“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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