The other day I was thinking about how many melancholy TV theme songs there’ve been over the years. I mean, some of them may not have been written with that intent, however, whether it was the subject matter of the show, or the context of the era it was on, many of them just came across as flat out depressing.

Here are my top ten examples of bummer TV show themes:

10) The Honeymooners

Growing up in the suburbs of NYC, they would run old Honeymooners re-runs at around midnight on WPIX. I can still remember that decided twinge of wistfulness mixed with a slight anxiety for being up so late whenever it came on.

9) Room 222

This was an earnest slice of life melodramatic TV series from the late 60s which focused on the goings on of a Los Angeles High School. It was actually pretty popular back in its day, as it featured a black idealistic teacher, and a very cute Karen Valentine. I think their unspoken sexual chemistry was the main draw. I only occasionally caught this in re-runs years later, but I was always struck by the weary melody of the main theme, which perfectly captured my own childhood melancholy.

8 ) WKRP in Cincinnati

Never dug this show, I always found its consciously hip, 70s, smarm to be a total drag. To me the best part is the theme song, it’s got an interesting sadness which is kinda contradictory to the supposed ‘wacky’ nature of the series. I will say this about the show though, Loni Anderson had some great cans…even if her face looked like a squash.

7) Welcome Back Carter    

John Travolta’s big break came on this show, brilliantly playing the super stud Vinnie Barbarino. Personally the show gave me a pain in the ass. It was dingy, and Gabe Kaplan was always a non-starter. However, the theme song written and sung by the great John Sebastian of  ‘Lovin’ Spoonful’ fame is genius. It’s evocative, yearning, and beautifully melancholic.

 6) Big Blue Marble

God this one always gave me the creeps, it still does actually. This was a show intended to teach kids about other cultures around the world, but it just made me wanna sit tight and curl up in a ball in the corner of my room clutching my beloved stuffed Snoopy. Note the minor key and eerie feel to the melody.

5) Dear John

Late 80s show about a middle aged Judd Hirsch cobbling together an existence after he’s been dumped by his wife. Yep. The song suits the theme alright. I used to watch this show during the time I had a nervous breakdown. Hmmm…come to think of it, that might not have been such a good idea.

4) Fantasy Island

Now, I’m not sure if this theme song is depressing per se, all I know is that when I was a young child, it creeped the hell out of me. I was only ever to watch about half before my parents made me go to bed. Maybe that’s why I was depressed!

3) MASH

Well, the fact that this is the instrumental version of a song called ‘suicide is painless’ kinda says it all. MASH will always be one of my favourites, and the theme is still deliciously sad.

2) Taxi

Not only is this one of the most melancholy theme songs of all time, it’s also just one of the all around BEST. It’s blue, and funky, and jazzy, and it expertly evokes the vibe of the show. I watched this program quite a bit, but I have to admit, I always felt the opening theme was the best part.

1) Hill Street Blues

As far as I’m concerned, this Mike Post penned ditty is the most melancholy theme song of all time. It actually was a pretty big hit at the time as well. I used to wake up to it playing on my clock radio and I’d always get this feeling of impending doom. Of course, it might have had something to do with the fact that grade school was a living hell for me. Still, having to hear this depressing piece of work didn’t exactly make me jump out of bed and kiss the morning hello!

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I'm a writer/editor with a penchant for saddle shoes, pontification and fried pork rinds. Equal parts gadfly, cut-up, provocateur, philosopher, and silly-willy. My personal heroes include Reggie Jackson, Elvis Costello and Philip Roth.

1 Comment

  1. I regard the Honeymooners in the same way for the exact same reasons – right down to being from Westchester and watching it late night on WPIX. To this day I flashback to my youth and staying up late every time I hear the theme song.

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