One of the most exciting shows to return to television in 2019 was “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” for NBC. The situational cop-comedy had been canceled in 2018 by Fox after six seasons. While the series could have ended there, audiences took to the internet and vocalized their support. 31 hours later, NBC brought the show onto their schedule, and the series has been on a tear. It already received another season at NBC, and the new season might be the strongest season to date. Part of the reason has been experimentation with their style, and some of that credit goes to Composer Dan Marocco.
Marocco’s theme music for “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” has been iconic from the word go. Yet the new episodes have allowed him to create diverse scores to accompany the show. With more than 2000 themes written for the show, Marocco pays homage to police series of old, while still paving his own path. I talked to him about this process, the 31-hour cancellation, and some of the highlights of the new season. Check out our discussion below!
Alan French/Awards Circuit: How did you first get involved with Brooklyn Nine-Nine?
Dan Marocco: I happened to be friendly with the editor on the pilot. I had done some stuff for her and written some music on previous shows of hers. She called me early when it was still on the editor’s cut even. So I was getting started a couple of weeks after the shoot. I did almost all the music and the pilot and so I was on right from the beginning, lucky for me.
AF: One of the things I love about the show is the theme song, which my wife and I will randomly start singing at times. What inspired you to write the theme?
DM: Thank you first of all! The idea behind it was selling it as a cop show and letting it harken back to the police shows of the 1970s and early 1980s. We needed to give it that feel and modernize it with the energy that the show already has. It was a way to give the show a little boost and get things going. I just think it’s fun.
AF: I think it’s the most memorable theme, even though it doesn’t have any words, of any show on TV right now.
DM: Yeah the reaction has really been amazing. I’ve heard it as people’s ringtones, and I’ve seen videos on Youtube of people practicing it on Bass or there’s one guy who played it on a harp! It’s really fun to see. In the first season, when everyone was trying to figure out where everyone stands and what your role is, one of the things that was super encouraging was that sometimes when someone would deliver the last line of the cold-open, Terry Crews would start in with the Dun-Dun-Dun-Dun-Dun. He’d start singing the theme and get people to laugh. It’s great to have that punch right after the open, and I think it works.
AF: So you mentioned some of the classic cop shows were your inspiration. Do you consciously look back at this point, or do you think you’ve paved your path at this point?
DM: Yeah, I consciously looked back for the first two or three episodes, but since then I’ve done my best to differentiate our show. In the first season, the one comment I was consistently getting from the producers was that it didn’t have to be as jazzy. They wanted more aggressive energy and those 1970s cop show had more keyboard and jazz feel. With that direction, we made a shift, but there are still some elements in it now. It’s bass driven, which to me has that feel similar to those shows. Like a “Barney Miller,” where the bass was the lead, but there’s certainly more going on than just that.
AF: Now you mentioned the producers (Dan Goor is the showrunner and Mike Schur is an executive producer), so what has been the collaboration with them been like since the show started?
DM: You know, when they hired me they said they didn’t know a whole lot about music. They trusted me to do what I do and hired me with the confidence that I could do music for a police show. Early on in the process, we had some notes to fine tune the sound. Now, I have a couple of meetings with producers where we go scene-by-scene, but since the first season where we were finding our footing, they’ve given me some freedom. I think they prefer to stick to writing jokes.
AF: What are some challenges to keeping the music fresh after over 100 episodes of the show?
DM: Yeah it’s definitely a challenge to write a song that feels part of the world, but not just write the same song over and over again. There are not 2000 scenes, but I’ve definitely written 2000 pieces of music. Not repeating yourself within a specific palette can be challenging, but that also keeps it fresh at the same time. I really feed off the source material.
If there’s a new character or arc I can bring something new. For a recurring one, like the Pontiac Bandit (Craig Robinson) episode, I switch up the sounds. Similarly, the Halloween episodes always have a little bit of a tweak. We have enough variety in the episodes where I get inspired. Definitely, the episode where Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz) came out, or the chilling episode last year, “The Box,” definitely allow me to create something totally new.
