While audiences love familiar characters and settings, oftentimes the best part of a TV show is its theme song. Some are so memorable you can hum or sing the first few bars, and everyone around you immediately joins in.
Sadly, most TV show theme songs are scrapped in favor of short intros. This may be due to audiences’ shorter attention spans, decreased airtime, or because streaming services now provide plot summaries.
That means the “set up the story” function of many classic TV show theme songs—The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, for example—is no longer needed.
Whatever the reason, well-crafted and catchy intros have become a lost art, which makes these TV show theme songs all the more beloved.
Hill Street Blues Theme
Hill Street Blues (1981-1986)
Composed by: Mike Post and Larry Carlton
Genre: Cop drama
Starring: Michael Warren, Daniel J. Travanti
Where To Watch: Hulu, Vudu, Amazon Prime
This song, written by Mike Post in the early 1980s, helped pave the way for the glut of cop dramas to follow.
It has a catchy tune, of course, but also stays a little bit more melancholy than you might expect, emphasizing the serious nature of the show.
Law & Order Theme
Law & Order (1990-2010)
Composed by: Mike Post
Genre: Legal drama
Starring: Sam Watterston, Jerry Orbach
Where To Watch: Peacock
Possibly the most famous legal drama, Law & Order’s theme song is known everywhere, as much as the two sudden ominous chimes that ring out whenever they change the scene.
This theme is more upbeat than Hill Street Blues, despite being written by the same artist, and features a generous amount of oboe.
Soul Eater (2008)
Artist: T.M. Revolution
Genre: Fantasy, Anime
Starring: Laura Bailey, Chiaki Omigawa
Where To Watch: Hulu
Combining metal guitar and electronic elements, “Resonance” fits right in with many anime theme songs: fast-paced, bouncy, and downright catchy. It’s one of those TV show theme songs you just never skip.
I’ll Be There For You
Artist: The Rembrandts
Genre: Sitcom, Comedy
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox
Where To Watch: Hulu, HBOMax, fuboTV, YouTube TV
Friends spent ten years taking its audiences on an unforgettable trip, and the show’s theme is an inherent part of that nostalgia. From its relatable lyrics to those four signature claps, “I’ll Be There for You” is an earworm that no one can resist.
The track was a hit in several countries, and even reached number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100. With the show itself experiencing meteoric success just as rapidly, it’s tough to say which propelled which.
Scooby-Doo Theme Song
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (1969-1970)
Composer/Artist: Best Coast
Genre: Cartoon, Mystery
Starring: Casey Kasem, Nicole Jaffe
Where To Watch: Boomerang, HBOMax, Amazon Prime
This quintessential Saturday morning cartoon boasts a longevity most franchises can only dream of. From its original series in 1969, to countless reimaginings, spin-offs, and movies in the decades since, Scooby-Doo has delighted kids worldwide for over 50 years.
The original series has an upbeat and silly theme that, like the show itself, has seen many remixes and facelifts since its debut. None of the new tracks will ever quite measure up, though.
Star Trek: The Next Generation Theme
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994)
Composed by: Alexander Courage
Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure
Starring: Brett Spiner, Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes
Where To Watch: Netflix, Hulu, CBS, fuboTV, Amazon Prime, Philo
Although Gene Roddenberry created the original Star Trek series decades before The Next Generation, this one seems to have really made a big splash.
Part of the nostalgia has to be the epic theme song, which starts after the words, “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” Its sweeping notes build to an adventurous orchestral march that suits the show perfectly.
Woke Up This Morning (Chosen One Mix)
The Sopranos (1999-2007)
Artist: Alabama 3
Genre: Crime, Drama
Starring: James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco
Where To Watch: HBOMax, Hulu, Amazon Prime
The Sopranos elegantly tells the story of an Italian crime family through the eyes of their boss.
While some people find it a bit too gory for their tastes, there’s plenty of appeal: dry humor, intense emotions—and, of course, its instantly recognizable theme song.
“Woke Up This Morning (Chosen One Mix)” is the ultimate outlaw tune, with low and smooth vocals, mellow beat, and an overall bluesy vibe.
A Cruel Angel’s Thesis
Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996)
Artist: Yoko Takahashi
Genre: Science Fiction, Anime
Starring: Megumi Ogata, Spike Spencer
Where To Watch: Netflix
This theme song is fun to bop your head along to, but doesn’t begin to foreshadow the show’s depressing and tragic events.
It’s a weird juxtaposition that, somehow, serves the show well: you’ll get jazzed up during the intro, only to crash headfirst in the sad plot.
Emotion-toying aside, “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” is a great theme, with catchy lyrics (even if you can’t understand them) and a bouncy beat.
The Addams Family
The Addams Family (1964-1966)
Composed by: Vic Mizzy
Genre: Sitcom, Comedy
Starring: Carolyn Jones, John Astin
Where To Watch: Pluto TV, Amazon Prime
This show based on a New Yorker cartoon may not have run for many seasons initially, but the franchise has enduring power. Proof: you can conjure up the ghoulish comedy with nothing but a snap of your fingers.
Or, rather, two snaps.
Mission Impossible Intro
Mission Impossible (1966-1972)
Composed by: Lalo Schifrin, Larry Mullen, Jr., Adam Clayton
Starring: Steven Hill, Peter Graves, Greg Morris
Where To Watch: CBS, Amazon Prime
Although most people think of the Tom Cruise movies when they hear this flute riff, it was first the intro for the original show in the 1960s.
It’s no accident that the franchise has kept the same song for the past 60 years of movies. The melody is slick, memorable, and provides just the right amount of tension.
Jeopardy! (1984- Present)
Composed by: Merv Griffin and Julann Wright
Genre: Game Show
Starring: Alex Trebek, Ken Jennings
Where To Watch: Netflix, Hulu
This theme song has become so pervasive in American culture that merely humming it implies it’s big brain time.
With the tragic recent loss of Alex Trebek, it is hard to know how the coming years will treat Jeopardy, now on its 37th season. Hopes are high for its new host, record-holder contestant Ken Jennings.
The declining use of TV show theme songs may make sense to market analysts, but audiences still love those catchy tunes and memorable intros.
With popular, more recent shows like The Big Bang Theory or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt utilizing lyrics in their themes, and shows like The Crown or Ratched opting for instrumental pieces, maybe the theme song trend will see an upswing.