Themes from ‘World News Tonight’

“World News Tonight” Current Theme

With the start of the fall 2020 TV season, ABC’s World News Tonight went back to its roots. They picked up their classic theme again. The version of the theme they are using is somewhat new. It’s not the same version as was used before 2012. Though it is not exactly new either. It’s a version that was composed in 2002 by Edd Kalehoff but was not used at the time. For the opening headlines, World News Tonight still uses a cut from the previous package by Remote Control Productions.

Edd Kalehoff – World News Tonight theme

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“World News Tonight” 2012 – 2020 Theme

This World News Tonight theme is a composition by major Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer and his co-composer at Remote Control Productions Steve Mazzaro. They had previously worked together on the score for the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises”. This theme is a total departure from the theme that ABC’s evening newscast had been using in some form or another since the late seventies. Although Zimmer has adapted his style for news music, the World News Tonight theme still sounds like a classic Hans Zimmer theme. He relies heavily on thumping, pulsating strings that evoke a sense of urgency, energy and determination. In musical terms it is called ostinato and in film scores it is often used to propel a scene forward which lacks dynamic visual action.

The result is a theme that sounds decidedly cinematic. It continues a trend of movie composers doing news themes that was started by NBC which commissioned John Williams in 1985 to compose The Mission. On Primetime Live movie composer Bill Conti composed the theme music. The theme debuted along with new graphics and a slightly refreshed set. ABC kept the theme when David Muir became anchor of the broadcast, though the open has been shortened.

Remote Control Productions – World News Tonight open
Remote Control Productions – World News Tonight close

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“World News Webcast” Theme

The webcast was launched in 2006 as part of a larger effort by ABC News to provide more frequent newscasts. When Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff started anchoring, they anchored 3 live broadcasts for 3 different timezones. And in the afternoon at 3 p.m. EST, one of them also did the daily webcast. In the beginning it was called World News Now, but the name was changed to avoid confusion with the ABC’s overnight newscast. When Charlie Gibson took over as anchor, he continued the webcast but only appeared on it a couple of times a week. When Diane Sawyer took over World News in 2009, the webcast was cancelled. The theme package for the webcast was originally intended for the weekend editions for World News Tonight.

Score Productions – World News Webcast

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“World News Tonight” 2000 – 2012 theme

This is the version of the World News theme by Edd Kalehoff that was used in a period during which the broadcast underwent significant changes. Longtime anchor Peter Jennings passed away and one of his replacements, Bob Woodruff, was severely injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Eventually the other replacement for Jennings, Elizabeth Vargas, who was in effect sole anchor as Woodruff was out of the running, was replaced by Charles Gibson. He retired after three years as anchor of the program and was succeeded by Diane Sawyer. This theme is fifteen seconds shorter than the previous versions of the theme. Kalehoff compressed the front part, giving the theme a more urgent sound.

Edd Kalehoff – World News Tonight theme
Edd Kalehoff – World News Tonight 2000 – 2008 headline bed

In 2008 they started using a different headline bed that lasted for about a year. The program had dropped the ‘Tonight’ from its name, simply calling itself ‘World News’.

Edd Kalehoff – World News 2008 – 2009 headline bed

And finally, this is the headline bed that ABC World News used from 2009 to 2012. It is derived from ABC’s election theme at the time. The music composed by VideoHelper made its on air debut just a few months before Charles Gibson left the anchor chair.

VideoHelper – World News 2009 – 2012 headline bed

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“World News Tonight” 2000 Open (Unused)

This theme was supposed to debut when World News Tonight premiered its new graphics in 2000. It didn’t. While Peter Jennings, then-executive producer Paul Slavin, and others had cleared it, Senior Management had not. And that was a problem. At the very last minute, they decided that the show already had altered its appearance enough and that it might alienate viewers if it also changed it’s long established theme. That’s very unfortunate because it is a good theme. It’s composed by the people at VideoHelper. The story, however, continues. Good Morning America later adopted this as their opening theme.

VideoHelper – World News Tonight theme (unused)

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“World News Tonight” 1998 – 2000 Theme

This theme was used on ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings until September 29, 2000 when they got brand new graphics. The theme was actually used on the weekend editions of World News Tonight until well into 2001 when that program got a graphics update as well. The music is essentially the same as the other versions with the exception that an extra “ta-dum” was added at the end. The primary difference is that this theme sounds louder. This is because the string instruments seem to have largely been replaced with more brass.

Edd Kalehoff – World News Tonight theme

Here is the headline cue which is slightly different than the ’89 version. Updates of the World News Tonight theme have, since 1998, been composed by New York-based composer Edd Kalehoff.

