Mike Post, the Angst-Free Composer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

I t's hard to imagine such classic TV series as "The Rockford Files," "Magnum, P.I.," "Hill Street Blues" and "L.A. Law" without the evocative, memorable musical scores written by Mike Post. For nearly 30 years, Post has been one of TV's most preeminent composers and scores all the series created by Steven Bochco, Stephen J. Cannell and Dick Wolf. For the first half of his composing career, Post collaborated with Pete Carpenter, who died in 1987.

This upcoming season, Post, 56, is composing the music for "NYPD Blue," "Law & Order," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," as well as Bochco's new series, "Philly," and Wolf's latest edition to his "Law & Order" franchise: "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."

Post will be conducting several of his best-loved theme songs Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl concert, "Don't Touch That Dial--A Celebration of Television Music." Presented by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation and the Hallmark Channel, the musical evening will be co-hosted by Emmy Award-winning actress Mary Tyler Moore with principal conductor John Mauceri and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

The concert will include footage and scores penned by TV's top composers, as well as a musical and video salute to the Hallmark Hall of Fame library of TV movies. Also scheduled is a musical tribute to Richard Rodgers' score to the classic NBC documentary series "Victory at Sea." Other guests include Kelsey Grammer, Jason Alexander, Shirley Jones and Johnny Crawford.

Post, 56, talked about the upcoming concert, his working relationship with Bochco, Cannell and Wolf, and how he began in television.

Question: Do you think television composers get the respect feature film composers do?

Answer: When people think of TV music, they are apt to think of little song-songs of short duration that are connected with half-hour sitcoms. I also think that because there have only been a very few of us who have been able to take our themes and turn them into hit records, I don't think it's viewed quite the same way [as feature film scores]. You know what? That's cool. I understand. I am happy in my gig. I am a weird guy. I am one of the few guys who are in the exact right spot--I mean down to the most minute sprocket hole. I look at television programs without music and I hear music.

Q: Which of your scores will you be conducting at the Bowl?

A: Let's see--"Rockford Files," "Magnum., P.I.," "The A-Team," "Wiseguy," "L.A. Law," "Hill Street Blues," "The Greatest American Hero," "Baa Baa Black Sheep," "NYPD Blue," "Doogie Howser" and a tiny snippet from "Hooperman." I think it's going to run about 10 minutes.

Q: When you compose music for a pilot of a Steven Bochco, Stephen Cannell or Dick Wolf series, when do you start your work--before or after the pilot has been shot?

A: What usually happens is there will be a lot of discussion before anybody shoots anything. I will read a script and we will have a discussion and they will throw me some ideas. I might even write before they shoot. Then sometimes, it is the reverse of that. With "Hill Street," Bochco didn't call me until he had it shot. I went over and looked at it and went, "Man, this is unbelievable." So it happened right then.

Q: Your theme music for "NYPD Blue" is much different from your regular TV scores--very percussive, very in-your-face. How did you come up with the idea for the music?

A: I went to lunch with Bochco and [producer-director] Gregory Hoblit even before they shot it. I read the script and I was all psyched up. I said, "What are you guys thinking about?" We had just come off of "L.A. Law" and "Hill Street" and we were very successful together, the three of us. Bochco said, "Has there even been a theme with just drums?" I said, "No." He said, "That's all I got to say." And Hoblit said, "I have two words to say, 'sub way."' I said "Wait a minute, I get it." That was it. It took me three weeks after that to do it, but it was basically just drums and subway [noises]. That is how smart those guys are. They knew what to say to me and I got it from that. That is how good they are as producers--their communication is so good.

Q: You have written a few scores for feature films, but you continue to work on TV. Do you prefer composing for the small screen?

A: Much more. My best friends are these guys named Bochco, Cannell and Dick Wolf. I don't want to deal with guys I don't know. These guys I mention to you are great writers.

They have come up with some of the greatest concepts and some of the greatest characters that have ever been on television. Their processes are a lot like mine. They sit down at computer all by themselves [and create a show]. I am sort of the same kind of guy. I sit down with a piece of score paper and go "What should this sound like?" I am all by myself. They can relate to my process and I can relate to theirs.

Q: After you compose a theme for the series, do you then continue to compose for the show or hand it off to someone else?

A: No create-and-abandon by me. I am only doing half of the "NYPD Blues" because, to be honest with you, I have just done it so many years and there is so much music on it that I am a little fresher if I only do every other one. A young fellow who has been with me for a long time [Edward Rogers] is doing the other half. I am doing five shows this year, but I always do five or six shows a year. This is a light year for me.

Q: On average, how long does it take you to compose the score for an hourlong episode?

A: It depends. "Law & Order" only has four or five cues in it, so that is fast. "NYPD Blue" has 17 or 18 cues in it and that will take a long time. "Philly" will really take a long time because I am playing so much guitar on it.

Q: Didn't you write the 1968 Mason Williams instrumental hit, "Classical Gas"?

A: I produced and arranged it. Right then and there I got into television. Andy Williams hired me to be the musical director on his show. I was 24.

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"Don't Touch That Remote--A Celebration of Television Music," Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood, Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Tickets $15 to $75. Proceeds will benefit the Academy Foundation's Education Programs and Archive of American Television. Call (323) 850-2000.

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