The 50 Best TV Theme Songs of All Time

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20. It’s Garry Shandling’s Show
(Joey Carbone)
Garry Shandling was so far ahead of his time, it’s easy to forget how influential. His first show basically invented the comedian-as-himself sitcom and was among the first to turn the entire premise inward on television itself. The brilliant theme song encapsulated all of it: “This is the theme to Garry’s Show, the theme to Garry’s show / Garry called me up and asked if I would write his theme song / I’m almost halfway finished, how do you like it so far / How do you like the theme to Garry’s Show?” —Matthew Oshinsky

19. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
(Rachel Bloom, Adam Schlesinger)
We are, of course, referring to the impossibly perky show-stopping theme of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s superior first season. In just 32 seconds, Rachel Bloom and her cast of co-stars in cartoon-form perfectly embody the musical rom-com’s spirit, while neatly offering a quick catch-up for anyone who’s just succumbed to its many charms. Initially opting for the rapid-fire delivery of a rip-roaring Broadway show tune, the theme acknowledges both our hero’s flippancy (“one day I was crying a lot / and so I decided to move to / West Covina…”) and lack of self-awareness (“It happens to be where Josh lives / but that’s not why I’m here”). But amidst calls of “she’s so broken inside” from her animated crew, the toe-tapping tune also finds the time to dispel the notion that the show, and particularly its title, is sexist. Quite simply, this wonderfully playful intro shows that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a lot more nuanced than that. —Jon O’Brien

18. The Muppet Show
(Jim Henson, Sam Pottle)
I’ve been going back and watching early episodes of The Muppet Show with my kids, and it’s really the intro that made the puppet show feel like it was ready for prime time. Lord knows it wasn’t early guest stars like Juliet Prowse and Connie Stevens. Every week as a kid, I couldn’t wait to see what would happen to Gonzo when, like Charlie Brown trying to kick a field goal, he tried to blow that last trumpet note. —Josh Jackson

17. The Wire
(Tom Waits, “Way Down in the Hole”)
The Wire’s use of Tom Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole” stands out not only because it’s a great song that fits perfectly with the show, but also because they opted to use a different version of the song each season to best fit the vibe of that year. Season 1 featured the Blind Boys of Alabama’s take on it; season 2 switched to Waits’s original. The following season featured a Neville Brothers version of the song, followed by DoMaJe’s cover in season 4 and a version by Steve Earle—who also had a small role on the show as Walon, Bubbles’ sponsor—in season 5. —Bonnie Stiernberg

16. Peter Gunn
(Henry Mancini)
The P.I. wouldn’t have been nearly as hip if his every move wasn’t accompanied by music from Mancini. The theme music has been covered by everyone from Duane Eddy and Jimi Hendrix to Aerosmith, Pulp and The Cramps. Even Quincy Jones has recorded a version. It was, of course, also the soundtrack to the ‘80s videogame Spy Hunter. Josh Jackson

15. The Addams Family
(Vic Mizzy)
Kudos to Mizzy, who also wrote the theme to Green Acres, for forcing rhymes like “they’re altogether ooky” and “they really are a scree-um.” How did this show get canceled after only three years? —Josh Jackson

14. The Twilight Zone
(Bernard Herrman)
The Twilight Zone theme does for your spine what the Jeopardy theme does for your brain: makes it tense up. First employed during the second season of the original five-season show, those eight spidery notes became the sarcastic singalong retort to anyone who says they’re spooked out by anything. The jazzy number that followed suggests a kind of beatnik dread. —Matthew Oshinsky

13. Doctor Who
(Ron Grainer)
With its tape loops and innovative use of synthesizers and filters, Ron Grainer’s pioneering electronic composition was originally brought to life by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop back in 1963. It’s the rare TV theme that had a major impact on the popular music of its own era and those to come, and one of the most recognizable. The theme has been tweaked several times during the off-and-on 55-year history of the cult show, but the tune itself has aged every bit as well as the time-traveling doctor. —Josh Jackson

12. Mission: Impossible
(Lalo Schifrin)
Flute has never sounded as bad-ass as with the answer to the show’s repeating eight-note riff. The original single reached at No. 41 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and quickly became the inner monologue to every kid playing a spy game in the yard. —Josh Jackson

11. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
(Will Smith, Quincy Jones III)
The hip-hop version of The Beverly Hillbillies, Will Smith’s rap caught you up to speed the first time you saw the show: “I got in one little fight, and my mom got scared and said you’re moving with your auntie and uncle in Bel-Air.” Swimming pools, movie stars indeed. —Josh Jackson

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