Edd Kalehoff – World News Tonight headline bed

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“World News Tonight” 1996 – 1998 Theme

For the first time since 1978, ABC News used a different theme for its evening flagship broadcast, World News Tonight. It was not entirely new because this theme is certainly based on the previous theme. It was used for a short period of time in which NBC Nightly News overtook ABC in the ratings. In 1998 they brought back a version of their original theme, but have in later years attempted twice (2000, 2001) to replace the original theme with something different. This short-lived theme was brought back for the coverage of the political conventions of 2000.

Edd Kalehoff – World News Tonight open
Edd Kalehoff – World News Tonight close

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“World News Tonight” 1990 – 1996 Theme

In 1990 the old theme was starting to sound dated, hence Score Productions produced an updated recording. The theme debuted without any new graphics and was probably not noticed by the average viewer. A bigger change to the opening sequence came a few years later. Up until 1994 World News Tonight started with the theme playing while a voice over introduced the anchor. But producers realized that a more effective way to get people to watch until the end is to tease the top stories at the top of the broadcast. So that is what they started doing. At first it lasted only a few seconds with the anchor just quickly mentioning their top stories. Later in the year it was expanded and accompanied by the music below. These days, the opening tease can last forty seconds or so.

Score Productions – World News Tonight theme
Score Productions – World News Tonight headline bed

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“World News Tonight” 1979 – 1989 Theme

The 1978 theme music package is the first to contain the now famous ABC News signature. This is the orchestral update that was first used on World News Tonight in 1979. ABC News president Roone Arledge specifically wanted orchestral music to open the broadcast.

Arledge became president of the low rated ABC News in May of 1977 and would go on to create such programs as World News Tonight, 20/20, Nightline and later This Week with David Brinkley and PrimeTime Live.  The first five years of WNT featured an anchor trio. Frank Reynolds (father of current CBS correspondent, Dean) was the lead anchor and based in Washington, D.C. Max Robinson, the first black network anchor, in Chicago anchored other national news. Finally, Peter Jennings in London anchored international news. With a year of its debut, the program made a remarkable leap in ratings when it passed NBC Nightly News with John Chancellor in the Nielsens. When Frank Reynolds died in 1983 of cancer, the program was relaunched with one anchor. After Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Roger Mudd and Ted Koppel passed on the job, it was given to Peter Jennings.

Score Productions – World News Tonight theme

Here’s the version of the theme that was used on ABC News Radio up until 1995.

Score Productions – ABC News Radio theme

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“World News Tonight” 1978 – 1991 Theme

This is the teletype theme that was used at ABC News for various programs: Nightline, 20/20 and most famously, World News Tonight. In 1979 World News Tonight stopped using this theme as its main theme, but ABC used it until about 1996 for News Briefs. It’s the first electronic news theme. Electronic music became popular in part thanks to the Moog Music, which released the first relatively affordable synthesizer in 1970. Before that time, most music was played by live instruments. Score Productions’ Edd Kalehoff used the Moog Synthesizer for The Price Is Right theme which is still on the air today. They also used it for a number of other game show themes from that era. When ABC was looking for something different, Score Productions offered them a Moog-produced news theme. Though it did not stick around as long as the The Price Is Right theme, it certainly is an incredibly memorable theme.

Score Productions – World News Tonight theme

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“ABC News” 1975 – 1976 Theme

ABC first started a newscast in the fall of 1953. Its anchor was John Charles Daly and the broadcast lasted only 15 minutes, as was customary at the time. After many different anchors and other stunts (such as naming a young unknown man from Canada named Peter Jennings as anchor from 1965 – 1967), ratings still weren’t great. From 1970 to 1975 Harry Reasoner and Howard K. Smith were at the helm of ABC News. The broadcast had no theme music, having a cold open and quiet close. In 1975 Smith was assigned a commentary role and Reasoner anchored solo. The broadcast was renamed “ABC News with Harry Reasoner”. During this time, they used this theme, which is part of the KPM production music library and can be found on CD #433 but was originally found on vinyl 1138. The name of the piece is ‘Gathering Crowds’ and was also used on Fox’s This Week in Baseball. On the air the theme sounded quite differently due to heavy editing, hence below you can listen to the original piece and how it was used on air. This theme was dropped in 1976 when Barbara Walters was named co-anchor of the renamed “ABC Evening News”.

ABC News Open 1976
KPM Music – Gathering Crowds

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“Peter Jennings with the News” Promo

Peter Jennings had two stints anchoring ABC’s flagship newscast. In the 1960’s ABC News was a distant third in the ratings, so the took a leap of faith and selected the young Canadian Jennings to compete with Walter Cronkite and the team of David Brinkley and Chet Huntley. But the public did not accept him. Too inexperienced and too unfamaliar with American culture. After just a few years, Jennings quit and became ABC’s foreign correspondent. Here’s a promo for Jennings’ newscast. You might hear a piece of theme music in the background. That is the World News Now theme, which replayed this ad a few years ago.

Peter Jennings with the News promo

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