CCTP-725 Cultural Hybridity
Communication, Culture & Technology
Georgetown University, 2012 Spring
Professor Martin Irvine
Jen Lennon

Exploring Intertextuality, Postmodernism, and Transmedia: The Use of Music in Friday Night Lights and Lost


The use of music in television is something that is often either taken for granted or criticized for being too heavy-handed. The old adage goes that a good film score is one that the viewer doesn’t notice because it didn’t overshadow the action or the dialogue. But television has evolved, especially in the last 30 years, to become something worthy of critical study and discussion. A.C. Nielsen estimated that the average American watches approximately 153 hours of TV every month at home, which totals about five hours per day of viewing and listening. Philip Tagg estimates that one-half of televised viewing, so about two hours per day, involves the consumption of music (Deaville). Some scholars feel that television gets a bad reputation compared to film, especially because it’s television that enters into peoples’ homes. Going to a movie is a different kind of visceral experience; you physically go to another space, immersed in darkness, and become enveloped in a story for a few hours. Television, by contrast, comes with you into your home. It is something you interact with week after week, season after season, until the characters become familiar and dear. And for that reason, certain creative minds behind television shows make a craft out of creating well-rounded multimodal television experiences, where the dialogue, cinematography, location, acting, and music all work together in harmony to create one unique, unified product.

It’s naive to assume that all television shows take all of these concerns into equal account. Some shows are just shows that work on a formula, and that’s OK. There is certainly a place for that. And reality TV definitely doesn’t abide by these standards. But some television creators and producers keep a hand in all of the different pots to create a whole experience where every moving part is crucial to the way the story is to be told. Music plays a huge part in this for some series. These are shows that aren’t merely choosing the latest pop hit because it’s new, though, again, there are certainly shows that make that an appropriate choice. And television has become a new way for new recording artists to get discovered, especially with shows geared toward the teenaged audience. But some shows take it a step further and create or curate music specifically for the story being told that week. And their scores become easily recognizable and integral to the plot. Damon Lindelof, executive producer of Lost, said “I think bad music tells you how to feel and good music takes what you already feel and enhances it.” (Soundtrack of Survival). By remixing genres, and accessing the cultural encyclopedia, some television shows manage to make that distinction. I want to look at two different shows which exhibit two different means of integrating music into the experience: Friday Night Lights, which uses a hybrid of original score and popular music, and Lost, which relies almost exclusively on a live orchestral score. But first, let’s look more into how music can be weaved into the fabric of television narration.

Intertextuality, Postmodernism, and Transmedia Storytelling

The use of music on television programs helps to maintain something called televisual flow, meaning that it helps to maintain narrative flow across an episode, but also across seasons. This is also important in the way that people consume their TV, whether it’s on DVD, on the Internet, or on the live broadcast. If the music accompanies each broadcast, it also helps to facilitate a type of brand flow (Fairchild 493). Some shows use the same theme to follow certain stories or characters to help the viewer decipher what’s going on within the story. This calls on a dialogic response from the viewer to remember what came before this story, and to weave the motion and the audio together to form the right meaning, or at least the meaning the creative forces are trying to convey. It is widely believed that music is used to manipulate the viewers’ emotions while watching scripted programming. Good and bad examples of this can be debated; certainly people don’t like to be hit over the head with what they’re supposed to feel. But in the case of a program that is using this method effectively, where it is something that is done purposefully and thoughtfully to accentuate the narrative, using audio can help the audience by using another facet of their own cultural encyclopedia. This can fuse the dramatic action with the music, and allows each to become an effective and affective partner to one another (Fairchild).

