I’m a month late in linking to this, but Alan Sepinwall’s article on two TV composers, Michael Giacchino of Lost and Bear McCreary of Battlestar Galactica, has not yet been rendered obsolete.
As I’ve said elsewhere, network TV shows probably have more music now than they ever did; shows that don’t use background scores, like The Office and The Wire, are deliberately different from the norm. Even a show like Grey’s Anatomy, which uses a ton of popular music, often uses original music to underscore the scenes that don’t have songs in them; many TV producers are nervous about letting moments go by without music. Again, like everything else in TV today, this is not new. Rod Serling complained that CBS filled the pilot of The Twilight Zone with music (much of it library music) when he thought that silence would have done more to establish a mood in many scenes. Then in the ’60s and ’70s shows would use the same pieces of music over and over again, like the Star Trek fight music; as one composer said, they wanted the full orchestra sound to permeate the show but they didn’t actually want to pay to record an original score every week.
But TV producers/executives don’t fully trust a scene on its own to create a mood, perhaps because TV shows simply don’t have the budget or schedule to create images that stand on their own. (Also, if you do without music in a scene, you have to spend more time getting the sound effects exactly right, which can actually be harder than pumping in some music.) So music is incredibly important to today’s TV — yet, as the article notes, there hasn’t been much of a move toward giving the TV composer more resources or importance. Giacchino and McCreary are two exceptions; Lost was the first new show in years to use a full orchestra (all the other shows with original orchestral scores are animated: The Simpsons, Family Guy, King of the Hill), and while McCreary works with a smaller ensemble, he gets to use some live musicians and expand to a full orchestra for the big moments. The Doctor Who revival, not long after Lost, was another show that took the plunge on a full orchestra, though I actually think the sound mix sometimes makes it sound like it uses synth music.
But many shows don’t, even shows that cry out for a bigger sound. No matter how clever the composer is, MIDI files always wind up sounding like a robot orchestra chugging away in the background. I’ve always felt that the score of Desperate Housewives is a huge weakness for that show, because it sounds so tinny and corny that instead of solidifying the scenes, it makes the whole show seem even more artificial than it is.
Since I have no concluding thing to say, I’ll let Gerald Fried say it for me.