Themes from ‘Evening News’

“CBS Evening News” Current Theme


When Norah O’Donnell took over as anchor of the CBS Evening News, the program debuted a new look and sound. The new theme is a remixed version of the previous one with lots of EDM elements. After a few months, the program relocated to Washington, D.C. That made it the first network evening news program since World News Tonight in the early ’80s to air regularly from the nation’s capital.

Man Made Music – CBS Evening News open
Man Made Music – CBS Evening News headlines
Man Made Music – CBS Evening News close

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“CBS Evening News” 2016 – 2019 Theme


Originally composed for CBS’ election coverage, this theme was adopted as the theme for the CBS Evening News in May of 2016. CBS wanted an iconic score, something people would remember 10 to 15 years from now. Man Made Music was charged with that task. Composers Joel Beckerman and Wayne Sharpe came up with this theme centered on three orchestral stabs. It’s a special challenge to write news music, as Beckerman explained to USA Today:

“What we’re doing is creating music for a movie that has not been shot—because we don’t know what the stories are. CBS News doesn’t yet know what will unfold through this whole election cycle. So we’re trying to predict the kinds of emotions that they’re going to need—the different energies, the different instruments, so that we can create almost an entire film score for them that can unfold in real time during the election cycle.”

The various sections of the orchestra give the theme its identity. Strings give it worldliness, lower brass adds trustworthiness and short note percussion gives it forward energy, said Beckerman to AdWeek. Here’s the long close, used on the Evening News. You can listen to a different cut of the package that was used for election coverage.

Man Made Music – CBS Evening News 2016 theme


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“CBS Evening News” 1987 – 1991, 2011 – 2016 Theme


This was the first orchestral theme for the CBS Evening News. Before this theme was adopted in 1987, CBS News had a policy, imposed by CBS TV President Frank Stanton, that no music could be used. This policy dated back to the old days of TV news when many newscasts consisted of syndicated pictures with cheap production music. To prove CBS supplied its own footage, they decided not to add any music. Besides, their music library at the time consisted of music used for those old radio soaps. It was not appropriate for news. For a few years, they had a ticker sound as open/bumper/close, but from 1984 to 1987 they had no music at all in the open and the close! After a few years of seeing their ratings decline, while John Williams’ NBC News theme was popular with the viewing public, the executives at CBS decided to finally reverse their policy and commissioned John Trivers, Elizabeth Myers, and Alan James Pasqua to compose the theme. The music was recorded at the Fox sound stage and took 6 hours to perform.

This theme was dropped in 1991, but only temporarily as it later turned out. When Scott Pelley took over as anchor of the CBS Evening News in 2011, executives wanted “to reach back into the DNA of CBS News”. They are using the original recordings, though they have been remastered slightly.

Trivers/Myers Music – CBS Evening News close

In the late ’80s they used different openings, but here you can find the one they used quite often. The opening that they have been using since 2011 is a bit different. It’s actually a remixed version of the last part of the long credit close above.

Trivers/Myers Music – CBS Evening News open (2011 version)

Trivers/Myers Music – CBS Evening News open (1987 version)

Trivers/Myers Music – CBS Evening News headlines


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“CBS Evening News” 2006 – 2011 Theme


For Katie Couric’s ascension to the anchor chair, the CBS Evening News was given a total makeover. Like NBC did earlier, they turned to a famous movie composer for their theme: James Horner. He is known for the scores to such hit movies as Titanic, Aliens and Avatar. They asked him to create a theme that stood out from other news themes including CBS’ previous theme. The result is music that sounds sweeping, regal and cinematic.

Although Horner scored hundreds of movies and won both Oscars and Grammys, he had never worked in television. That was different for him because TV cues have demands that movie cues don’t have. They tend to be shorter – only a few seconds – whereas film cues can last fifteen minutes. Furthermore, many special cues such as bumpers, billboards and opens are needed. Therefore Joel Beckerman of Man Made Music, who is specialized in music for TV, helped Horner convert his music to a theme package suited to the demands of television. He added, for example, the three notes at the beginning of the headline cue. The music was recorded in L.A. in an eight hour session with a 90-piece orchestra, consisting mostly of players with whom Horner works regularly. This theme was also used by the CBS Morning News and Up to the Minute.

James Horner – CBS Evening News close

Below is the headline cue open to the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. The voice of legendary anchor Walter Cronkite accompanied the open until about six months after his death. There were multiple versions of both the headline cue and the open, these are the ones that were used most.

James Horner – CBS Evening News headline cue

James Horner – CBS Evening News open

James Horner – CBS Evening News open

At first there was a plan to use different opening cues, depending on the news of the day. That plan ultimately did not materialize but Horner did compose opens with different moods. Here’s the open for when a war breaks out.

In a nod to the past, former CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite voiced the opening for Couric until shortly after he died.

James Horner – CBS Evening News open (with Walter Cronkite voiceover)

James Horner – CBS Evening News bumper (Pensive)


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“CBS Evening News” 1991 – 2006 Theme


This theme started being used by the CBS Evening News in 1991 and lasted until September 2006. The theme is most closely associated with the Dan Rather era of the Evening News. However, for a short time Rather had a co-anchor. In 1993 CBS made Connie Chung the co-anchor, thereby making her the first female since Barbara Walters to anchor a nightly network newscast. The pairing was not a success. There was speculation that it was a mere ratings ploy and Rather was not happy sharing the spotlight with someone. Within two years Dan Rather was anchoring alone again. This theme was also used on the CBS Morning News. It is composed by Patterson, Walz and Fox Music Productions. Although it contains the signature melody of the former theme by Trivers/Myers, all the other music is original. The three composers were after a bigger-than-life sound that transcended the local news themes with a grand sound.

Patterson, Walz and Fox Music Productions – CBS Evening News close

This is the open without voiceover as used on the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. During Bob Schieffer’s interim run the open was shortened by cutting out a few seconds in the beginning of the open.

Patterson, Walz and Fox Music Productions – CBS Evening News open

Patterson, Walz and Fox Music Productions – CBS Evening News headlines


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“CBS Evening News” 1982 – 1987 Bumper


Because there was a regulation at CBS that music could not be used for the Evening News, they used a teletype-like sound for bumpers and long credit closes when needed. The open, however, contained no music or sound of any kind. Dan Rather would simply open the broadcast by declaring: “Good evening. This is the CBS Evening News, Dan Rather reporting.” The bumper is composed by Score Productions’ Walt Levinsky, who was once part of the Tonight Show Band during the early years of the Johnny Carson era.

Score Productions – CBS Evening News bumper


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