The piece of music which plays over the opening and/or closing credits of a Television show, and is intended to become intimately identified with the series.
Theme tunes began in the earliest days of radio, where there were no specific networks to switch to and listeners would often have to tune their crystal sets with some precision in order to pick up the correct station, which may have been located hundreds of miles away. A theme tune allowed them to select the correct station. Shortwave radio stations still use theme tunes, called interval signals, at the beginning of their transmissions. Well-known interval signals include the Voice of America's Yankee Doodle and the BBC World Service's Lilliburlero.
Theme songs are usually original works, but some shows use a song that has already been recorded (see Real Song Theme Tune). A theme song may be an instrumental or have lyrics, although most dramatic shows (including, as far as America is concerned, those animated) use an Instrumental Theme Tune.
Sitcom theme song lyrics have gone through various phases. Radio theme songs were generally instrumental, possibly because it was hard to hear lyrics over music on old low-fidelity radio sets. Sitcoms that moved to television kept their old instrumental tunes, while new sitcoms created for television could choose an instrumental tune or an Expository Theme Tune. From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s most sitcoms featured a Thematic Theme Tune. The current trend is toward the Surreal Theme Tune or No Theme Tune whatsoever. It's also possible for theme tunes to be replaced.
For further listening, TelevisionTunes.com has a huge library of various theme songs and other musical numbers.
Theme Tune subcategories include:
- Alternative Foreign Theme Song: When a TV show is dubbed, the theme song is replaced with a different one.
- Anime Theme Song: A jaunty pop-type song that's the theme tune to an anime.
- Bootstrapped Theme: When a theme that was formerly only associated with one character/setting/whatever becomes extremely popular, which leads to it getting heavily associated with the work and then it becomes the main theme tune.
- Bragging Theme Tune: The theme tune boasts about how amazing a character is.
- Cyber Punk Is Techno: Techno theme music is used for a technologically-advanced, dystopian future setting.
- Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: The theme tune is sung/played/hummed/whistled/etc in an episode.
- "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: The theme song is written/sung by one or more characters (but not necessarily within an episode).
- Ending Theme: A certain tune that plays at the end of all or most episodes.
- Expository Theme Tune: The theme tune explains the premise of the show.
- Foreign Language Theme: The theme tune is in a different language than the rest of the show.
- Instrumental Theme Tune: The theme tune has no lyrics, just music.
- Last Episode Theme Reprise: The theme tune gets played in the score of the climax of the last episode.
- National Anthem: The theme song of a whole country.
- No Theme Tune: The show doesn't have a theme tune.
- Opening Narration: A short voice-over at the beginning of every episode, explaining the show's premise.
- Real Song Theme Tune: The theme tune was already a song before the show was made.
- Rearrange the Song: Rewriting the theme tune.
- Replaced the Theme Tune: Similar to Rearrange the Song, but replacing the theme tune with an entirely different song.
- Signature Song: The creator's most famous song, not always a theme tune but often is.
- Solemn Ending Theme: An Ending Theme that sounds wistful.
- Surreal Theme Tune: A theme tune with surreal, nonsensical and often irrelevant lyrics.
- Thematic Theme Tune: A theme tune where the premise is similar to the show's premise but is not an Expository Theme Tune.
- Theme Tune Extended: The show's writers make a longer version of the theme tune.
- Theme Tune Rap: The theme tune is a rap.
- Theme Tune Roll Call: The theme tune lists the characters.
- Title Theme Drop: The theme tune is in the score.
- Title Theme Tune: The title of the show is said within the theme tune.
- Translated Cover Version: Dubs of the theme tune.
- Truncated Theme Tune: The theme tune gets cut down to one verse, usually for profit.
- Variations on a Theme Song: The theme tune gets changed up for an episode.
- What Song Was This Again?: The dubbed song has extremely different lyrics than the original.