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The 25 Best TV Theme Songs Ever Written

Television history has yielded some catchy, classic tunes that have stood the test of time.

In the streaming era, the TV theme song has become something of a relic of a bygone era. Many new shows eschew elaborate title sequences altogether, and even the shows that have great themes see them quickly skipped over at the press of a button. It's enough to make you long for the days when TV theme songs could become chart-topping hits—a happy fate that befell more than a few of the following 25 themes, which rank among the best ever written.

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Twin Peaks

Composed in just 20 minutes, Angelo Badalamenti's "Falling" is the perfect accompaniment to the emotional and haunting show. In fact, creator David Lynch once said, "It the mood of the whole piece. It is Twin Peaks."


When it was originally composed for the 197o feature film M*A*S*H, director Robert Altman reportedly told composer Johnny Mandel that the theme must be titled "Suicide Is Painless" and "be the stupidest song ever written." The lyrics were actually written by Altman's then-15-year-old son, but the TV adaptation opted for an instrumental version, providing the perfect balance of melancholy and energetic for the long-running comedy-drama.

The Adventures of Pete & Pete

Pete & Pete co-creator Will McRobb called the song "The Backyard"—an ode to childhood adventures and relationships by seminal eighties indie band Miracle Legion—the "single biggest influence" on the quirky live-action '90s show. He then approached the band about performing songs for the Pete & Pete, only to find it in shambles. Members reformed as Polaris, the "band that lives in your TV" and produced the fairly undecipherable theme song "Hey Sandy," and 11 more for the show.

The Beverly Hillbillies

The bluegrass banjo narrative performed by country singer Jerry Scoggins set the stage for this '60s comedy about a poor country family that comes into unexpected riches. The iconic opening lines of "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," "Come and listen to a story 'bout a man named Jed," lays the ground for viewers to take in the clan's improbable journey from rural poverty to Beverly Hills opulence.


Based closely on the 1967 song "Psyche Rock" by electronic music pioneer Pierre Henry, Christopher Tyng's theme also samples the songs "Amen, Brother" by The Winstons, "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang, and The Chosen's "Funky Buttercup." Listen closely and you might also note a vocoded "FU-TU-RA-MA" in the theme for the sci-fi cartoon.

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The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Will Smith performs the opening song for his '90s sitcom about a poor kid from Philadelphia who moves in with his rich relatives. Like a hip-hop spin on the Beverly Hillbillies theme, it gives you all the backstory you need to know and began a tradition of Smith, who got his showbiz start as a rapper, contributing songs to accompany his onscreen appearances.


Filled with as many duck puns as you can cram into a minute, this cartoon theme is so catchy, anyone who was born in the '80s can probably sing it for you verbatim. It's so good that when they rebooted the series three decades later, they kept it mostly unchanged.

Welcome Back, Kotter

The show might have just been called Kotter had former The Lovin' Spoonful frontman John Sebastian been able to rhyme it with something better than "daughter" when he was commissioned to write the theme song. Instead, his tune welcomed the aforenamed teacher back to his old Brooklyn high school and made it to No. 1 on the charts in 1976.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Music is at the core of this series, which communicates the innermost thoughts (and anxieties) of lead character Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) through songs, from Broadway style musical numbers to pop music videos. And it all starts with the super catchy first season theme song, sung by Bloom and co-written by Jack Dolgen and the late Adam Schlesinger. Not content to stop there, the trio created a new theme for each of the show's four seasons.

Spongebob Squarepants

The catchy theme for this enduring nautical Nickelodeon animated series is great fun to sing along to, and no wonder: It's not just the silly lyrics ("Absorbent and yellow and porous is he!") or the shouted refrain of "Spongebob Squarepants!"—the song was actually based on the historical sea shanty "Blow the Man Down."

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Golden Girls

The series about four mature women living together in Miami borrowed a sincere '70s ode to friendship by Andrew Gold for its catchy theme song. The sentimental "Thank You for Being a Friend" offsets the sassy comedy perfectly.

The Brady Bunch

As infectious as the show's cheerful disposition, the theme song of The Brady Bunch succintly captures the blended family dynamics of the wholesome '70s sitcom. With its catchy melody and memorable lyrics, it's remained an enduring emblem of nostalgia for generations.

The Pink Panther

Composer Henry Mancini wrote this slinky jazz theme with the opening animation of the film version of The Pink Panther in mind. The suave panther portrayed there would later become the star of a few animated children's series, including the early '90s one that pepped up Mancini's original cool-cat theme.

