The Best of All Worlds  - official EARLE HAGEN website
Earle Hagen TV Music

As television became a mass medium, requiring more than just the novelty of pictures coming into the home, Earle Hagen was on the spot to add original music to enhance programs.  In 1953 along with his musical colleague from 20th Century Fox, Herbert W. Spencer, he had the foresight to form the Spencer Hagen Orchestra to offer a package of not only original compositions for television, but the finished musical product for the production.

In their very first year they did three pilots, and two were turned into series, one of which, “The Danny Thomas Show,” (then known as “Make Room for Daddy”) ran for 11 years.  (Earle Hagen composed the music for another two Danny Thomas vehicles, “The Danny Thomas Hour” in 1967 and “Make Room For Grandaddy” in 1969 .)  Hagen's side of the partnership included composing incidental music and conducting the orchestra, while Herb Spencer  wrote the arrangements and some of the musical cues.

Their second hit was "The Ray Bolger Show," and the list of successes went on and on.  Earle Hagen's music has graced more than 3000 television programs.  In fact, he became the busiest independent musical contractor in the medium.  For nearly two decades he was resident musical director for the legendary television producer Sheldon Leonard.

"Sheldon was unique," Earle Hagen recalls, "The first time I met him, he said, `Do you know your business?' and I said, 'Yeah, I do.' He said, `Good, you'll never hear from me.'  In 17 years, he never ran a picture with me, he never went to a dubbing or a recording, and he never second-guessed me. It was like Camelot.”

Sheldon Leonard

And because Sheldon Leonard initiated the practice of using original music for situation comedies, each and everything he did was scored, and Earle Hagen had 17 busy years creating background music and themes for Leonard's diverse productions.  Among his instantly recognizable television theme tunes are those from the  Dick Van Dyke and Andy Griffith shows.  In fact, it was the composer himself whistling the catchy theme tune of the latter series!

Earle Hagen admits that he struggled for months, trying to come up with just the right theme for Sheldon Leonard's easy-going sitcom about gentle folk and their folksy sheriff. Explains the composer, “the creative process is like peeling an onion.  Half of coming up with something good is throwing away what's not.”

Andy Griffith and Earle Hagen
To capture the happy, wholesome feel he was after, tons of ideas were tried and thrown out.  The man who once scored five separate series at the same time freely declares, “Andy was the nightmare.”
An orchestral theme was even in the offing, until the brainstorm hit. He simply whistled the catchy tune which suddenly entered his head, and from the original tape came the infectious and remarkable tune which has become as much a part of Americana as apple pie.

The Mod Squad

One of his most unusual outings was the main title and background music for “The Mod Squad,” which not only included a punchy jazz theme, but also episode scores which were mostly based on Schoenberg's  12-tone scale, adding the note of tension which characterized that series.

He also did the music for such hit shows as “Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.,” “Eight is Enough,” “Mayberry RFD,” “The Barbara Stanwick Show,” “That Girl,” “The Dukes of Hazard,” “The Don Rickles Show,” and “The Bill Dana Show,”  And who willl forget the late-night soap opera “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”?  Earle Hagen put together the music library for that one too.  And this wasn't just a matter of writing the lively theme tunes,   Each of these shows boasted Earle Hagen scores  as well.

Marlo Thomas as "That Girl"

But there was even more.  Many viewers will remember his music in “Love and Marriage,” “My Sister Eileen,” “Guestward Ho,” “Rango,” “Accidental Family,” “My Friend Tony,” “The New People,” "The Guns of Will Sonnett, "”The Runaways,”  “Doc Elliot,” “Big Eddie,” “Movin On,” “Young Dan'l Boone” and "The New Perry Mason" (but not the original starring Raymond Burr, for which Earle Hagen is frequently credited in error).

Although most of Earle Hagen's  television work involved main themes, whole series or substantial parts thereof, he also did some individual episode scoring on such shows as "Dobie Gillis" and "Planet of the Apes: The Legacy."  Earle Hagen continued to do feature-length films for television as well. Besides numerous scores for the “Movie of the Week,” he composed the music for “Nashville 99,” Concrete Cowboys” "Ebony, Ivory and Jade,” “Return to Mayberry,” “The Monk,” “Murder in Music City,” and “Stand By Your Man” for which he received another Emmy nomination.

But, perhaps due to continuing revivals over the past 30 years and its recent release on DVD, Earle Hagen has received the greatest recognition for his scores and theme from the Robert Culp-Bill Cosby espionage series, “I Spy.”

Of special note was the innovative multimedia title sequence for I Spy.  The images were edited to correspond with the staccato tempo created by Earle Hagen in his main theme, synthesizing the series' mixture of fast action, whimsy and of course, ever-present threat.

The "I Spy" Emmy

His jazz/world music oriented scores for this series netted him an Emmy Award in 1967.  (Read more about this intense, imaginative and sophisticated music which gave the mood, tone and feel to that series in Deborah Young-Groves' article on the "I Spy" scores Page.)   The series, the first to be shot on location around the world, afforded Earle Hagen the opportunity to travel and collect indigenous music along the way.  

During the run of the series he amassed one of the most comprehensive collections of ethnic music in existence at that time -  some of it on commercial records bought in the countries he visited with the production team, but much of it taped live in situ with local musicians.   These recordings containing priceless material of musical genres never before recorded, and in some cases, now extinct, were then mixed into the background music produced by the studio orchestra in Los Angeles.  The result was what has been deemed “the richest musical palette ever composed for any American television series. “

Go to the page for opportunities to hear Earle Hagen themes and to find internet sites devoted to some of the above series.


For years, fans have coveted precious copies of the two fantastic LPs of Earle Hagen's great music from “I Spy.”

In 2002 Film Score Monthly released a brand new album of five Earle Hagen “I Spy” scores on CD.  

Direct from the soundtracks of "So Long, Patrick Henry" -  "A Time of the Knife" - "Turkish Delight," - "The Warlord" -
"Mainly on the Plains"

along with a 24-page booklet of liner notes and photos and foreword by Robert Culp  Buy it from Amazon

Now, read more about the inventive music for "I