Themes from ‘Nightly News’

“Chris Matthews Show” 2009 – 2013 Theme


In 2009 the Chris Matthews Show received a new theme. It’s written by John Williams and is part of the 2004 update he did of The Mission, his theme for NBC News. This particular cut, which you can hear below in full, was intended as the new theme for NBC Nightly News. In fact, the last 15 seconds are indeed used for Nightly. However the opening fanfare in the front part was not used. When the Chris Matthews Show started using it, it became the first non-NBC News program to use The Mission. As a syndicated program, the Chris Matthews does not air exclusively on NBC affiliates.

John Williams - Chris Matthews Show theme

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“NBC Nightly News” Current Theme


In 2004 after the general election, veteran anchor Tom Brokaw retired from NBC News. The transition had been announced long in advance and so successor Brian Williams was carefully introduced to the viewers. As part of the transition Nightly News updated its classic theme, The Mission, along with the graphics and set. No big changes–all debuting in the days before Brokaw left. The updated version of The Mission was recorded in October of 2004 in Culver City, CA and featured a 100-piece orchestra conducted by composer John Williams. NBC News commissioned an update to the classic theme because they wanted a slightly crisper and cleaner sound. Furthermore, to better preserve the music, the new theme was recorded digitally. The new Mission package also includes three unused themes for future use. The theme you are listening to is the full length main theme of The Mission, used as a close on Nightly News.

John Williams - NBC Nightly News close

The opening sequence to Nightly News was also revamped in 2004, at first returning to what NBC considered the roots of The Mission with a softer headline bed, but quickly abandoning it in favor of the old percussion-heavy cue. In 2007 the headline bed dropped the first three opening notes.

John Williams - NBC Nightly News open

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“NBC Nightly News” 2003 Promo


This promo is called “NBC Nightly News Hard & Fast”. It was used to promote a feature report on the next edition of Nightly News. Aside from main themes, networks commission promo material from a composer that they have under contract as a music producer. While promos usually feature the signature of the main theme, they are produced more cheaply: fewer live instruments and more synthesizers. And while main themes can be used for decades, promo music is refreshed every few years. However, promo music can still be pretty good!

Man Made Music - NBC Nightly News promo music

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“NBC Nightly News” 1985 – 2004 Theme


In 1985 NBC wanted to do away with the synthesizer sounds forever and so they commissioned a full orchestral news theme package from famous movie-score composer John Williams, who’s credits include Star Wars, Jaws and Jurassic Park. The deal with John Williams to compose The Mission, as the NBC News theme is called, took 2 years to close. Williams was actually quite reluctant to take on this project because he found it so difficult. The reason? It would have to hold up for many plays a day for a long time (though two decades was on nobody’s mind). Up until that point, he found composing the five signature notes from Close Encounters his most difficult project. He and director Steven Spielberg had gone days back and forth on it. At one point, a frustrated Spielberg called a mathematician to ask how many combinations there would be for just a few notes. When the answer came back at around 35 million — clearly untestable — they went back into the creative process.

Eventually Williams did of course take on the project for NBC News. He was given free reign, only being asked to include opens, bumpers and closes. After a number of meetings with the NBC executive who was in charge of this project, Tom Wolzien, and the executive producers of Nightly News and Today (to get their visions on their programs), he set out to compose the music. NBC did not hear from him again until the day of the recording. After that session he delivered 19 cues to NBC, consisting of 4 closing themes, 4 opens and 11 bumpers. This is The Mission, part I and was used as the close for NBC Nightly News.

John Williams - NBC Nightly News close (The Mission, part I)

A more hard hitting cut of The Mission was chosen as the opening for Nightly News. It has been used as the open since 1985.

John Williams - NBC Nightly News open

Here you can listen to a few rare bumpers from the original package that were used on various NBC News programs, including Nightly News. To record those, two long sessions were needed. Each cue went through many takes before Williams was happy with the result. The first bumper below is actually the 90th take of the session, while the second is take 108.

John Williams - NBC News Nightly News bumper 07 John Williams - NBC News Nightly News bumper 10

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“NBC Nightly News” 1979 – 1985 Open & Close


NBC Nightly News debuted in July of 1970 after Chet Huntley left the Huntley-Brinkley Report. David Brinkley anchored with John Chancellor and Frank McGee as part of an anchor trio that was not as successful as the Huntley-Brinkley pairing. A year later McGee left for Today and Brinkley was relegated to doing commentary. This left John Chancellor as solo anchor of Nightly News. However, he was never able to break Walter Cronkite’s grip on the American public. So Chancellor anchored Nightly News solo until April of 1982 when co-anchors Roger Mudd and Tom Brokaw took over. Brokaw went solo a little more than a year later. This open is a true classic. From 1979 to 1982 it was used as a bumper. Later it was used as the main open.

Joseph Paul Sicurella, Tony Smythe and Bob Christianson - NBC Nightly News open

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“NBC Nightly News” 1977 – 1979 Theme


John Williams is not the first famous movie composer to do a news theme for NBC. This funky theme, used during the latter period of the John Chancellor era of Nightly News, is composed by Henry Mancini. He has done incredibly recognizable themes such as The Pink Panther. Aside from his work for Nightly News, Mancini also composed an election theme for NBC. While that one would stay on for decades, his theme for Nightly News only lasted for a short time.

Henry Mancini - NBC Nightly News theme

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“NBC Nightly News” 1972 – 1977 Theme


When Chet Huntley retired, the Huntley-Brinkley Report became NBC Nightly News. While there were various changes to the anchor lineup, John Chancellor was the lead anchor for most of the next decade. Sometimes he shared the anchor desk with David Brinkley, who otherwise mostly did commentary under the title David Brinkley’s Journal. Ultimately Nightly News, dominant in the days of Huntley-Brinkley, was not able to overtake Walter Cronkite in the ratings. During much of this time, this theme was used to close the broadcast. It was definitely used as early as 1972, but may have been introduced in 1970, when Nightly News debuted. Ray Ellis is the composer, who also did the theme for Today at the time.

Ray Ellis - NBC Nightly News theme

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“Huntley-Brinkley Report” Theme


“Good night, Chet. Good night, David. And good night, for NBC News.” From the very first edition in 1956 until the last in 1970, that is how the Huntley-Brinkley Report signed off. Chet Huntley anchored the bulk of the news from New York and David Brinkley specialized in political news from Washington, DC The two were paired up on the evening news after they had garnered favorable attention when they anchored NBC’s coverage of the national political conventions together the year before. Their partnership helped NBC beat the competition at CBS: Douglas Edwards with the News. While Edwards was a good broadcaster, unlike Huntley and Brinkley he was not a journalist. From this point in time news anchors were expected to be journalists.

The music that played underneath the closing credits was the second movement (scherzo) of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. This is the original 1952 recording with Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra that was used on the Report. The music always started with the six notes and was faded out when they ran out of time. The program did not use an opening theme. It was not uncommon for news programs at the time to use classical music.

Beethoven - Huntley-Brinkley Report close

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