One of the quickest and surest roads to wealth in songwriting is writing the theme for a network TV show. As far back as the 1970s, a writer was paid $375 each time the show came on and his or her theme song played. I am certain it pays much more now.
Years and years ago, John Cate was NBC's man in Nashville. When he came to town, all the publishers and writers knew something was brewing. I was writing for Cedarwood, the third largest music publisher in Nashville, and Cate asked all the major publishers to put a notice similar to this on their bulletin boards:
"John Cate of NBC announces that the network plans to produce a country music variety show on Saturday nights, somewhat similar to the Opry, and is looking for a theme song. The name of the show will be 'Saturday Night on NBC.'"
Everyone on 16th Avenue South and Music Row was atwitter about this potential path to great riches. Carl Perkins of "Blue Suede Shoes" fame also wrote for Cedarwood and I heard he was submitting a lyric. When I imagined all the other big-time writers, it was enough to make a beginning writer like me go crawl under the bed.
But I didn't. I was walking out the door to drive to Chattanooga when I read it on Cedarwood's message board, and on the drive home I wrote five, each with a different cadence and chord structure.
A few weeks later, Bill Denny, president of Cedarwood, announced that my theme song had been accepted and explained the rest of the process. There would be three pilot shows recorded and shown to potential advertisers. The emcees for the first three shows would be three top stars -- I remember Mac Davis and Jerry Reed would be the first two -- and I believe they were dropping Johnny Cash's name, too.
If an advertiser signed on as the show's sponsor, everything would be set for my fame and fortune.
Long story short, no advertiser signed on and the show was canceled. For years I kept the tape with those five suggested theme songs on it, but somewhere along the road it became too painful to think about my close brush with the big time.
I hope it turns up again one of these "tape rummaging days" because I can think of it now from so many different perspectives.
When you first tell your grandkids your life stories, you just talk about your wins, successes and victories. But as you get more flavorful and succulent with the passing years, you get some kind of strange pleasure out of your close shaves. Winning is not nearly as exciting as a close shave.
You feel good that you had the guts to give it a try against all odds. You get a grin out of remembering when you sat and figured how much money you'd make off the theme if the show lasted 20 years ... let's see, 375 x 52 x 20 ... but somehow you've made it just fine without all that money.
The grace of God toward us all is really still the biggest thrill of all.