This kind of music editing is thought to be of postmodern designation. Scholars believe that this type of self-conscious use of style, and something struggling to break out of the confines of its predecessor could be seen as a postmodern tactic. “The quintessential feature of postmodern communication that creates the narration is an intertextual ‘game’ drawing on numerous popular culture references. As a consequence, audiences have been developing new audiovisual reading practices based on the decodification of all possible levels of meaning,” (Moschini). This type of editing relies on the intelligence of the audience; it requires more of an active participation as a viewer, as well. Not only do you need to interpret the actions and dialogue in front of you, but also the auditory cues. This is true of a show that maybe names the episode after a famous song, which will foreshadow the events in the episode based on those song lyrics. For those who catch the reference in the title, or who know the song, that adds an extra layer to the viewing experience. For those “in the know”, then a song that a viewer already recognizes can activate another mode of communication and they begin to “multi-modally” experience the show (Moschini). By using audio semiotic resources, television shows engage in a postmodern type of narration, where intertextual understandings help to frame the show, and this stimulates the audience to decode meaning across multiple different channels. And for those that don’t explicitly know a particular song, the notes themselves, the tone of the song, or the relevance of themes in the lyrics would be recognizable enough for viewers to experience the tension the producers wanted to get across (Fairchild).

This type of experience is an example of transmedia storytelling, something that began in the mid-1980s. According to Henry Jenkins, who coined the term, in this model crucial elements of a narrative are dispersed throughout multiple delivery channels with the purpose of creating a unified entertainment experience (Moschini). An example of this is when certain characters receive the same theme of music throughout a series. In large ensemble stories, sometimes certain themes are used solely for one character and are used throughout the series for continuity purposes. This becomes a sort of intertextual game for viewers, to respond to these cues and to pick up on what’s going on. To fill the gap of narration that occurs between story lines, viewers can pick up on this intertextual game to collect the information they need through their own cultural encyclopedia (Moschini).

One common way that music is inserted as part of an intertextual system within a television show is through the use of music montages and to replace dialogue for certain amounts of time. Both Friday Night Lights and Lost used this tactic in a way to portray what characters were feeling without having to explicitly say it. Whether it’s through the use of the score or with a lyrical song, music can add another layer to the scene without having to say a word. This is one way TV shows can really mess it up, on the flip side. The practice of playing a really sad song just to hammer home to audiences that this is a sad moment has lost respect since the practice started in the 1980s. The music shouldn’t do all the heavy lifting. If the direction and acting is already there, then the music should just be accompanying what’s already happening onscreen, instead of doing the job of delivering emotion for the show. However, in montages where the scenes are tightly edited, and jump-cut images are presented without the aid of dialogue, carefully chosen music can be used to express what the characters are not audibly expressing. This can make a disorienting experience smooth and seamless as a viewer (Fairchild).

Two examples of music being integrated into a show’s plot, where music has become integral to the story itself, are Friday Night Lights and Lost. Both shows featured an emotive and revolutionary score. Friday Night Lights also had the addition of lyrical songs. “Music is everywhere on television, endowed with all manner of signaling devices, emotive values, and rhetorical functions,” Claudia Gorbman said on the study of television music (Deaville). And these two shows will demonstrate the different ways that their music follows these ideas.

Mixing Score and Pop Culture on Friday Night Lights

Some find pop culture music in television to be merely a marketing ploy or something that evolved because the practice itself became popular. Many shows feature songs from their episodes on their website, with links to buy the track on multiple sources. Other television networks are making their own Spotify playlists that fans can follow to find the music from their favorite shows. However, some show runners feel that the insertion of pop culture music acts as a way to propel story lines. In the “MTV-inspired” way that Ilaria Moschini writes about, lyrics become prominent akin to the importance of dialogue. When song lyrics are clearly heard, it enables the audience to link that to the action, therefore enriching the story lines themselves (Moschini). There are a few different ways that songs can be used to make meaning within a television show: one is the song’s lyrics and another is the version of the song. If a cover of a song is chosen, it could be because the rights to the cover were cheaper, but it usually is because the tone of that cover, through either instrumental arrangement or the singer’s performance, portrays the mood more accurately than the original.

