Saturday, January 07, 2006

Music and TV according to the New York Times

There is a rather delightful article in Saturday's New York Times, Cold Case, Hot Tunes: Springsteen's Soundtrack by Jonah Weiner. It is overall rather interesting, yet makes a misstep that is all the more annoying (meaning I want to scream) because the rest of the article is solid. Overall, I'm left with the sense that because this article was about television, it didn't get the edit it deserved.

The Good: it discusses the use of music in television, and the historic change from "anonymous music men" to the current use of pop music. Included is how television shows have gone from having music be part of the background, to having it be important to a scene, to -- and this is the exciting part -- writing television episodes around specific music. Finally, how TV has become not only an acceptable place to find pop music, but also a place where bands want their music because it translates to record sales. There is a lot of music stuff that I found interesting because I know little about music.

Now the troubling quote: "With the notable exception of Miami Vice, which made iconic use of Phil Collins's In the Air Tonight in 1984, television shows until recently relied on anonymous session men for their incidental music. . . . Today, though, producers are using pop music instead. Prime time has suddenly become a place to hear familiar songs from favorite groups, and to discover songs by unfamiliar ones." I have emphasized certain parts. Are you screaming along with me?

Let me add that all the shows mentioned in the article are current ones.

So explaining the scream: While I may not know music, I do know television. This article overlooks and ignores many late 1980s and 1990s shows which used pop music. thirtysomething. 90201. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Felicity. Party of Five.

I wouldn't be screaming if the sentences noted had left out the bolded words; it's this "today" and "recently" that is, frankly, WRONG. I can only assume that this error was made because the author and the editors don't know their "old" TV. Or don't care enough to check to make sure what they put down is accurate. Or don't believe TV existed before they started watching, so of course there was no use of pop music until recently. Or prefer the drama of "until recently" "today" and "suddenly" so simply don't care that these are misstatements.

But I do care that history -- even if its TV pop culture history -- is right or wrong. And its important because the reason there is so much use of pop music now is because of the TV shows that did it in the 90s. Maybe there is more now; maybe its more diverse; maybe its more accepted. But it did exist before "today."

While the article addresses the costs of these songs, it doesn't mention the DVD impact, which is OK because I think its just something I'm interested in. Before DVD sales of series became a moneymaker, the rights for a song did not include the rights to use the song in the DVD. Fans of Felicity can point to episodes that feel significantly different because of the use of a different song. And I'm convinced that one of the reasons we have yet to see thirtysomething on DVD is because of issues with songs played during episodes.

Rant over. Can you name a pre-2000 show that used pop music?

Edited to add: Just wanted to point out that fanfic writers have been writing stories around songs for years -- songfic. And that fans also create music videos, using songs and clips from TV shows. So that the idea of being inspired by & using a song for a story isn't "new"; the idea of creating a story around a song isn't "new". But, it isn't something that is typically done on TV. Perhaps it may be more accurate to say that if its been done, the show hasn't been as upfront & in-the-news about it as Cold Case. If anyone does know about pre-2000 shows that did so (wrote an ep specifically around a song or songs), please let us know!

Edited again: Thanks to Camille, I looked into Magnum PI's use of pop music and found that they used many songs. So the accurate thing for the Times to write is not "with the notable exception of Miami Vice," but rather that Miami Vice's use of the Collins tune is when people first sat up and really took notice at the songs being used AND the artist benefitted from the attention. Wow, I did all this extra research with Google and 24 hours. So what's the Time's excuse?


Camille said...

I was watching some old Magnum P.I. programs and they were also using Phil Collins music in some episodes.

Anonymous said...

Wonder Years

That's the reason it'll probably never come to DVD despite being one of the top requests of obsessive DVD collectors. Who could afford the music rights to all of those great classic rock songs?

Liz B said...

Camille, good catch with Magnum PI. I used to watch it all the time & didn't recall the music at all. Interesting that it was also Phil Collins; I wonder what the reaction was at the time to PC allowing his songs to be used on TV. Was it visionary? Or just wanting to make money?

Keri, The Wonder Years, I totally forgot about that one, and music was critical to it. OK, I'm depressed now that Combat is available on DVD and this isn't. Nothing against Combat, but wow. It's just not right that Wonder Years isn't being made.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if these things count, but what about The Jackson Five cartoon series and the theme from The Greatest American Hero. The cartoon must have used Jackson Five songs (though I don't remember) and I know that the theme from Greatest American Hero was a pop hit.

Liz B said...

thanks a lot chris, now I'll NEVER get that song out of my head!! LOL. Believe it or not, I'm walking on air.
I never thought I could feel so free.
Flying away on a wing and a prayer,
Who could it be?
Believe it or not, it's just me.

Anonymous said...

It's probably a good thing that "thirtysomething" isn't available on DVD, or I'd be watching all the time, mooning over Michael Stedman.

I'm going to whisper the following because it's so embarrassing, but I bought a Sammy Hagar album after hearing the song "Cruisin, and Boozin, and Drinkin' with Some Friends of Mine (or something like that) on "Rhoda." And that was a million years ago. So, you're right, Liz. Tain't nothin' new.

Ol' Skool Rob said...

I know this an old post, but what you publish on the Web never dies...anyway, I remember an episode of "It Takes A Thief" (a Robert Wagner spy vehicle, late 60s or so) that actually premiered two Fifth Dimension songs. There's nothing new under the sun...