The purpose of this study is to examine the function of the bard in situation comedy theme songs. This study calls upon Fiske and Hartley's concept of television as a cultural bard, a singer and teller of stories that create and conserve community. The bard reaffirms the culture's identity while delivering social and political messages relevant to the culture at specific times throughout history.
This study also draws upon social-historical and cultural perspectives, and a selective semiotic analysis to investigate the visual, vocal, and musical themes from four decades of television sitcoms. The shows and themes from the 1960s include The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71), The Andy Griffith Show (1960-68), Gomer Pyle, USMC (1964-70), Bewitched (1964-72), and That Girl (1966-71). Those from the 1970s include All in the Family (1971-79), The Jeffersons (1975-85), Maude (1972-78), The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77), M*A*S*H (1972-83), and Three's Company (1977-84). Those from the 1980s include The Cosby Show (1984-92), Cheers (1982-93), The Wonder Years (1988-93), The Golden Girls (1985-92), and It's Garry Shandling's Show (1988-90). Lastly, the shows and themes from the 1990s include Roseanne (1988-97), Married. . .With Children (1987-97), The Simpsons (1989-), Home Improvement (1991-99), Dharma and Greg (1997-2000), Everybody Loves Raymond (1996-), Frasier (1993-), and The Drew Carey Show (1995-). The results of the analysis reveal that the themes address relevant cultural issues such as race relations, the role of the domestic woman, the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution, class conflict, and the construction of reality.
To date, very little scholarly attention has been paid to the area of television theme songs. Given that television is a central part of popular culture, and that sitcoms and theme songs comprise a significant amount of television air time, it is important to understand their relationship to culture and culture making.
This study concludes that theme songs are concise bardic utterances that offer brief yet powerful rhetorical statements. Through the performance of these texts, the bard speaks to the prevailing values of the culture, using familiar means to uphold a sense of community and offer the audience a reinforcing idea of themselves.