CBS and Turner Sports this year commissioned a revision of their iconic theme music which has been used for their NCAA tournament broadcasts since 1993. Initially I thought it was only a reorchestration of the theme, but they actually hired a new composer and the new theme has multiple cues for use going into break.

The original 1993 version was interesting to listen to in a full mix, but it had a very intense 90s sound to it: the theme was obviously synthesized. I can still hear Pat O'Brien talking over this theme as he introduced a game between Louisville and Kentucky, as the Eye Device opened up into Rupp Arena. The heavy dose of electric bass and staccato notes in the horn section makes me like this version. I absolutely loved that logo with the Eye Device falling through a netting.CBS NCAA Logo 1993 The fact that the instrumentation (such as it was) varied from moment to moment, giving a possibility to play a few different styles of cuts going to break, and good extended versions as parts of the introduction, as Pat O'Brien did.

1993 was therefore the year that CBS debuted its five note signature which so many now identify with the NCAA tournament.

CBS previously revamped the music in 2004. The version that they created that year was uptempo but repetitive. There was a 4 minute mix of that theme, but it was essentially a loop of about 17 seconds of music over and over, with no real variation in the instruments. The repetitive nature of the theme made me a little bit glad when CBS joined the trend of using mundane rock songs as bumpers from time to time. The composer seems to have added a second voice to the music, as the theme opens with the traditional five note signature. Then you hear low brass (probably a trombone) respond with its own five notes. Every time the main signature is played, the trombone is not more than two beats behind. I feel the composer was trying to bring out the nature of basketball of point and counterpoint as two teams go up and down the court, but he did not consider allowing for variations.

The 2004 update did have some good features though. It was primarily recorded with real instruments (I think I still hear a synthesizer line). The addition of a drum beat was a nice sonic addition. The overall tempo of the piece was appropriate, although a couple of well-placed staccato notes could have provided the variation I was longing for. Overall, I felt this theme was tired by the middle of this season, no doubt due to CBS using the same 4 seconds going into every break.

The 2011 refresh does a lot of what I felt was missing in the 2004 version. The 2011 version opens with the 5 note signature in a powerful form, the response somewhat more weakly, the first part again, and then a triumphant response. The next part sees orchestration gets kicked up a notch for the most virulent version of the 5-note signature to date. For about 10 seconds, it becomes reminiscent of the 2004 update with the trombone line, but a drum interlude has been replaced by a rock guitar (could be a steel guitar, but I'm not certain). Again, the 2004 combined signature/response appears, and the theme ends with an excellent build-up featuring electric guitar, a few well placed trombone notes, and the powerful signature that CBS has been playing extensively over the last two weekends.

To make the "final four" truly four, I will also submit the current ESPN college basketball theme. This theme has a neat signature as well, but it hasn't been through iterations and is only 5 or so years old. The ESPN may be a little too complicated to be memorable, with what appears to me to be a nine note signature.

I give the following grades to the themes presented here:
1993 CBS theme: A (groundbreaking)
2004 CBS theme: C (bastard stepchild)
2011 CBS theme: A- (definitely an improvement; hopefully CBS uses it well)
ESPN CBB theme: B (respectable, but not at the top of its class)