Friday Night Lights used both scored music and full songs integrated throughout the series to underscore the action and to emphasize emotional scenes. Executive Producer Jason Katims and Music Supervisor Liza Richardson worked together, along with the editors, to pick songs that exemplified the west Texas atmosphere, while simultaneously telling the story. This meant that not always obvious choices were made in regards to music. One might think that a show about a high school football team in a fictional Texas small town would be filled with country music. While Richardson did try to pick Texas bands often, the show itself is filled with indie rock numbers, hip hop, and country. This is all mixed with the score made by W.G. Snuffy Walden, a composer that has had a storied career with television. Friday Night Lights the television show was based off of the movie of the same name, which itself was based off a book. The movie was scored completely by the band Explosions in the Sky, which is a local Texas band described as “post-rock”. Their sound features elaborately developed guitars, and what people have referred to as “cathartic mini-symphonies” as emotional live shows (NPR). This indie rock sound underscored the entirety of the movie, which featured a lot of football scenes. It made sense to continue some of these themes into the television show. For the television show, creator Peter Berg has said that he wanted to expand more on the characterizations within the story in a way that a motion picture format couldn’t allow. He wanted to show the stories of each character, and to show what Dillon, Texas as a town was like including and beyond the obsession with high school football.

For this reason, Explosions in the Sky continued to be featured as part of the Friday Night Lights world, but not as prominently as it was in the movie. For the television show, composer W.G. Suffy Walden created the score and did so mostly with guitars, something he said was pretty rare in current television scoring environments.

Here, Walden talks more about the work he did on Friday Night Lights:

The emotional underpinnings of the score is something that was received positively by critics as a means to enhance what was already an emotional show. Well-known TV critic Alan Sepinwall mentioned how Friday Night Lights always has great music in his final review of the show for the series finale. (Sepinwall). Andrew Johnston from Time Out New York wrote, “Who'd have thought a tribute to heartland values would turn out to be the most avant-garde show on TV? The music and random close-ups said more than the dialog in Peter Berg's phenomenal football drama, which gave Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton the roles of a lifetime and (if there's any justice) will secure stardom for newcomers Gaius Charles and Taylor Kitsch.”GQ did a countdown feature on the top 10 best musical moments in the series, including the iconic theme song by W.G. Snuffy Walden. The theme song exemplifies the guitar-laden sound that underscores the entire series.

Another example comes from the end of the first season’s finale after the Dillon Panthers have won the State championship. Instead of playing an over-the-top victory theme, the championship parade was shown is slow motion with Tony Lucca’s “Devil Town” playing in the background, a song that is used multiple times throughout the series. GQ mentioned the lyrics themselves, specifically, “All my friends are vampires in a devil town” alluding to the “parasitic edge to the town’s hero worship of these boys” (Greene). This is the type of example of dialogical interaction between lyric and image that can be epitomized by the postmodern “MTV-inspired” type of television scoring.

And finally, there is the use of a sparse, acoustic song by Jakob Dylan used during a scene where one of the players, after a tumultuous couple of years, goes to rescue his grandma from the elderly home he had to put her in for dementia. By rescuing her, he’s signing on to more time as her caretaker and giving up his college dreams of moving to Chicago, but it is played as such a joyful scene. Richardson herself said, “I mean, such a tear jerker. How great is that scene?” (Greene).

Jakob Dylan – Something Good This Way Comes

When it comes to picking songs for the series, Katims and Richardson put a lot of thought into choosing right songs for the right mood. Richardson said that the indie rock songs tended to be used in more emotional moments and it used to underscore that entire element of the show. But they showed the landscape of the town, as well, through music in other references and ways.

Katims said, “One cannot understate the importance of music to Friday Night Lights. It functions in so many ways — whether it’s adrenaline feeding a football game; out of control hip hop at a high school football party; a lilting country tune in a bar as Coach Taylor unloads to Buddy Garrity; or, as is the lion’s share of this collection, if it’s those unexpected, beautiful, lonely songs that bring you deeper into the core of this soulful, poetic, slightly sad but still hopeful, one of a kind television show” (Friday Night Lights Soundtrack).

Richardson said that when she interviewed for the job, she brought songs from all different kinds of genres, including country and Texas singer-songwriters, but also hip-hop and hard rock, since she thought that it had worked well in the movie’s football scenes. “But it wasn’t just me; the whole creative sound behind the show, the musical universe, was created by everybody,” she stated (Texas Monthly). Katim expanded on that idea by saying, “The thing that’s so great about Friday Night Lights in terms of music, is that it’s so eclectic. There’s so many sounds that fit that world. There’s country, there’s hip hop, there this independent rock sound that’s become the main sound of the show. There’s spiritual music,” he said in referring to the many church scenes that play out throughout the series in both the African American community portrayed and the white community’s different churches.

