Clearly, brevity is key. No drawn-out intro or hokey theme. Networks don't have time for that – and neither, prevailing TV thinking goes, do the country’s couch potatoes.I, too, lament the passing of the theme song. Many of my favorite shows had theme songs that set the tone, making me feel like I was really watching the show. Firefly, ER, and Angel were three of my theme-song favorites. Now I sometimes find myself wondering whether an episode has truly begun or if I’m still watching the teaser.
“Producers feel, rightly or wrongly, that that interruption, if you will, is going to lose viewers,” Brooks said.
“I think one of the things that has squeezed themes out is this relentless kind of move toward tightening everything, making it go right from joke to joke, from action to action, from shootout to shootout, so that you won't press the dreaded remote control.”
I’m not ready to call for government intervention, of course, but I think it’s worth noting that the languishing TV theme song is (if the explanation above is correct) a possible example of a little-known species of market failure. When products have malleable characteristics (as most do), suppliers will modify those characteristics to satisfy the preferences of the marginal customers: those on the cusp between buying and not buying the product. The marginal customers will be better served, but the inframarginal customers – those who would buy the product anyway – can have their utility increased or decreased by the alterations. If there is indeed a decrease in utility to inframarginal customers, and the loss in dollar value exceeds the gain to the marginal customers, then inefficiency results. In this case, the marginal customers are fickle viewers who are just barely willing to watch a show to begin with; skipping the theme song and credits hooks these viewers in. The inframarginal customers are those who would have watched the show anyway; if they are like me, their suffer a utility loss from the absence of a theme song.