Television Music: Automaticity and the Case of Mike Post

By Fink, Edward J. | Journal of Film and Video, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

Television Music: Automaticity and the Case of Mike Post


Fink, Edward J., Journal of Film and Video


This article utilizes a case study approach to examine the process of scoring a television production. The hope is that this analysis will not only increase readers' understanding and appreciation of this important phase of production but also contribute to empowering viewers to be more critical consumers of television content.

The focus of this article is Mike Post, one of the most successful and prolific composers of television scores (e.g., Doogie Howser, M.D., Murder One, NYPD Blue). Because Post's melodies are some of the most heard on the small screen, his work serves as a valuable exemplar for study. As we shall see, the psychological theory of automaticity proves useful in understanding Post's ability to write a large quantity of music in a short period of time to fit a variety of programs. Ultimately, a model for automaticity is developed as it relates to Post's approach to scoring television shows.

After briefly outlining the method used in this study, this article offers some background on Post and the process of scoring television programs. To develop a model of his automaticity, the argument proceeds through three phases. First, Post's placement of music at certain dramatic "moments" (cognitive, affective, etc.) is explored. Second, Post's musical style is examined across two dimensions-composition (harmony, tempo, etc.) and instrumentation (brass, woodwind, etc.)and a table is created to summarize these dimensions. Third, in an effort to understand the automaticity of Post's work, the data in the table are combined with the categories of musical placement to create a three-dimensional cube model of Post's decision-making process in scoring TV programs.

A three-part research method was used for this study. First, content analyses were conducted of the music from 16 selected episodes of television programs for which Post has served, or is currently serving, as music director. One episode from each of the following series was examined: The A-Team, Beverly Hills Buntz, The Commish, Doogie Howser, M.D., Hill Street Blues, Hooperman, Hunter LA. Law, Law & Order, Magnum PI., NYPD Blue, Renegade, Riptide, The Rockford Files, Sonny Spoon, and Wiseguy. (See the appendix for a complete list of Post's credits.) Second, two open-ended, in-depth telephone interviews were conducted with Post at his company, Mike Post Productions, in Burbank, California, one in March 1988 and the other in March 1995. Third, the psychological literature on automaticity was reviewed and the theory applied to Post's music.

Who Is Mike Post?

Mike Post began his musical life at the age of six with piano lessons. He quickly learned other instruments, and he studied music for one year in college. He worked with a number of bands, some of which he formed himself, and also accompanied some star artists. In 1968, at the age of 24, he was hired as the musical director for The Andy Williams Show-the youngest musician in TV history to hold such a position. Ultimately, he began scoring television programs, the work for which he has gained the greatest celebrity.

Although his musical achievements are varied, Post prefers episodic TV because of the autonomy he enjoys, including artistic control over the music in all the programs for which he receives screen credit. This control is an outgrowth of having weekly deadlines. There is no time to quibble when you're composing for serial television, so the producers are willing to hand the responsibility for their musical scores to someone who can "get the job done." As evidenced by the volume of his credits, in many cases that someone is Mike Post.

Scoring Process

Post's involvement with a TV show begins when he agrees to write the title song and score the pilot, a process that takes from 10 to 14 days, sometimes longer. Once the program is picked up by a network and goes into regular production, Post has 6 to 10 days to score each episode. …

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