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Tuning in to telly's greatest themes...

Some American fans of the old Hawaii Five-O got rather annoyed just before the pilot episode of the new version aired three years ago. But what exactly got their backs up? Was it the fact that the 'O' in the title had been replaced with a zero, or that rigidly by-the-book, abstemious hero Steve McGarrett had been reimagined as a rule-bending ass-kicker who enjoyed a cold beer?

Maybe it was because McGarrett's ever-loyal but bland sidekick Danno had been transformed into a wisecracking blow-in from New York who wore the wrong clothes for the Hawaiian weather and was always bitching about the heat?


Or could it be that some people just couldn't get their heads around the idea that the character of Kono, who used to be a tank of a man played by a tank of an actor called Zulu, was now a sexy woman played by Grace Park (pictured right)?

No, no, no and no again. What irked the faithful was the news – revealed online by TV critics who'd been given a preview of the pilot – that the producers had tinkered with Morton Stevens' famous theme tune by giving it a synthesiser and guitar-based arrangement. Due to the negative vibe, CBS replaced it before transmission with a shorter, slightly faster version using the original arrangement and some of the original musicians.

Music might seem a minor component of a TV series; far from it. If it's a hummable earworm of a tune you can't dislodge from your head after a couple of listens, then it's done its job by giving a series an immediate identity. You might not know who Patrick Williams is but if you've ever watched The Streets of San Francisco, you'll recognise the pounding drums and wailing wah-wah guitar of his exciting theme for that Seventies classic.

Cop shows, in particular, always knew the value of a strong, instantly recognisable theme. The Rockford Files is as famous for its driving, squealing music by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter as it is for James Garner's laconic performance.

Post, in fact, has more classic TV themes to his name than any other composer: Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, Magnum PI, Quantum Leap and, perhaps most notable of the lot, Law & Order.

But great theme tunes aren't limited to US television. The Saint, The Sweeney and The Professionals – which are shown back to back on ITV4 every weekday – are all British series, made over three decades. They may look dated in various ways, but their distinctive themes have retained their freshness.


One of the main complaints about the new movie version of The Sweeney (apart from it being utter crap) was that it discarded Harry South's belting music. Theme tunes are a way of setting the tone and hooking the viewer, so it's all the stranger that so many modern series pay little attention to them.

There are still brilliantly evocative ones out there, of course: Breaking Bad's, for example, or Homeland's (while it might be one ugly tune, its jazzy, disjointed sound perfectly conveys the central characters' mental chaos).

On the other hand, can anyone even recall the themes of The Fall, The Returned and Utopia? You certainly won't walk around humming any of those.

> old hat A priceless gem from an RTE press release desperately trying to justify summer repeats of old dramas, including Single-Handed, which first appeared six years ago: "For those who haven't had an opportunity to discover the rich drama content that has aired on RTE until now, this is a chance to engross yourself in any or all of it."

> truth or fiction? More disturbances in the Doctor Who universe. While the bookies still make Rory Kinnear the favourite to replace Matt Smith, The Sun has reported that a hotly tipped new contender has emerged: Julian Rhind-Tutt.

Rhind-Tutt, who starred in series as diverse as Green Wing and The Hour, and has a chameleon-like ability to change his appearance according to whatever role he's playing, would be a cracking choice. Then again, The Sun once ran a story about the Hillsborough tragedy under the headline 'THE TRUTH', and we all know how that panned out.

> flock shock I'm sure there are plenty of good reasons for resurrecting sitcom Birds of a Feather, which finished on BBC 15 years ago – if you happen to be its stars, its writers or ITV, which is so desperate to rebuild its comedy reputation it gleefully snapped up the offer when the BBC politely told Birds of a Feather to flock off.

But if you're someone familiar with the original incarnation of the comedy starring Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson as two Essex sisters whose husbands are in prison, you might wonder why anyone would revive a series that unfailingly hit the giddy heights of average.