band.
Because the concert was such a rarity, I had the idea to film it for a VH1 or Nick at Night Special, but we didn’t have the budget for that, so I asked a film maker friend to bring his camera and film it for posterity. I sent copies of it after the fact to all the performers and the station DJs got souvenir DVDs as well.
Unfortunately, I can’t share it with TV theme fans on You Tube because we never got the approvals. I can only use for personal viewing.
So, Kent, if you’d like a copy for your private viewing pleasure, just let me know. Or, if you’d to do a drawing from everyone who votes in your TV themes poll, I’d be happy to provide a copy for that as well.
- Tom Cuddy
Absolutely ... I'm all in! (Talk about your one-of-a-kind rarities, this would make for a very cool addition to ANYBODY's home music library!)
So folks, get your votes in now for your favorites ... and let us know if you'd like us to register your name for a dvd copy of this one-time concert event. (We will only be giving away one copy ... so why not enter now for your chance to be the lucky recipient of this great prize, courtesy of Tom Cuddy. Even if you voted before, just drop us a note ... list a few more of your favorites ... and we'll add your name to the drawing.)
Send ALL TV Themes votes to: firstname.lastname@example.org.