Though the songs Richardson picked didn’t always make it into the final cut, the producers and editors ultimately had the final say, she tried to pick songs that weren’t being overused on other programs, as well. The Jeff Buckley cover of “Halleilujah”, for example, was used on multiple evening dramas within a few-years span to convey a sad scene - a song that never made it onto Friday Night Lights. One modern problem, however, was that the licensing rights to the songs that were ultimately chosen were usually only for two-year contracts. So many of the songs on the DVD sets are not the same songs that aired on the original broadcast. Richardson said they used the company Five Alarm Music, which is a production library music house who were charged with finding songs that could aptly replace the originally chosen tracks. This was due to the budgetary constraints of paying for so many songs, especially for a show with low ratings. (Browne).
In some cases, the writers or characters themselves could suggest a song that ultimately made it into the show. Friday Night Lights was notorious for allowing their actors to improvise and to move freely on set without having specific marks. This collaborative environment had become one of the unique stamps on the show’s name, and something that weaved its way into all of the processes. In one particular instance, it was written that the Flaming Lips song “She Don’t Use Jelly” should be used in a scene where a girl was trying to cheer up a friend who had been dumped by his girlfriend. Since it was requested, Richardson worked on it and secured the rights, and in that episode the girl sang her friend the song herself while playing the piano. The wackiness of the song proved to be a great choice to cheer up a sad character.
At the end of the day, Katims used music to add levity to scenes throughout the series. As he said in the video above, the actors on Friday Night Lights were so good at conveying emotion with just a look to one another, but the power of the musical palette that was created around the show took it a step further to feel like you were really getting under the skin of a favorite character. “Every single song on the soundtrack is a wonderful song that has a very important place in the show,” Katims said. (Behind the Music).

Here is an example of the use of the score and a lyrical song in a scene on the show. (Spoiler alert: This is the last six minutes of the entire series.)

The Orchestral Score and Lost

The practice of scoring films has adapted over time, both with the medium, and as pop culture has shifted around it. It has gone through several phases, such as the Romantic, the jazz-modern, the pop-avant or the pop-synthetic (Ross). The use of composers with full orchestras was common for much of film history until the 1960s when popular music started to find its way into films. The breakdown of the Hollywood studio system destroyed the idea of studio orchestras, and directors would court pop culture acts to corral youthful audiences. In the 1970s, directors like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas decided to use full-on symphonic sound. Legendary composer John Williams provided them these sounds for films like “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. In the 1980s, as with much else in pop culture, synthesizer sound was king, as well as pop culture montages. (Ross). Currently composers are tasked with blending in to the genre. And on top of that, composers work for the director and many directors don’t know much about music. Rough cuts get delivered to composers or music supervisors with the director or producer’s ideas of what should be there and often they just want the music team to find something comparable to what they’ve already picked. In situations like these, it’s hard for composers or music supervisors to be creative. But some shows allow that creativity and utilize the experience of knowledgable music professionals to add to their endeavor (Ross). The way the music was created for Lost is a good example of this collaborative ideal.

Lost is a show about a plane that crashes onto an island and follows the survivors as they build a community and try to keep each other alive. The series is ripe with mystery, mythology, character development, and in some cases, deeply moving scenes. It might seem obvious to do a show on an island and just have jungle noises in the background or ukuleles. Instead, the creators went in a completely different direction from anything that was on the air at the time, and hired composer Michael Giacchino to score the show with a live orchestra. Series creator and Executive Producer JJ Abrams said, “What Michael and I talked about at the very beginning of Lost was creating that sense of mystery and the feeling that this island has an epic scale and scope that is unusual for TV” (Soundtrack of Survival).

