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CBS Will Make Sure You Hum the Hawaii 5-0 Theme Song Whether You Want To or Not

If CBS has its way, Katy Perry and B.o.B. might soon have some competition for Song of the Summer. Over the next six weeks, the Eye network will put the iconic, 42-year-old theme song to Hawaii 5-0 at the center of a massive marketing campaign for its fall reboot, starting today with the debut of a new orchestration of the song at Comic-Con (and right here on Vulture; see below). CBS has big plans to make sure the familiar chords are heard everywhere you go this summer: cell phones, oldies radio stations, college football games — even your mailbox. But while retro TV junkies will be pleased by all this musical nostalgia, can a theme song first recorded long before coveted young viewers were even born convince them to check out CBS’s latest crime procedural?


CBS is sticking closely to Mort Stevens’s original theme, after flirting with a major modernization. A synth-heavy remake was distributed to the media in May (a version that drew some online scorn), and Schweitzer says that producers and CBS execs quickly realized they needed to give the musical matter some more thought. All sorts of options were mulled (including bringing in well-known bands or doing a New Wave version, following the Mission: Impossible movie playbook), but in the end, common sense prevailed. "It was like, wait a second, we don't want to mess with this," Schweitzer says. So film score vet Brian Tyler (The Fast and the Furious, Eagle Eye) was brought in to oversee a new orchestration performed last month, sans synthesizers, by 35 musicians — including three studio players from the original 1968 recording. (Legend has it that Jack Lord’s hair played bass, but it could not be convinced to come back. This joke, by the way, could serve as a helpful test case to see just how much young viewers know or care about the original show. You’re welcome, CBS!)


CBS is sticking closely to Mort Stevens’s original theme, after flirting with a major modernization. A synth-heavy remake was distributed to the media in May (a version that drew some online scorn), and Schweitzer says that producers and CBS execs quickly realized they needed to give the musical matter some more thought. All sorts of options were mulled (including bringing in well-known bands or doing a New Wave version, following the Mission: Impossible movie playbook), but in the end, common sense prevailed. "It was like, wait a second, we don't want to mess with this," Schweitzer says. So film score vet Brian Tyler (The Fast and the Furious, Eagle Eye) was brought in to oversee a new orchestration performed last month, sans synthesizers, by 35 musicians — including three studio players from the original 1968 recording. (Legend has it that Jack Lord’s hair played bass, but it could not be convinced to come back. This joke, by the way, could serve as a helpful test case to see just how much young viewers know or care about the original show. You’re welcome, CBS!)


Following today's Comic-Con unveiling, Schweitzer — who once famously paid to have ads for new CBS fall shows printed on egg shells — will unleash a series of stunts designed to implant the new 5-0 theme in your head the way "Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top" has involuntarily become lodged in your cerebral cortex:


• Thousands of ringtone cards will be distributed at Comic-Con, and eventually other venues, allowing folks to download the 5-0 theme to their phone for free. (You can get it by texting H50 to 69937.) So when your third viewing of Inception is interrupted because some jackass didn't turn off his phone, CBS hopes that in between curses you'll subliminally think, "Hey, when does that new version of Hawaii 5-0 come on?"


• CBS owns many oldies radio stations, like WCBS-FM in New York and K-EARTH in L.A., and they will soon be broadcasting Hawaii 5-0–branded music marathons in which D.J.'s will play snippets of the theme and give away trips to the Big Island. Also, don't be surprised if you open a copy of your favorite weekly entertainment or gossip-centric magazine this fall and find an ad with a sound chip that will play the 5-0 theme on command, and will do so until you finally throw it in a wood chipper.


• College marching bands, who already love playing the 5-0 theme, will now have a chance to enter their versions in a contest sponsored by the CBS College Sports Network. Winners will get their take featured on TV; CBS gets more subliminal advertising directed at sports fans.


Schweitzer isn't focusing his entire campaign for 5-0 on music. Early on-air and online promos for the show have put a lot of emphasis on the show's action, buddy-cop-comedy banter between CBS mainstay Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan, and scantily clad cast members, male and female; the theme doesn't even start playing until nearly three minutes into the last extended trailer released by CBS, while some spots don't even use it all. And as logical as CBS's 5-0 theme-saturation strategy might be, in the end, the most its music can do is get people thinking of the show and perhaps tune in for the September 20 premiere. After all, if familiar refrains were all it took to succeed in TV, NBC's 2008 reboot of Knight Rider, which boasted a pretty classic theme of its own, might still be on the air.


Photo: Mario Perez/CBS