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Tuned In Tuesday: Composers Robert Duncan [Castle] and iZLER [Revenge/Shameless] 

The composers that participated in Comic-Con 2013’s Behind the Music panel on July 18

Today is Tuned In Tuesday here at TV Goodness. This means we’re highlighting some of the unsung heroes of scripted television — the composers. We recently had the opportunity to talk to a few of them while they were gathered in San Diego, CA., for a Comic-Con 2013 Behind the Music panel that was moderated by True Blood‘s Deborah Ann Woll and 90210 alum Matt Lanter, who is also set to star in a mid-season series for the CW called Star-Crossed.

We chatted with the composers of such TV shows as Castle, Revenge, Being Human, Fringe and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. This week, we’re throwing the spotlight on Robert Duncan, who is the man behind the music for Castle and  iZLER, who composes cues for two shows that couldn’t be more different when it comes to the sound: ABC’s Revenge and Showtime’s Shameless.

Robert Duncan

Castle composer Robert Duncan — 2nd from left

In San Diego, Robert Duncan told us about coming up with the six-second Castle theme song we can’t help but hum every time the show airs Mondays on ABC. Find out why he considers it “the longest six seconds of his life.” Duncan also dropped a little nugget about the theme that was basically runner-up to the one we know and love today:

People ask me if I ever get writer’s block. And I usually say ‘no’ because my job is to follow an emotional road map that’s already laid out by the acting and the writing and that sort of thing. But that is one of the few cases where I sat down one day — I sat at my piano a whole day trying to write three bars of music. I was on version 11 at the time and there was only so much I could come up with.

We arrived at that theme very scientifically. First, it was abstract, they were just giving me words. And usually, that’s how any scoring process goes. They’ll just give these clues — the only word they gave me was “swagger” to begin with. ‘Write us some swagger.’ So I thought it could be rock swagger, hip-hop swagger, it could be all kinds of forms of swagger. A lot of those fell flat on their face.

We ended up — it was three bars. So I had already done the pilot by then so I did have a little bit of the sound for Castle‘s hijinks and his goofing around and that was basically a mandolin played percussively with wire brushes that a drummer would use. And there was a Castle rock star in his own mind kind of motif that was electric guitar — a little James Bond-y, a little rock ‘n roll. And so the producers ended up requesting two bars hijinks and one bar of rock ‘n roll and I said ‘I can do that.’

There was one theme that I did that came very close to being the theme that I still lament a little bit. We got Nathan Fillion to sing on it. It was like a quick groove thing and he sort of did a ‘boom-lacka-lacka-boom’ kind of over-vocal thing. And it was out there. It was different than any other theme I’ve ever heard. And when I first brought it to the producers I said you guys are either going to love it or hate it. ‘I love it, but here you go.’ And they cocked their heads sideways and the verdict was they loved it. They brought it to the network and it was too out there for the network.

In July, Duncan received an Emmy nomination for Original Dramatic Score for the now defunct ABC series, Last Resort. Here’s a video that shows just how outside the box this composer is willing to go in order to create the perfect soundtrack to what was an ambitious series:

The 65th Primetime Emmys air Sunday September 22 on CBS. And look for Castle to return for season six Monday Sept. 23 @ 10/9c on ABC.


On ABC’s Revenge, iZLER gets to work with an orchestra to score some of the most epic music cues currently on primetime television. On Showtime’s Shameless, he takes a decidedly unique approach with the music on the dark, twisted comedy that stars William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum. The composer filled us in on creating the sound for two such different shows.

Shameless is very much just sort of a rock score. It’s a band and we make a point of not polishing off the rough edges and that’s what they wanted. In fact, the first episode I ever did they wouldn’t even give me picture. They let me watch it in the spotting session, but then wouldn’t let me have picture to write the music to it. They wanted me to do an album that they were then just going to cut into it as though it was songs. Because they wanted it to feel like a band was scoring it.

For iZLER, this way of creating music for a television series is more fun than challenging.

It was just fun to be honest. It got more challenging as the seasons went on and I scored a bit more to picture. And then Revenge is the opposite of that. Revenge is like scoring an old-school film noir to me. Everyone calls it a soap but to me it’s like a ’40s melodrama. And the orchestra is sort of the perfect medium for that. Because you can do very subtle things and then you can do these grand sweeping gestures.

Look for a more in depth article with iZLER closer to when the Revenge Seasons 1 and 2 soundtrack is released Aug. 20. Season three of the hit drama gets underway Sunday Sept. 29 on ABC at 9/8c. And Shameless returns with season four Sunday Jan. 14

VIDEO: iZLER talks about the art of collaboration on Revenge


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