AF: Do you have a favorite character theme?
DM: You know, most of the themes are for the group, but I definitely follow Jake’s (Andy Samberg) frame of thought the most. If there’s ever any question about where I should go with this, I ask myself, “How is Jake feeling about the situation right now?” I wouldn’t so much call it a character theme, but in the Halloween episodes, there’s always a theme where the character explains how they won. That’s a theme I’ve kept consistent through the seasons but altered it for the character who wins.
AF: Now I know this is probably not the most exciting subject to bring back up, but obviously last year you were canceled. Luckily, 31 hours later you were brought back to NBC. What was that time period like when you looked back over the show?
DM: You know, it was crazy because we knew it was a possibility. It didn’t really sink in until I read the tweet. It was sad, and I was definitely bummed out. I thought I could find something and it would be okay, but I had just bought a house, and there was more than a little concern. I was also at the doctor because I had just broken my toe, so that evening was pretty dark.
However, I turned on my phone and looked at Twitter, and was so surprised by the response. The fans came out of the woodwork to save the show, and some of the big names were responding. We were trending on Twitter for the first time since we went on after the Super Bowl. It was great to see so many fans, and it crystalized that we might not be a show that people jump on the internet to talk about immediately after it airs, because it’s kind of a comfortable show to watch. It’s not like “Game of Thrones” where people are airing out theories, but it was amazing to see that love and support.
Obviously, when it came back that was super exciting. It was only a little over a day that we were actually canceled, but then we got right back to it. We were basically only a couple of weeks delayed on the production side of things. It was almost like we didn’t miss a beat, but with the knowledge, this could be taken away, I think there’s a renewed energy toward the show.
AF: Yeah, this season got off to a really fast start with the Honeymoon episode, and the one that really blew me away was the “Hitchcock & Scully” episode. I was floored by how good that one was.
DM: It is so good. It’s one of my favorites from the music perspective. As I said, there’s a new energy, and one of the producers told me after that episode they thought it was their favorite episode of the series from the musical side of things. It’s fun to know that 118 episodes in, I can still create new material that people enjoy and get into. That one was a lot of fun to work on and was definitely exciting to see. We’re going to keep making good episodes, and even though we were saved, we’re going to push a little further in some areas than in the past. I think there’s a general sense that we need to make the most of the extra chance we get.
AF: What was your favorite moment you got to work on from the episode?
DM: The opening in the eighties, and the music underneath the whole scene. It was kind of an amalgamation of every theme from every cop show sound. It’s got a little bit of everything to sell the idea they were good cops in the eighties.
AF: Yeah, when I was watching the episode with my wife I didn’t show her the name of the episode, so when they name dropped just before the opening theme, her jaw hit the floor.
DM: Yeah, it was such an amazingly fun episode. They sent me a rough cut early on because they wanted me to get a head start. I started watching it without music, and I was like, this is kind of odd. We’re coming in on the second episode at a new network in the 1980s with characters we don’t know? But when it hits, you can’t help but think that its awesome.
AF: Has the move to NBC changed anything for you?
DM: Honestly it hasn’t changed too much for me as far as the music itself. However, now that we’re at NBC, they put the logo at the beginning of the show so I get to follow the NBC jingle. That’s kind of fun as a long-time NBC comedy watcher. I grew up watching “Seinfeld,” “Friends” and “The Office,” so to follow it felt like we hit the big time. Following it also sets me up to come in on the downbeat.
AF: Thank you so much for your time Dan. I just wanted to let you know I love the show, and it’s so great to have you guys back.
DM: Thank you so much for the support and getting the word out. It’s been crazy because I’ve even had long lost family members and cousins reach out to talk since the new premiere. They didn’t realize we were related or that I worked on the show, even though it had been on for six years. But when it aired on NBC, they reached out. It means we’re getting new viewers, and that is exciting.