First things first: A big thanks to Corey for trusting me to take over The Nostalgia Diaries while she vacations with her family in the tropical oasis that is Toledo, Ohio. I’ve never vacationed in Toledo, but I’ve spent a bit of time in other parts of Ohio and the Midwest and frankly, I’m a big fan of laid-back Midwestern summers.
My grandparents lived in Eastern South Dakota along the Missouri River, and every July or August my parents would take my brother and me on a road trip to spend a couple of weeks in Yankton and Vermillion, South Dakota. To this day, I can still remember the enveloping heat of the heavy, humid air and the rich smell of dark fertile soil in fields of 7-foot tall stalks of sweet corn. Not a lot of that in Wyoming where I grew up, so the feel of the Midwest was always a striking change.
And I loved it.
I have not been back to South Dakota in years, yet thinking about it now sparks many nostalgic memories of my youth—a youth filled with the smells and sounds and sights of summer’s simple pleasures: hot concrete and cool chlorine-infused swimming pool water, the buzz of cicadas and the sad song of mourning doves, the blur of telephone poles and trees zipping past the car window ticking off the miles on the long road trip east.
And music. I remember music was everywhere. From the mix of bells, whistles, and laughter at the county fair, to the smooth sounds of Captain and Tennile playing on cassette in my parents car, to Saturday afternoon matinee movie soundtracks, to the Sunday morning church choir singing Amazing Grace, to simple call-sign jingles on the radio. And of course, television show theme songs.
Last week I finished binge watching The Office on Netflix and, after wiping a tear or two from my eyes as the credits rolled and the show’s theme song played for the last time, I thought about how the music we hear on television can cause a wave of memories and emotion. Even simple station bumper theme music is enough to create nostalgic overload. Like this:
I always remember that the CBS Special Presentation theme always preceded an awesome show, like A Charlie Brown Christmas (and A Charlie Brown Christmas, of course, has a pretty nostalgic beginning sequence as well).
Or this one, from PBS:
Or maybe you remember this one from your days of watching Disney videos:
These bumper themes were a simple means to transition between programming elements, yet hearing them today instantly takes me back to my younger TV-watching years and makes me smile. Ah, the power of nostalgia at work!
And then there are the TV show theme songs themselves. Television show theme song writers seem to know exactly how to hit the right… well… chords, manipulating your emotions and immediately connecting you with the show and its characters. Think about those first piano notes in the Cheers theme:
Or how about the telephone ringing, Bob’s “Hello?”, and the opening piano chords from The Bob Newhart Show:
Or the lonely french horn from Little House on the Prairie:
Or those happy, hopeful lyrics of Love is All Around, sung by Sonny Curtis in The Mary Tyler Moore Show opening credits… “Who can turn the world on with her smile?“:
Even music from more recent TV shows pulls you into a nostalgic web of emotion:
And of course there was the show that I believe was the best show ever to grace the small screen: Northern Exposure. Hearing that show’s theme song always gives me a happy little boost of nostalgia:
If you were a fan of these shows, their theme songs are indelibly inked on your soul. Hearing them, you remember the laughter, the tears, the best episodes, and the most clever—and most poignant—endings.
Even for causal TV watchers, TV theme songs can create a bridge from the present to the past, connecting you to the places and characters you came to know and love. Think about the wacky world of WKRP In Cincinnati:
Or how about the comedy genius of The Dick Van Dyke Show?:
Does this one make you think of John Travolta and the rest of the “Sweathogs”?:
Maybe M*A*S*H was your go-to show, with its haunting “Suicide is Painless” theme song:
Not only do these theme songs connect you to the shows themselves, they connect you to the times and places and people from your own past. Maybe they take you back to Saturday nights after taking a bath and snuggling in your jammies on the couch, watching The Love Boat and Fantasy Island…
Or maybe you remember Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley on Tuesday nights…
Maybe the small-screen theme songs take you back to your high school and college days, when you watched Friends or Frazier, Seinfeld or Saved By the Bell, Mad About You or Married With Children. Maybe they take you back to watching your favorite shows with family, eating dinner on TV trays… or watching alone in bed with a pint of Häagen-Dazs.
Or maybe they take you back to last week, when you and your 16-year-old son finished binge-watching every episode of that TV show you missed when it first aired. The Emmy-winning series that everyone talked about and told you how funny it was. The show that when you finally watched it, you wondered what you possibly could have been doing that kept you from being entertained by it the first time around. The show that gave you moments like this:
The show that—through the talents of its actors and writers and directors—created funny, memorable characters and compelling, absurdly wonderful stories that allowed you to establish a connection with your own kid through shared laughter and emotions and conversation and appreciation.
Yeah, who would have thought a TV show could do that? Honestly, there is so much garbage on television these days and I’ve never been one to seek out television as a primary means of entertainment. But once in a while, there are those shows that create a timeless link between the past and the present. Shows that when you are watching them, you know that 20 years from now, you will hear that opening theme song, and you will smile, and you will remember the people, the places, the laughter, the tears, the happiness, the sadness, the ups, the downs, the beginnings and the endings.
Talk to me: What was your go-to TV show as a kid? What is your favorite TV theme song?
And speaking of vacations, in 1975 my parents took my brother and me to Disneyland for the first time. Last week, I again traveled to Disneyland, this time with two of my own sons. Join me later this week as I take over Throwback Thursday and reflect on the nostalgic wonders and wizardry of this iconic California theme park.
At The Nostalgia Diaries, our goal is to help you simplify, enhance, and engage your lives by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.