How they accomplished a sound that was unlike anything on TV was by using not just any old full orchestra, but an orchestra composed of harps, trombones, strings, and percussion. Within these constraints, Giacchino determined unusual ways to play these instruments, or incorporated set items like a piece of the plane from the pilot, to make a completely unique sound. He wanted to use instruments in unusual ways to create weird sounds that would make the audience uneasy in the same way that the story lines would. The idea of using live performances for the score was something that was set in stone from the beginning. “As scary and uneasy as the show is, it’s also a really emotional show and nothing can convey that kind of an emotion as well as live players sitting in a room playing music,” Giacchino said (Soundtrack of Survival). “I wanted the audience to feel the same way the characters were feeling, and to me that was to come up with some sort of strange ensemble of instruments and just use that on a constant basis to score the show,” he continued. He even mentioned that he thought of Lost as a “psychotic opera” or musical drama (Ross). “These instruments an do almost anything. The strings give you moments of lyricism, but they turn nasty in an instant. The trombones are mean and ugly when they need to be, but with the right mutes they sound almost like a woodwind choir,” (Ross).

Giacchino worked with the music quickly, opting to write the music without seeing a script, similar to how John Williams worked. He waited until he had a rough cut of the episode and had two or three days to write the music, then immediately recorded with the live band (Ross). He chose to do it this way because he wanted the music to be just as reactive or primal as the audience reaction would be while watching it. Actor Michael Emerson, who played sinister villain Ben Linus, said, “We hear that trembling low note on a cello and all of the sudden we tighten up a little bit, don’t we? We know something’s coming.” (Soundtrack of Survival). Giacchino would watch an episode and wait until there was a moment that felt like it needed music, and then he would add some. Stephen Williams, a co-executive producer of Lost, said that “Giacchino is one of the creative linchpins of the show” (Soundtrack of Survival). He used his own interest in film and his own background to run with the music as he saw a storyline unfold. Executive Producer Bryan Burk said, “He doesn’t really need to be told what needs to be there because he knows. He’s a storyteller and it’s why it’s such a great experience because you know that he’s going to deliver.”

One of the ways Giacchino utilized music to tell a story was by writing themes for each different character. Some characters even had multiple themes. For Hurley, the overweight and self-proclaimed cursed, yet beloved survivor, Giacchino wrote three different themes. One went with his story lines about his curse from the Numbers, an overarching mystery of the show that recurred throughout the entire series, another was when he was portrayed as acting awkwardly or humorously, and another was his more emotional undertone when he was portraying the best version of his character. Giacchino used different musical themes for different story themes, as well. In an iconic scene in the first season, Jack, the leader of the survivors, gives a speech about how if they don’t live together, then they’ll die alone. It’s a speech that was called upon continuously throughout the show and became a theme in its own right. The musical theme written for that speech was then used throughout the series in moments of life and death, and is aptly titled “Life and Death.”

Lindelof said, “I’m in complete and utter awe of the music on the show. It is every bit as important of a character as Locke or Jack or Kate or the Island.” (Soundtrack of Survival). The producers have joked that they wrote Giacchino’s name into the script at times to denote when a certain type of sound would accompany what they were writing. They would add cues such as “the Giacchino ramps up” or the “haunting Giacchino cue plays underneath it all” (Ross). They did this knowing he would never actually read the script; they just knew that he would put the appropriate emotion behind what they were writing and that he would know which scenes to emphasize. One scene in particular stood out for members of the cast, Giacchino himself, and creator JJ Abrams. It was one of the final scenes of the first season where some of the survivors depart on a raft that they build. It is a scene that is filled with joy and camaraderie – things that are not often portrayed on Lost. Abrams said, “The first time that they set sail on the raft that they built, it was like, I defy you to find a movie that feels as epic and as emotional and sweeping as that. If you watch that sequence without the sound on, it is a different experiences and I feel like to look at Lost without Michael Giacchino is not to look at Lost.” Daniel Dae Kim, the actor who portrayed Jin, a character that was on the raft, said, “The melody was so beautiful that it’s something that I can hear 20 years from now, even five seconds of it and it will bring me right back to when we were shooting that sequence.” (Soundtrack of Survival).

Start around 2:30 until the end.

