A few years after the turn of the millennium, as reality TV dominated the major networks, a handful of ambitious HBO dramas launched what would eventually be known as a new golden age of scripted television: “The Sopranos,” “Deadwood,” “The Wire,” “Six Feet Under.” The success of those shows inspired cable channels to add “prestige” programming; FX and AMC led the charge, and now even USA, WGN, and Syfy are making Emmy bait. Add the deluge of original series now produced by streaming services, and you’ll understand why critics and industry figures are complaining about too much of a good thing. Last year, FX Networks president John Landgraf coined the term “peak TV” to describe the current landscape, lamenting its “enormous impact on everyone’s ability to cut through the clutter and create real buzz.”
This explosion of great TV has made showrunners household names, but it’s also led to a renaissance in music supervision. As described by the six-year-old Guild of Music Supervisors, a music supervisor “oversees all music related aspects of film, television, advertising, video games and any other existing or emerging visual media platforms.” Along with coordinating original scores, supervisors source prerecorded music. And while pop songs have appeared on scripted television for decades—notably on generation-defining teen dramas like “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “The O.C.”—a quality soundtrack is essential to helping a show stand out in the era of peak TV.
In 2016, strong music supervision is about more than sourcing big hits and spotting new talent in hopes of releasing a soundtrack album (though those are getting better, too). Today’s best music supervisors use songs to help set the scene, whether it’s ’70s Minnesota or contemporary Los Angeles, or provide subtle commentary on a show’s plot and characters. Series like “Mad Men”—whose soundtrack was overseen by legendary supervisor Alexandra Patsavas (“Gossip Girl,” “Grey’s Anatomy”)—raise the bar even higher by doing both.
With TV season now back in swing, here are ten *current* shows that get music supervision right.
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