Thursday, May 19, 2022

Classic TV Theme Music Challenge: Mike Post vs. Henry Mancini


Many great composers have contributed memorable songs to our classic TV heritage. What would The Addams Family be without Vic Mizzy’s finger-snapping introduction? How much excitement did Neil Hefti’s brassy Batman theme add to the anticipation of another colorful superhero adventure?  And has there ever been a more perfect match of music to series than what Lalo Schifrin composed for Mission: Impossible?


But if we’re assessing by quantity, the two most successful composers of television theme music are Mike Post and Henry Mancini. Mancini has the more distinguished reputation because of his equally impressive film scoring (The Pink Panther, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Days of Wine and Roses). But Post’s TV credits are untouchable – or are they?


Let’s have the two most prolific TV tunesmiths square off in a series of battles and see who comes out on top.


Battle of the Cop Shows: Hill Street Blues (Post) vs. Cade’s County (Mancini)

This one is no contest. With Hill Street Blues, Post opted to forego a driving, action-oriented theme that viewers may have expected for a series that depicted so many violent urban confrontations, and instead opened the show with a gentle, piano-driven melody that reached #10 on the Billboard Hot 100.  


Cade’s County also has its admirers, but it sounds too much like too many other themes to long-forgotten shows.


Winner: Mike Post


Battle of the Sitcoms: Blossom (Post) vs. Newhart (Mancini)

What made the Blossom opening sequence memorable was Dr. John’s vocals and Mayim Bialik’s endearingly goofy dancing.


Which makes Newhart an easy choice – it has all the lush instrumentation one expects from Henry Mancini, and provides the ideal soundtrack for a summer drive through the Vermont woods.


Winner: Henry Mancini



Battle of the Detective Shows: Magnum P.I. (Post) vs. Remington Steele (Mancini)

Post’s music for Magnum P.I. boasts a memorable guitar riff and is quintessential ‘80s, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Remington Steele counters with a more classical-sounding strings section and a steady drum downbeat, followed by a sexy saxophone to accompany Steele kissing Laura’s hand. Close call, but the variations within the theme give the edge to Manci

Winner: Henry Mancini



Battle of the Superheroes: The Greatest American Hero (Post) vs. The Invisible Man (Mancini)

“Believe It Or Not” reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and enjoyed an encore moment of notoriety thanks to Seinfeld’s George Costanza. But with its opening harp glissando and killer bass line, Mancini’s Invisible Man theme makes this a little closer than anticipated. Still, Post takes this round.



Winner: Mike Post


Battle of the Detective Shows, Pt. 2: The Rockford Files (Post) vs. Peter Gunn (Mancini)


This is easily the closest contest. The jazzy Peter Gunn theme is iconic; it earned Mancini both an Emmy and a Grammy, and has received praise as the best TV theme of all time. But The Rockford Files theme also won a Grammy and was a top ten hit. Two truly great and memorable pieces of music, but only one can win.


Winner: Henry Mancini



Battle of the George Peppard Series: The A-Team (Post) vs. The NBC Mystery Movie (Mancini)

The A-Team music is vintage Post, powerful military bombast perfect for a backdrop of never-ending explosions and carnage. But after just one listen the eerie, whistling theme that introduced Banacek and all the NBC Mystery installments is almost impossible to get out of your mind.


Winner: Henry Mancini



Battle of the Rogues: Hunter (Post) vs. Mr. Lucky (Mancini)

In this head-to-head between two shows about two guys unafraid to skirt the law, the winner is no contest. Mancini takes three in a row.


Winner: Henry Mancini


Battle of the Man Shows: Hooperman (Post) vs. Man of the World (Mancini)

Okay, this is starting to get embarrassing


Winner: Henry Mancini


Battle of the Forgotten Shows: Tales of the Gold Monkey (Post) vs. Kingston Confidential (Mancini)

At last, Post strikes back. His exotic, retro theme for Tales of the Gold Monkey hits the right notes for a series that claimed to be based on Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings, but really wanted audiences to think they were getting a weekly dose of Indiana Jones adventure. Kingston Confidential must have caught Mancini on an off day. 



Winner: Mike Post


Battle of the Los Angeles Based Shows: L.A. Law (Post) vs. What’s Happening! (Mancini)

It’s a testament to Mancini’s versatility that he could forego his jazzy, orchestral preferences for something as funky and bouncy as his work on What’s Happening!. 



And yet…I think Post deserves the win here. There’s a darker tone in this composition that fits a series that often explored the darker side of courtroom proceedings. And that pounding drum beat could be the pounding of a judge’s gavel. Both themes fit their respective shows well, but in this case the court rules for Post.


Winner: Mike Post

Bonus Round: Doogie Howser, M.D. (Post) vs. Hotel (Mancini)

I was ready to give one more to Mancini right away; Hotel boasts a sprawling, full-bodied theme worthy of a feature film, and it seems to have as many movements as a symphony. But Post was very clever with what he did for Doogie Howser, with a play of synth and electronic sounds that match Doogie’s computer entries and the beeps of hospital monitors. But, as I’ve always thought the best music should have a timeless quality, I’ll stick with my first choice.



Winner: Henry Mancini


And so, in this most unofficial, un-scientific and (arguably) unnecessary exercise, it is Henry Mancini who takes the title. Disagree? Let me know.


  1. Very much enjoyed these musical duels, but I must disagree with LA law versus What's Happening. Frankly I'm a little blown away that the latter was a Mancini creation, unreal! Anyway, thanks for the interesting blog David if you see this..for some reason, my comments haven't been posting to your blog for months now. 😟

    1. Technical difficulties were getting in the way of your comments being posted - thankfully that issue has finally been corrected. So consider this an official welcome back!

  2. Time to pick a nit:
    The various Mystery Movie series each had their own theme melodies (some of them went through several).
    Banacek's theme - the one that played when we saw Peppard rowing his scull down the Charles River at the start of each show - was the work of Billy Goldenberg, a Universal workhorse of long standing and sizable talents.

    Now, if you're comparing Mystery Movie themes, it happens that when ABC picked up the franchise in the '80s, they engaged Mike Post to come up with a theme for them, which ran for the two seasons that they had.
    Now, in my view, Post's driving theme also places second to the Mancini Siren (actually Clare Fischer's organ, but that's another story); your mileage may vary ...

    And anyway ... my sentimental favorite was Jerry Fielding's sweetly romantic lilt for McMillan And Wife - but hey, that's me ...

    1. That was my first reaction, though I agree with the Mancini verdict. I remember all the different themes both Sunday and Wednesday.

  3. Addendum to yesterday's nitpick:
    In its first season, Banacek was part of a Wednesday combine with Madigan (Richard Widmark) and Cool Million (James Farentino).
    That NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie had a different theme, a hard-driving number composed by Quincy Jones, which only lasted the first season.
    For Season 2, the Wednesday rotation got the Mancini Siren, which continued when that set was moved to Tuesday in mid-season.

    And anyway ... most people who were around back then remember the Siren in connection with Columbo, so there too.

    1. Nits are always welcome to be picked here - thanks for the additional info!