Mission: Impossible

Composer Lalo Schifrin said he penned the memorable, percussive theme for the 1960s TV series—originally titled "Burning Fuse"—in about the time it would might take for Ethan Hunt to defuse a bomb.

"The whole thing—including the chorus, the bongos, everything you hear—took me maybe three minutes," the Oscar-nominated composer said. "I was creating [the] sound of impossible missions and making them swing. I didn't know it was going to be so successful." Indeed, the composition is still used in the blockbuster Mission:Impossible film series.

Gilligan's Island

"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale"… of how things went terribly awry for five tourists and two crew members in the mid-'60s comedy about desert island wash-ups. And for fun, you can sing numerous other songs to the tune of "The Ballad of Gilligan's Isle," including "Amazing Grace" and "Auld Lang Syne."

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The Jeffersons

The theme song for The Jeffersons tells the story of how Queens couple George (Sherman Hemsley) and Louise Jefferson (Isabel Sanford) change their lives when they move into a Manhattan highrise after George's dry cleaning business takes off. Fun fact: Good Times star Ja'Net DuBois wrote "Movin' on Up" and performed it with the help of a gospel choir.


Cheers producers originally chose another song by songwriting duo Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart-Angelo to accompany a new series about a neighborhood watering hole in Boston. When they learned that song was legally attached to the Broadway musical Preppies, they gave them another shot, and they came up with the iconic "Where Everybody Knows Your Name," which would open the show for the next 11 years.

The Simpsons

The Simpsons creator Matt Groening personally asked composer Danny Elfman, already well known as a member of Oingo Boingo and for his work with director Tim Burton, to create the theme for his new animated show. Elfman suggested "something retro" and composed the song in his car on the drive home from the meeting.

"It was such a weird show," the songwriter later said. "I thought it was going to run two or three times and disappear forever." It has opened every episode of The Simpsons since—all 765 of them.


Everyone loved the Friends theme song back in the day—shortly after the show debuted on NBC, the one-minute version of "I'll Be There for You" was rerecorded as a three-minute pop tune and released to radio, where it topped the Billboard charts for eight weeks. Everyone, that is, except the band that sang it. Though it briefly made the pop duo The Rembrandts a household name, the group resented its success, which they believed "killed [their] cool" as a band.

The Twilight Zone

The haunting melody composed by Marius Constant proved the perfect prelude to the eerie tales that could only lie in The Twilight Zone. Viewers might have been surprised to learn the theme was in fact two pieces of music spliced together from a sound library Constant had recorded in an effort to save money and avoid paying royalties.

The Addams Family

Victor Mizzy not only composed the iconic, harpsichord-heavy theme of The Addams Family—he also directed the opening credit sequence. "Two finger-snaps and you live in Bel-Air," he would later comment, referencing the song's success.


Though most of the music for Lost was written by the show's regular composer, Oscar- and Emmy-winner Michael Giacchino, series co-creator J.J. Abrams actually assembled its iconic main theme—a 16-second ghostly, atonal, swooping tone—himself, just as he had done for his previous series, Alias.

The X-Files

Mark Snow's haunting theme for the paranormal investigation series The X-Files set the tone for the monster-filled, conspiracy-fueled show, and no doubt infiltrated the dreams of many young kids trying to fall asleep while their parents watched. Remixes of the electronica-tinged tune became popular, and the song even charted as a single in the U.K. and France.

X-Men: The Animated Series

If the 1997 animated adaptation of Marvel's X-Men comics hadn't been so popular, perhaps 2000's X-Men film may never have been made, and we never would have experienced the massive comic book movie boom that has dominated cinema for the last few decades. And maybe the animated series wouldn't have been so popular if it hadn't had such a jamming theme song (preserved for the recent Disney+ reboot). We have no way of knowing, is what I'm saying.

Dawson's Creek

A song about a woman wondering if her husband will come home from World War II still seems like an odd choice to be the theme to a teen soap, but so did Dawson's Creek creator Kevin Williamson's original pick, Alanis Morissette's "Hand in My Pocket." For years, anyone streaming the show wouldn't hear Paula Cole's "I Don't Want to Wait" over the opening credits, because of rights issues. But in 2021, the artist rerecorded the song so it could be legally reunited with the kids of Capeside.

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller is a pop culture writer living in New York. Read more
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