Variations on a Theme Song

A show's theme song is an important way that a show distinguishes itself and sets the tone for the series. It also gives a chance to feed the ego of the stars. But sometimes the regular theme song doesn't fit an abnormally serious episode, or the show is doing something special and wants to highlight it with a new arrangement.

In this case, the creators will replace the stock theme song. But the important thing that makes this different from Evolving Credits is that they then return to the original theme song. If the theme song changes for nearly every episode, then it's a Couch Gag. If the theme song is different from one season to the next, but is consistent within each season, it is most likely Anime Theme Song or Evolving Credits.

Compare to Credits Gag, Theme Tune Cameo, Couch Gag, and (not to be confused with)Theme And Variations

Contrast with Anime Theme Song and Evolving Credits, where the progression of the show in general, not the content of a specific episode, spurs the change.

May overlap with Variable Mix if the song changes mid-tune.

May also overlap with Leitmotif if the modification to the theme song has to do with the introduction, feature, or progression of a unique character associated with style of music used in the modification.

May overlap with Special Edition Title, which includes all modifications to normally consistent opening audio/visuals. (including studio logos, theme songs, etc.)


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Angel Beats!: During Yui's introductory episode, fitting to her personality, she sings a rock version the opening My Soul, Your Beats! (originally an upbeat pop song) at the end of the Cold Open.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Blackadder
    • Each of the four seasons is set in a different period in British history, and the theme song for each uses instruments of the time: trumpets for the first season, set in the Wars of the Roses; recorders (er, and an electric guitar) for the second season, set in the court of Elizabeth I; harpsichord and strings for the Regency third season; and a military band for the fourth season, set in World War I.
    • In the second season, the lyrics to the closing theme for each episode are rewritten as an Elizabethan ballad about that episode.
    • After the Downer Ending of the final episode of the fourth season, the closing theme is played very slowly on piano.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: in the musical episode, "Once More With Feeling" (S6-E7), the usual theme song by Nerf Herder is changed to an classical styled orchestral version.
  • Dexter
    • in the Season 4 opener, the normal sequence of Dexter preparing his day along to the theme song is replaced with a much more drowsy and disjointed sequence to represent his exhaustion at this point in the story.
  • Soap Opera Days of Our Lives featured a grander fully orchestrated during the Salem Stalker storyline in 2004 before going back to the original composition.
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun
    • The Theme song was replace with a version by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy during season 5. In season 6, they returned to the original theme.
    • Alternate versions were used during Christmas episodes
    • In Season 6, a alternate jazz version of the song was used for the two-part episode
  • Neighbours
    • Has two versions of its theme song - the usual, upbeat version and the stripped-down piano version reserved for when someone dies.
  • Cross Roads
    • In the British soap Crossroads, particularly dramatic episodes sometimes used the cover version of the theme tune done by Wings on their Venus and Mars album.
      • At least, that's how it was supposed to work. In fact there seems to have been some confusion amongst the production staff, which resulted in the two versions being switched more or less at random.
  • How I Met Your Mother
    • S9-E11 - The theme song is modified to sound like a children's music box.
    • S7-E14 - Barney claims to be the leader of the gang, and the song's words are changed, as well as the photos in the opening credits. Then later in the episode, the them song is sung again in Russian when Stripper Lily joins the group.
    • S6-E21 - After Barney claims the group is in a band, the theme song is sung by the main cast.
  • Poirot episodes set in foreign countries sometimes rearranged the title theme in appropriate style for Ad Bumpers and closing credits.
  • Psych
    • S2-E10, S3-E9, S5-E14 - A Christmas variation on the theme song.
    • S2-E13, S7-E4 - The theme song is sung in Spanish.
    • S2-E6, a Bollywood variation on the Theme Song.
    • S4-E7, S6-E13 - The Boys 2 Men a capella version
    • S5-E8 - Curt Smith recorded a version of the song.
    • S5-E12 - The Julee Cruise version of the song
    • S6-E4 - A superhero-themed version
    • S6-E11 - A theme song tribute to The Shining
  • The Drew Carey Show
  • Qi:
    • In the annual Christmas episodes, the theme is combined with "Jingle Bells".
    • The series F episode "France" has the theme played on concertina.
    • The series G episode "Gothic" has funeral bells and a baying wolf in the background of the opening theme.
  • Red Dwarf:
    • In one episode, there was a throwaway gag about Rimmer teaching the service robots to play Hammond organ. The closing theme for the episode is rendered on the Hammond organ, with Rimmer giving instructions in voiceover.
    • For the "cowboys" episode "Gunmen of the Apocalypse", the theme is given a Western makeover on honky-tonk pianny and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly-esque ocarina.
  • For the Monk episode "Mr. Monk and the Rapper," Snoop Dogg was the Special Guest Star and also did his own rap version of Randy Newman's theme song "It's a Jungle Out There".
  • Warehouse 13
    • The theme is changed for Christmas specials
  • For a season 3 arc of Sons of Anarchy that took the crew to Ireland, the theme tune was given an Irish strings-and-flutes rearrangement.

  • ""The Archers""
    • Although long-running BBC radio soap The Archers always uses the same piece of music as its theme tune, which passage is used depends on whether the episode is ordinary or dramatic.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • In the middle of an episode where they go into Witness Protecition and become the Thompon family, we see a variation of the theme where the chorus goes "The Thompsons" and Homer pulls up to their new home, a hosueboat.
    • When a hurricane comes through town, the chorus sings "The Hurricane" and the letters on screen get blown away by the hurricane's wind.
    • Treehouse Of Horror episodes usually have the closing credits music replaced by an arrangement for organ and theremin. The music for the Gracie Films logo, instead of the usual piano riff with a woman going "Shhh!", is the same riff on organ with a woman screaming.
    • When a rock band are the guest stars, sometimes they do the closing theme. Other episodes have arrangements related to the setting or topic of the episode, or based on the theme music of the TV show or movie being parodied. Sometimes, this also applies to the Gracie Films Vanity Plate.
    • Season 9 episode 1, The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson, replaced the usual closing theme with "New York, New York" sung by Frank Sinatra.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures:
    • Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation - The characters sing about how they plan to spend (and at the end, spent) their summer vacation.
    • "Two Tone Town" - The Two-Tones sing about their new show and their home town.
    • "It's A Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas Special - The characters sing a Christmas-themed version of the song. Also, in the alternate timeline, Plucky is the star of Tiny Toon Adventures and sings his own lyrics describing him as the star.
    • When Plucky got his own spin-off (which mostly consisted of recycled "Tiny Toons" shorts with one original episode), the lyrics described Plucky as the star in a manner similar to the example above.
    • The CD "Tiny Toons Sing" has the theme song sung in different languages.
    • "Spring Break Special" - The characters sing about how they plan to spend (and at the end, spent) their spring break, similar to the Summer Vacation example.
    • "Night Ghoulery" - The characters sing about what they have planned (at at the end, the results) for their halloween special.
    • In Tiny Toons How I Spent My Vacation Buster plays a Dueling Banjos version with a possum banjoist. Buster plays his tongue.
  • Teen Titans
    • Teen Titans had its theme song sung in Japanese at least once per season. There was also a one-time rendition of the song by an alternate-reality Robin (aka "Larry"), also in Japanese.
  • When Bugs Bunny makes a cameo appearance in the George Pal Puppetoon "Jasper Goes Hunting," an ersatz rendition of the Merrie Melodies theme accompanies him.
  • The debut episode of Freakazoid! features an alternate theme done to the theme of Animaniacs.