11 Greatest TV Theme Songs of All-Time

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Theme songs are a dying art. Expanding commercial windows and shrinking broadcast times mean that modern half-hour sitcoms only get about 22 minutes a week, with credits, so to pack in as much story as possible, many creators opt for opening titles that are designed to get the viewer into the show as quickly as possible. Things are a little better on the hour-long side, with series getting 44 minutes or so, but that's about it. As a result, the classic, occasionally cheesy, and genuinely catchy theme songs that generations were raised on have been slowly disappearing from the airwaves. The real shame is that crafting a good theme song is an art, and one that can result in failure as often as success. These classic theme songs are by no means the only 11 worth celebrating, but they do stand the test of time and work as perfect pop representatives of their era. A quick disclaimer: these are theme songs, not instrumentals, so classic tunes like the opening for Sanford and Son don't count. Plus they're listed in random order. Them's the rules. Now bring on the nostalgia:

  1. "Where Everybody Knows Your Name," Cheers: Was there really any doubt this would make the cut? Every American between 30 and 75 knows the words to this one. Over its 11-season run, Cheers dominated primetime in a way that would later prove impossible with the splintering of viewers among cable, DVRs, and streaming video. Performed and co-written by Gary Portnoy (who also sang the intro for the infinitely inferior Punky Brewster), the Cheers theme song perfectly encapsulates the show's warm, welcoming atmosphere. It's laid-back but upbeat, and one of the best of the 1980s.
  2. "Movin' on Up," The Jeffersons: The Jeffersons is part of the sprawling fictional universe that also includes All in the Family, Good Times, and Maude. (Norman Lear basically owned the 1970s.) They're all strong shows with solid themes, but there's something about the tune that opens The Jeffersons that's just perfect. It's peppy, defiant, and happy, signaling the key characters' long struggle and final victory when it comes to getting their piece of the American dream.
  3. "The Facts of Life," The Facts of Life: Weird but true: this theme song was co-written by Alan Thicke, who'd also worked on and sung the theme to Diff'rent Strokes, from which The Facts of Life spun off. You can probably hear the song in your head already, which is no accident; the show ran for nine (!) seasons, and Thicke's theme music is perfectly done.
  4. "Nothing's Gonna Stop Me Now," Perfect Strangers: Miller-Boyett Productions spawned some truly heinous TV — these are the men responsible for Full House — but the dorky Perfect Strangers, which ran from 1986 to 1993, was probably one of the most harmless and enjoyable things they ever did. The opening song (which went through multiple versions) is a staple of '80s cheeseball nostalgia, set to a typically hokey montage of city scenes that depicted the wackiness that Larry and Balki were going to get into that week whether you wanted it or not. Great for singing in the shower or re-enacting on your own.
  5. "The Muppet Show Theme," The Muppet Show: The 1970s: probably the only era in which you could get away with having a primetime puppet show run for five seasons. The swaggering, old-school theme song for The Muppet Show is a pitch-perfect callback to the vaudeville roots that inspired the series' aesthetic. Plus it's just plain fun.
  6. "Believe It or Not," The Greatest American Hero: No one's saying the show itself was any good; it only ran from 1981 to 1983, and it was pretty clunky. But the opening tune is so catchy it would go on to be referenced in everything from Seinfeld to The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Just try to get it out of your head. It's impossible.
  7. "This Is the Theme to Garry's Show," It's Garry Shandling's Show: Garry Shandling's mid-1980s Showtime sitcom was a genre-defying comedy that broke the fourth wall and made constant references in stories to the fact that Garry and the other characters were all acting in a scripted series. The jazzy theme song is equally meta: sung by Bill Lynch, the lyrics are about the fact that the song is a theme song, and that it's probably not that good. Typical rule-breaking brilliance from Shandling, who would later go on to more success with HBO's The Larry Sanders Show.
  8. "WKRP in Cincinnati Main Theme," WKRP in Cincinnati: Running from 1978 to 1982, WKRP in Cincinnati boasts a typically soft-rock theme song that's grounded in the adult contemporary styles that took hold on the radio in the time period. The series is rightly lauded for classic comedy moments like the episode "Turkeys Away." Just a classic all around.
  9. "Princes of the Universe," Highlander: The Series: Nothing says pure rock bombast like Queen. Nothing! Their song "Princes of the Universe" had already appeared in the 1986 film Highlander, so it was only natural that when the fantasy story became a TV series destined to win the hearts of convention-goers nationwide, it would use the same track. It's worth mentioning that this syndicated series isn't really a classic in terms of quality, but the song is just undeniably awesome.
  10. "Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?," Sesame Street: It's the soundtrack to your childhood. There have been wonderful themes for all sorts of kids shows, educational and otherwise; PBS also gets to claim the happy tune that opens up Reading Rainbow. But Sesame Street wins for sheer longevity and impact: it's been on the air since 1969, and the original recording of the song went unchanged until the 24th season. Pretty much every U.S. citizen born since Watergate can sing this.
  11. "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," The Beverly Hillbillies: One of the best examples of theme songs that describe the premise of the whole series, the opening song for The Beverly Hillbillies is a great country ditty about the rags-to-riches story of the Clampetts. The show ran from 1962 to 1971, cementing its song in the brains of untold legions of baby boomers and making it an enduring piece of American pop culture.
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