The most recent Mad Men episode licensed the Beatles “Tomorrow Never Knows,” which proved, despite the price, to be a brilliant move, both artistically and in terms of promotion. Mad Men reportedly paid $250,000 for the rights to the song. Forbes initally reported that this was the first time a Beatles track had been licensed to a TV show. They later corrected themselves, reporting that WKRP in Cincinnati had lisenced multiple Beatles songs, and had used three in various episodes throughout its run from 1978 to 1982. Though I don’t know how much WKRP in Cincinnati paid for the use of “I’m Down”, “Here Comes the Sun” and “Come Together,” most certainly less than what Mad Men paid.
It’s also interesting to note a couple of earlier uses of Beatles songs in television shows. The British science fiction series UFO used “Get Back” in episode 9, “Ordeal”, but perhaps without prior approval.
In the director’s commentary for the 30th anniversary DVD edition of Easy Rider, Dennis Hopper reported that he had selected music for his film without regard to cost–they simply didn’t think about licensing the music. UFO was produced at roughly the same time as Easy Rider, and it appears that the producers of UFO had the same attitude toward soundtrack music in using “Get Back”. Interesting to note, however, that “Get Back” remains in “Ordeal” on the DVD release of UFO episodes, while licensed music was edited out of WKRP in Cincinnati episodes when that show went into syndication. Also interesting is that UFO chose what was then a new release for this episode. Though filmed in 1969-1970, the show was set in the distant future of 1980 (by that time, according to the vision of the show, British motorists were driving on the right side of the road in futuristic muscle cars). By that time, “Get Back” would have been ten years out of date–or perhaps they realized the timelessness of Beatles music.
Another use of the Beatles’ music for a television show was the ABC Saturday morning cartoon The Beatles, which ran from 1965 to 1967. The first season featured the Beatles’ early hits, but by the third season the show was airing the psychedelic Beatles. Make no mistake, though, The Beatles Saturday morning cartoon never rose above its own lack of ambition, always sticking to its formula of inane plots loosely tied to Beatles songs, hijinks involving lovable but clumsy Ringo, and girls chasing the Beatles. And despite the great music, the “Tomorrow Never Knows” episode was no exception. The Beatles Saturday morning cartoon never got it right–the accents and humor of the cartoon Beatles had nothing to do with the actiual Beatles–and the “Tomorrow Never Knows” episode just added cultural stereotypes of “primitives” for good measure.
One clever touch, however, was the use of backwards audio. Here is the dialog just before “Tomorrow Never Knows” reversed:
Reversed Audio [edit 1]
Here is the dialog just after “Tomorrow Never Knows” reversed: