Human Target scores direct hit with orchestral soundtrack

Fox Television's latest hit, Human Target

In these days of low budgets and high technology, it’s unusual for a weekly episodic television show to have an orchestral soundtrack performed by a live orchestra. For many years, the only show in Hollywood to feature a live orchestral score every week was The Simpsons, composed and orchestrated by Sibelius user Alf Clausen. Though there are exceptions – such as ABC’s Lost, composed by another Sibelius user, Michael Giacchino, and Fox’s Family Guy, both of which often use orchestras of 35 players – other shows tend to make do with sampled orchestras, occasionally augmented by a small number of live players to give the synthetic sound a little colour.

But this January, Fox Television launched a new weekly action drama called Human Target, and it breaks the mould: every week it features a score performed by a big orchestra, sometimes with as many as 60 players. It’s a welcome throwback, and gives the show a unique, lush sound.

After the break, read more about this new show, its music, and the men behind it.

Human Target is adapted from a comic book series of the same name, created by Len Wein and Carmine Infantino and published by DC Comics. Both the comic and the TV series based on the comic centre around a man named Christopher Chance who is the titular human target: when a client is in danger, private security guard Chance assumes a new identity and gets as close as possible to the client in question, drawing out the villain and saving the day in dramatic style.

As a TV show, Human Target is a knowing, over-the-top, bombastic hour of snappy dialog, intrigue, exciting stunts, and – unusually – great orchestral music.

The composer on Human Target is Bear McCreary, one of Hollywood’s fastest rising composers. McCreary came to prominence thanks to his score for Ron Moore’s re-imagining of 1970s space series Battlestar Galactica, and has also provided music for series such as Fox’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, NBC’s Trauma, and for video games such as Dark Void. Still aged just 31, McCreary has already made a tremendous career for himself. Naturally, McCreary is a Sibelius user: he says, “I write in Digital Performer and orchestrate in Sibelius.”

On Human Target, McCreary is working with copyist Jonathan Beard and orchestrator Henri Wilkinson to write a fresh new score every week, with sometimes as many of 33 of the show’s 42 minute running time requiring musical backing.

McCreary blogs in great detail about the music for each episode of each show that he writes, and his post about the pilot of Human Target is no exception. Here’s the melody of the main theme of the show, from McCreary’s site:

And here’s how this theme sounds in the actual opening titles:

The cues for the show are recorded every week on the Eastwood Scoring Stage at Warner Brothers’ studio in Burbank, California. Jonah Welland of Comic Book Resources got an invitation to visit the scoring stage to watch a recording in process, describing a brass section recording session. It’s a great read and provides some insight into how a day on a scoring stage really works.

The third episode of Human Target aired this past Wednesday, and McCreary has once again updated his blog with a detailed look behind the scenes of how the music for the show was put together. Check it out, especially the video blog that shows scenes from the recording session for the episode.

Human Target airs on Wednesday nights on Fox in the US, and is expected to air in other markets later in 2010.


  1. Papageno

    I thought the opening theme of The Simpsons was written by Danny Elfman?

    1. Daniel Spreadbury

      Quite right, the main theme was written by Danny Elfman. But all of the incidental music to The Simpsons has always been written by Alf Clausen.

  2. Peter Roos, San Francisco

    Very cool.

  3. Peter Roos, San Francisco

    I am re-watching the pilot now. What else to do on a Saturday night.

    Very entertaining, though the plot is pretty ridiculous. But that’s Hollywood for you. The music is good though. Bear McCreary is delivering the goods! ;-)

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