Wednesday, December 19, 2012

TV Themes: NYPD, HAWK, JUDD FOR THE DEFENSE

One of the great things about the gritty police dramas of the late 50's and early 60's was the hard-hitting theme songs. You knew you were in for something. There was the eerie, "portent of doom" "Perry Mason" theme, and the fateful four notes starting "Dragnet." There were the patrol car prowls of Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn" and Count Basie's "M Squad," and…here are three more examples from shows that didn't last too long or get the re-runs they deserve.

"Hawk," the first theme in the medley, was set in New York, and specifically late at night, which explains the alluring, if haunted theme song from veteran Kenyon Hopkins (born January 15, 1912, now deceased). Hopkins also wrote the TV themes for "East Side West Side" and "The Cara Williams Show." Burt Reynolds, somewhat known to TV viewers by this time for his roles on "Riverboat" and "Gunsmoke" finally emerged as a magnetic leading man in portraying a Native American detective with a Brando-like cynicism. His beat involved sickos, and watching him pursue deranged loners may have been a little too alarming at 10pm. People preferred cheerful boozer Dean Martin's songs and comedy. The show only lasted 17 episodes opposite Dino in 1966. The other two entries here, premiered in 1967.

NYPD's theme reflects the hectic city that hosted the show. If "Hawk" portrayed Manhattan as dangerous at night, this one bared how ugly it looked by daylight. Watching an episode of the show today has some sociological value…it shows just how repulsive and decayed Manhattan was at the time, with filthy, shabby streets, foreboding avenues, and an almost rat-like sense of survival for both the bad guys and the good. Things stunk. Literally. Charles Gross (born May 13, 1934 and still with us) supplied the music, which had some similar elements to other shows of the day, most notably John Williams' staccato themes for "The Time Tunnel" and "Lost in Space." NYPD lasted two seasons, as did the last show of the medley, "Judd for the Defense."

Though "Hawk" hadn't drawn people away from Dean Martin's show in 1966, ABC still believed in counter-programming and threw "Judd for the Defense" up against the crooning comic in 1967. It improbably starred Carl Betz, who was still trying to live down all those years as Donna Reed's hapless sitcom hubby. Based (loosely) on F. Lee Bailey, Clinton Judd was a maverick rich guy who liked to crusade for seemingly lost causes and tackle issues in the news; society's failures in keeping the peace and respecting individual rights. Unlike Perry Mason, this show was not merely a murder mystery with colorful suspects. Judd's guest stars were not pleasant to watch, from angry Brock Peters fighting racial prejudice to bruised Phil Bruns as a barely recovering mental patient. A memorable show featured button-down William Daniels coming unglued as a man unable to cope with a new-fangled thing called a "computer," a mechanism that was turning men into little bits of data on punch cards.

Alexander Courage (born December 10, 1919, now deceased) wrote the hard-charging "Judd for the Defense" theme, which is really just five and six-note stabs repeated like angry knocks on a door (or, the downward smack of a gavel from an outraged judge). As it slowly sank in the ratings "Judd For the Defense" ended up opposite "Star Trek," which was quite an irony. "Star Trek" and "Judd for the Defense" were the only TV themes that the movie-oriented Alexander Courage wrote.

HAWK-NYPD-JUDD Original TV Themes

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