Music for an English queen and a Hollywood feud, synthesizers for an ’80s supernatural mystery, Broadway tunesmiths penning a love song for a superhero: These are among the most talked-about contributions to 2016-17 television that may well figure in this year’s Emmy races for music.
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For Netflix’s “The Crown,” about Elizabeth II’s early years from her ascension to the throne in 1953, Rupert Gregson-Williams spent an entire week with writer-producer Peter Morgan and score producer Hans Zimmer “just discussing how we might go about it,” the composer recalls. Zimmer also co-composed the theme.
Despite a 60-piece Vienna orchestra, restraint was key. “We felt that pushing the grandeur too much, pushing the drama and emotion too far, would take us away from what these people, especially Elizabeth, felt. She deals with it with such calm. I didn’t need to be telling the audience what they should be feeling.”
For FX’s “Feud” — a dual biopic about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford making “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” — composer Mac Quayle says, “our intention was to evoke early ‘60s Hollywood,” citing as influences Henry Mancini’s jazzy scores and Bernard Herrmann’s dark and twisted sounds.
The striking opening title sequence features Quayle’s main theme. “My first version had this big ending,” and producer Ryan Murphy loved it, except for its final notes. Murphy felt “this is a sad story about these two women,” so a downbeat finale was substituted. “Version two, and we were done,” says Quayle.
Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein had day jobs and were members of an Austin, Texas, band when the Duffer brothers called and asked if they would consider providing music for their Netflix sci-fi series “Stranger Things.” The retro-synth vibe that permeates the series, set in 1980s Indiana, catapulted them into prominence and earned them two Grammy noms last year.
“While we do have a kind of throwback, retro sound, we really don’t stick to that so much that we’re not willing to try some new things,” Dixon says. “There was a bit of a modern take on that kind of sound.”
But, adds Stein, the Duffers “definitely didn’t want it to be kitschy or overly ’80s. Finding the tone, a sound palette that didn’t go too far, took some time.” They combine vintage analog synths with more modern digital equipment. They’ve since quit their day jobs.
CW’s “The Flash” did a musical episode March 21, and its coup was landing Oscar-winning Broadway songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“La La Land,” “Dear Evan Hansen”) to write its final song, as Barry proposes to Iris.
Series star Grant Gustin once did a college production of their first musical, and Pasek and Paul are fans of the series. Their song, “Runnin’ Home to You,” cleverly references the storyline (“this world can race by far too fast / hard to see while it’s all flyin’ past”).
“We were already caught up on the show,” says Pasek, “and we were excited about the potential to write for these people who are musical theater pros, who can really sing and act and dance.”