Wednesday, December 07, 2011

NBC’s “Mystery Movie” Turns 40:
Variations on a Theme

Today, we are in the mood to celebrate George Peppard’s Banacek, as The Rap Sheet’s 40th-anniversary tribute to The NBC Mystery Movie continues. But first, a word or two about TV openings.

Composer Henry Mancini’s signature theme for The NBC Mystery Movie is a classic of the genre, well supported by Wayne Fitzgerald’s flashlight-prominent opening title design. It debuted with the Mystery Moviewheel series” in 1971, and was carried over as the network moved its first trio of Mystery Movie dramas to Sunday nights.

However, when NBC launched a clone of that series, titled The NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie, in September 1972, it featured an entirely different title presentation and distinctive introductory music. I don’t possess a strong memory of the animated visuals that showed the lineup for that second wheel, and I have not yet been able to locate an example of them anywhere on the Web. But I do recall the initial Wednesday Mystery Movie theme--a bolder, brassier tune than its Sunday cousin, concocted by Quincy Jones. You can listen to that theme here. (At the front of the clip, there’s a teaser for Cool Million, one of the midweek series; the music doesn’t start until the 0:30 mark.)

Jones’ Big Band-style jazz tune met with criticism from many Mystery Movie fans. (Even Jones didn’t seem overly enchanted with it; he recalls that it was just “part of [my] evolution as a composer in TV and movies”). And when the Wednesday wheel was retooled and re-launched in the fall of 1973, it’s opening title sequence was redesigned in imitation of the original Mystery Movie introduction, with Mancini’s music again part of the package. (The Snoop Sisters part of that intro can be seen here.)

Regrettably, neither opening for the midweek wheel was sufficient to make it a success. After being relocated to Tuesday nights in January 1974 (and being rechristened, not surprisingly, The NBC Tuesday Mystery Movie), that crime-drama rotation petered out over several more episodes of Banacek and The Snoop Sisters.

1 comment:

Paul B said...

While I have always been, and will forever be a fan of Mr. Mancini, the original Wednesday Night Mystery Movie theme by Quincy Jones was action packed. Not long after NBC began using the Mancini version for both Sunday and Wednesday movies, my local NBC affiliate started using Jones’ theme for their local “action” news. Up until then I always watched the CBS affiliate’s news show, but that exciting Quincy Jones theme drew me to the competition and I stayed there for my local new for over thirty years. Of course the “mystery” theme only lasted for maybe a year before they changed to a more traditional “news” theme. For many years I had hoped to find it on the internet and now, thanks to you, I’ve had the opportunity, even if the sound quality is pretty bad. Maybe someday there will be a clearer version available. Thank you so very much. It brought back some good memories.