- Tuning In: American Narrative Television Music
John Ellis noted that television is more sonic than visual, as confirmed by just how easy it is to do something else while the television is on.1 Rather than “keeping an eye” on it, we more often “keep an ear” on it, drawn back to full attention at certain moments typically by sound and music. Large swathes of such music still remain outside the gates of respectable scholarship, however, often thought to be below consideration, and both music and television scholars have been reticent to come to grips with music on television. Film music was in a similar position a few years ago but increasingly has become acceptable as an object of scrutiny. Music on television, though, has been slow to follow and is only slowly emerging from interdisciplinary limbo.
Ron Rodman’s Tuning In: American Narrative Television Music is a notable occurrence. It is a detailed study far beyond an introductory volume on television music, yet due to the fact that it is the first dedicated book on the subject (Philip Tagg’s more tightly focused Kojak book from 1979 notwithstanding), it will doubtless be approached as something of a guide to understanding and analyzing television music.2 As a research monograph it is a significant piece of writing that will surely enjoy a long shelf life. It is a substantial accomplishment, providing a compelling range of material and using an array of approaches. Informative [End Page 119] and detailed, Tuning In also avoids banal or naïve description in favor of a triangulation of descriptive analysis, historical or contextual information including archival material, and selected relevant theory.
Rodman’s introduction provides extensive information about U.S. television’s activities in the 1930s, supplying the backdrop for the book’s investigations of American television music since the Second World War. The opening chapter is theoretical, setting out the approaches used in the book, which in this case mandate an exposition of semiotic theory. It also includes a case study of the theme music for the late 1950s Western show, The Rifleman. The second chapter focuses on “early” television drama, looking at both the 1949 production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the music for the more widely known science fiction series The Twilight Zone. Yet another chapter examines music in science-fiction programs, looking in depth at the “Shore Leave” episode of Star Trek (the “Original Series,” as some would have it). Here, Rodman charts Gerald Fried’s score and explicates the style of each leitmotiv and how it engages with musical concepts already known to the audience. (It is testament to how little some musical signification has changed that the scores for the original Star Trek episodes fail to sound terribly dated and still communicate the same ideas to more modern audiences.) Rodman returns to The Rifleman in a chapter about television Westerns, while in another chapter entitled “Tube of Pleasure, Tube of Bliss: Television Music as (Not So) Drastic Experience,” he approaches music on television as an embodiment of Abbate’s notion of “drastic” pleasure—of immediate experience (in opposition to the abstract, intellectual pleasures of “gnostic” music).3 This chapter looks at “light” singers like Perry Como and Andy Williams appearing on television, and the mold-breaking 1950s shows I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show. A chapter dedicated to the police drama series addresses Adam 12, Dragnet, Hawaii Five-O, Hill Street Blues, and Miami Vice (although managing to confuse Dragnet composer Walter Schumann with William Schuman), while the final chapter, “‘The Truth Is Out There’: Music in Modern/Postmodern Television,” reflects on such serials as Northern Exposure, X-Files, and Twin Peaks. Ultimately, Rodman considers a wide variety of dramas, including both series (with almost self-contained episodes) and serial (i.e., longrunning narratives). There are also two chapters on television advertising that contain some attractive analyses. Discussion of “bumpers,” flashes of program logo and music that indicates entry to...