Themes from ‘The Mission’

“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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“Today” 2006 – 2013 Open

In 2006 Today debuted a new open for the first time in more than 20 years. The music was part of John Williams’ 2004 revision of The Mission but Today opted not to use the new open until a few years later. The new open is 10 seconds longer than the original open. It was extended to cover the full announce, including the last part: “…live from Studio 1A in Rockefeller Plaza.” The new open also has a somewhat mellower sound due to less brass, making it a better fit for a morning program. In late 2011 the open was actually re-recorded in digital audio by Williams and his orchestra, along with the Meet the Press theme. However, unlike the Meet the Press theme, the changes for Today are barely noticeable. (The version below is the 2004 version.)

John Williams – Today open

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“Meet the Press” 2005 – 2012 Theme

This is the very subtly updated Part IV of The Mission, used for Meet the Press and special reports. As the longest running program on television, Meet the Press often digs into its vast archives in a segment called “Meet the Press Minute”. Usually its a historical clip related to the events of the present day. In 2011 John Williams was again commissioned to do a (small) refresh of The Mission. The changes are again subtle.

John Williams – Meet the Press theme

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“Today” Current Bumper

This Copland-esque theme — think Hoedown from Rodeo — is part of the 2004 update of The Mission. It was originally intended for a possible Tom Brokaw-anchored news magazine prior to his retirement from Nightly News. The program, however, never came about and so the theme was never used as a main theme. In the late 2000’s it was used occasionally as a bumper for the Today Show, usually for NBC’s Education Nation segments.

John Williams – Untitled Part of The Mission

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“Seven News” (Australia) 2004 – 2014 Theme

In 2004, after the Athens Olympics, Seven News was revamped. Part of that revamp was a new remix of John Williams classic theme that Seven News has used for years. It’s recorded off the air and sounds kind of rough, the heavy sound effects contributing to that. But it still gives you a good impression of what the theme sounds like. In 2014 this theme was dropped in favor of a completely different theme that was not based on The Mission. However, John Williams’ composition returned in restyled fashion in 2016.

Unknown – Seven News 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 famed 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.

John Williams – NBC Nightly News open

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“Seven News” (Australia) 1999 – 2004 Theme

Seven News in Australia uses this contemporary remix of John Williams’ The Mission. In terms of branding, Seven News has always been closely aligned with NBC News. Before they started to use this theme, their newscast was called Nightly News and it used the same cut of The Mission that NBC Nightly News used to open its broadcast. But this is far from the only similarity between Australian TV news and American TV news. The National Nine News uses a theme from the famous movie Cool Hand Luke, the same theme used most notably by owned and operated ABC stations for their Eyewitness News. And the Ten Evening News for a while used opening graphics that were more than just inspired by the late 80s open for the CBS Evening News. Finally, over at Channel 9 they have had their own version of 60 Minutes since 1978 and their own version of Nightline since 1992.

I don’t know who produced this version of the Seven News theme, but I’d love to find out! Let me know if you have more info.

Unknown – Seven News theme

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“Meet the Press” 1990 – 2005 Theme

This theme, part IV of The Mission, was originally intended for the 1986 midterm elections. In 1990 it was adopted by Meet The Press as its main theme and in 1993 it started to be used to introduce special reports. It’s called the “Pulse of Events”. After the orchestra played it for the first time during the session to record it, the musicians liked the theme so much that they unexpectedly broke out in applause.

Meet the Press, having begun its radio run in 1945 and making its debut on television two years later, is the longest running show in the history of television. The original format consisted of a panel of journalists asking the guest questions, much like a press conference. When Tim Russert started his run as moderator, the format was changed. The panel was replaced with a single moderator who asked all the questions. To this day, with Chuck Todd as moderator, that is still the format used.

John Williams – Meet the Press theme (The Mission, part IV – The Pulse of Events)

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“Meet the Press” 1987 – 1990 Open

Before Meet the Press adopted the Pulse of Events as its main theme, the show used other cuts from John Williams’ The Mission. At first they used the Nightly News open. At around the time when Chris Wallace started his short sting as moderator, the Sunday morning show used this bumper as an open. As a close, they used Part I of The Mission. I’m not entirely sure if the dates are correct, but this bumper was definitely used in 1988.

John Williams – The Mission bumper 4

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“NBC News at Sunrise” 1985 – 1996 Open

This is another cue from The Mission by John Williams. NBC selected it as the opening for NBC News at Sunrise, which was the network’s early morning newscast that had debuted in 1983 with Connie Chung as anchor. Around 1996 News at Sunrise replaced its open with the Nightly News open. The program left the airwaves in 1999, being replaced with Early Today.

When composing this theme and the other cues for The Mission, Williams talked a lot about it with director Steven Spielberg. That led to a surprise on the day of the recording. Former NBC News executive Tom Wolzien, who had selected Williams to compose a new set of themes for NBC News, explains: “On the morning of the recording session when I got to the Paramount stage, the 90-piece orchestra we’d hired was turning up and Williams was at the podium getting set. He saw me come into the back of the stage, and came running through the orchestra and said something like, ‘Tom, I wonder if it would be OK if a friend sat in the control room with you.’ I said something like ‘sure, John, whomever you want’, and then asked who it was. Williams said: ‘Steven Spielberg’. He stayed through much of the morning session, and I remember sitting with him when we all heard The Mission theme for the first time.”

John Williams – NBC News at Sunrise open

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“Today” 1985 – 2005 Open

This is the cue from The Mission that NBC selected to open the Today Show and is the only John Williams cue that was still used on the morning show by the mid-90’s. It was used in conjunction with lighter themes that were used as bumpers, closes and secondary opens. At two brief but notable points in time, the Today Show tried to replace The Mission altogether: in 1994, to mark the debut of the street side studio, and in 2004. Currently they are using an updated version of this open that is longer and lighter.

When this theme debuted the Today Show started to climb up in the ratings, regularly beating GMA again for the first time since 1980. After the unfavorable publicity surrounding Jane Pauley’s replacement Deborah Norville hurt the show in 1990, knocking it down to second place, there was a resurgence in the mid-90’s. Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric were the anchors and Jeff Zucker the legendary executive producer. Zucker eliminated all commercials from the first 22 minutes of the broadcast, turning that part into a serious newscast. He also started such morning show staples such as outdoor concerts and on-air weddings. It revived the Today Show and started a winning streak that would last over 15 years.

John Williams – Today open

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“Today” 1985 – 1990 Theme

This is the third part of the four-part package that John Williams composed for NBC News. For the Today Show he composed the Scherzo for Today. In musical terms, scherzi are usually the third movement in four-movement works such as a symphony. They tend to be light, fast moving and upbeat. Although this theme starts out very different than the first part of The Mission (Nightly News’ theme), keep listening to hear some sampling of the first part in this music. Even though it was played multiple times a day on a daily basis, most viewers are not so familiar with the theme. That’s because it ran during the national weather scrolls that most local stations replace with their own local forecast. It was also used as a close. Scherzo for Today was phased out in 1990.

John Williams – Today Show theme (The Mission, part III – Scherzo for Today)

And here’s the music that was used for a number of years on the tomorrow on Today promo’s.

John Williams – Tomorrow on Today 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 considered 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.

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 excruciatingly 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 – The Mission bumper 7

John Williams – The Mission bumper 10

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