Michael Emerson summed up what seemed to be a common opinion on Giacchino’s work on Lost: “I love the minimalism of his work on Lost. He can get more out of a little bit of scratching on the string of a cello – instantly the hair stands up on the back of your neck. It’s a tremendous kind of shorthand. I love the adult gravity, the sense of loss and sadness, that comes out in all the major themes of our show. And yet those themes manage to be just on the edge of an explosion of violence at any moment. That seems to capture it completely, in a beautiful way. And I love how subliminal it feels. Sometimes, I’m only barely aware that there is musical accompaniment. It’s as if the music is in my head and not in the TV.” (Ross).

The way that Giacchino used musical themes to convey characters across episodes, themes, and seasons is something he felt pop songs couldn’t match. From his perspective, familiar music can be used as a crutch and unfamiliar music gives the audience a sense that something new is happening before them. But this is all tempered in the consistency of the score within itself and within its own story’s universe (Ross).

An interesting form of cultural hybridity that Giacchino’s score undertook was putting on a live symphonic performance of the Lost score at an outdoor venue in Honolulu. The Honolulu Symphony expressed interest in performing the music to the Hawaiian community that housed the show for its six-year run, and Giacchino revamped the music to be played by a full orchestra for a live audience. This included actor Terry O’Quinn, who portrayed John Locke, doing a live reading of letters the writers wrote to be from unnamed survivors on the island as well as footage of some episodes being shown in the background. This is the melding of high and low culture if there ever was one. Who would have thought that a symphony would do an entire production devoted to the score of a popular television show?


Carlton Cuse, an executive producer on Lost, once said, “When you look around at the television landscape, there are really only a few shows that, you know if you were really going to close your eyes, you could identify by their music (Soundtrack of Survival). Friday Night Lights and Lost are two shows that could be easily identified by the musical personalities. Both shows exemplify the intertextual tactic of placing meaning in multiple different channels throughout the narrative structure. To understand either show in the full way that it was conceived, you must both watch and listen. Whether through an original score, or by creatively placing a cover of an indie rock song where a power ballad should be, music in television can transform the meaning of what has already been written and filmed. It is when the end result isn’t the same without the background music that music becomes an integral part of the structure of the show, as well as part of the show’s cultural encyclopedia. This is hybridity at the macro artistic form, and makes such a huge impact on the product. Faithful viewers to a television series will keep track of these intertextual nodes, whether consciously or not, and it will impact the way that the story affects them.

“Television music shares some traits with film music in that it accompanies, emphasizes, situates, and defines genre and also in the ways it creates identifications and subjectivities. What is different about music on television is that we hear it from week to week as we return to our preferred shows. Television music is like church music – we live with it more intimately, it deepens the ritual function of television and its creation of community” (Deaville). No matter how brilliant a film’s score can be, a great television show’s music can become ingrained in a person and part of their dialogic experience. Anyone who has ever watched a series finale of a show they’ve invested years in can attest to that.

Works Cited/Consulted

A message about the music from ep jason katims. (2010, June 02). Retrieved from

Browne, H. (2010, August 30). [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Deaville, J. (2011). Music in Television. (pp. ix-35). New York, NY: Routledge.

Explosions in the sky in concert. (2007, March 27). Retrieved from

Fairchild, C. (2010). Flow amid flux: The evolving use of music in evening television drama. Television New Media, 491-512. doi: 10.1177/1527476410374967

Greene, J. (2011, July 13). The 10 greatest musical moments on "friday night lights". GQ, Retrieved from

Johnston, A. (2006, December 28). Time Out New York,

Liza richardson. (2011, December). Texas Monthly, Retrieved from

Moschini, I. (2011). Music and series: the verbalizing role of soundtrack lyrics from tv series to user-generated narrations. Visual Communication, 193-208. doi: 10.1177/1470357211398445

Ross, A. (2010, May 17). The spooky fill. New Yorker, 86(13), 60-67.

Sepinwall, A. (2011, July 15). [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Soundtrack of survival - bonus feature of season 4 lost dvd[DVD]. (2009).
The lost symphony. (n.d.). Retrieved from //


Jakob Dylan – Something Good This Way Comes