TV’s Music Men (And Women) And The Art Of The Soundtrack

Nov 24th, 2008 // 8 Comments

TV is such a collaborative medium that it can be hard to appreciate each individual’s contribution to the finished product, but users (particularly those who are geeky about music) tend to notice what songs get used, and those touches can be credited to the music supervisor. The Sopranos used pop songs to emphasize or undercut the meaning of the on-screen action (shades of Scorsese); The OC used indie as a way of enhancing its personal brand. The latter show’s music supervisor was Alexandra Patsavas of Chop Shop, and her choices have become the gold standard of TV soundtracking, with a consistent sensibility that ties Josh Schwartz’s shows together in a nice stylistic bow. But many other supervisors put their own stamps on shows, and you can see threads running through their portfolio. The Los Angeles Times today profiles Gary Calamar, a music supervisor and KCRW host. See if you can spot the connections between the shows he works on:

“True Blood,” which has its season finale tonight and has been renewed for a second season, is part of a string of shows Calamar has worked on, along with “House, M.D.,” “Six Feet Under,” ” Weeds,” “Dexter” and ” Entourage.”

On some, such as the 1970s-steeped “Swingtown,” he looks for time-capsule hits viewers will recognize instantly, but with something like the quirky “Weeds,” the soundtrack is far more of a pop-culture safari.

“Sometimes things are too right on the nose, you want to go off of that sometimes and surprise people. You certainly don’t want to ever bore them.”

You wouldn’t necessarily group House together with True Blood, but it makes a certain amount of sense. And imagine how those shows would be different with a different music supervisor–if House didn’t have quite so many sad-sack montages, for instance. Like all industry jobs, the position involves more negotiation than anything. But it’s fun to think what songs might bump up your favorite show from good to classic.

Music man sets the mood [LA Times]

  1. GhostOfDuane

    Illustrative example – The Sopranos is one of my favorite shows ever. But I thought the final season was somewhat lacking compared to the others. Until the final episode, when they walk into that diner, and that fantastic, magical song from the greatest American rock band of the 70s comes on… It changed my whole perspective on the season, and on the show’s end. In a word, the one song brought closure to a decade’s worth of television.

    I refer not to that schlocky Journey tune “Don’t Stop Believing” that got so much attention following its inclusion, but rather the far more telling choice of Little Feat’s “All That You Dream.” If not for that one song choice, the whole season would have been bumped down to “average at best.” Instead, I nearly shit my pants when I heard it, The Sopranos was restored to its former standing, and all was right in the world again. Such is the power of Little Feat.

  2. Mike P.

    I have to admit, I thought the House sad-sack montage from about two weeks ago, set to Big Star’s “I’m in Love with a Girl” was just about perfect.

  3. unperson

    The series finale of The Shield is tomorrow night, and the other day, after watching the next-to-last episode, I realized that the song they used to open the season – “Reach For The Sky” by Social Distortion – not only set the tone of the whole final arc, but foreshadowed many of the events to come.

  4. unperson

    The series finale of The Shield is tomorrow night, and a few days ago, after watching the next-to-last episode, I realized that the song they used to open this season – Social Distortion’s “Reach For The Sky” – not only set the tone for the whole final arc, but also foreshadowed a lot of the events to come.

  5. unperson

    Whoops.

  6. T'Challa

    I want to be Gary Calamar when I grow up.

  7. Anonymous

    Another one that I’ve personally enjoyed (and should not be too much of a shocker, given my online handle) is the song choices that go in to the American version of “Life on Mars”. They’re all late sixties to ’73 and some of them are a bit off-beat, and not songs you typically hear in period cop dramas. I was a fan of the use of “All the Way From Memphis”, which I remember from stealing my step father’s old 45s.

  8. TheRunningboard7

    House stair-in-the-distance-sad montages + Benny Hill theme song. Poor Hugh Laurie doesn’t know what he’s missing.

    Though if the Nekromantix did all of True Blood…

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