Mission: Impossible  NORTH-AMERICAN PERIOD
Commercially broadcasted by CBS Broadcasting Inc., in the United States, between September 1966 and March 1973


An elegant man enters an antiques shop – or an old movie house, or a telephone cabin – and discretely receives a recording that self-destructs after describing the details: his secret mission, if he chooses to accept it, will be disavowed by the government under any circumstance. The TV series Mission: Impossible showed an agent meeting a team of specialists in different areas to carry out tasks usually in faraway exotic locations, during the Cold War days, always involving complex strategies, invasions and disguises. With its creative premise, Mission: Impossible became a hit at the time, so famous that it had a revival on TV in the 1980s – and more recently, a series of successful films starring Tom Cruise. As famous as the series, its main theme, in 5/4 time signature, became an immediately recognizable global hit.


Directed by Paul Krasny; John Llewellyn Moxey; Reza Badiyi; Barry Crane; etc.
Produced by Bruce Geller; Bruce Lansbury; and Barry Crane
Screenwriting by Bruce Geller; Arthur Weiss; Jackson Gillis; Marc Norman; etc.

Music editor: Dan Carlin
Music supervisor: Kenyon Hopkins; and Leith Stevens
Music by Benny Golson; Harry Geller; Robert Prince; Robert Drasnin; etc.
Main musical theme by Lalo Schifin


"[...] I used to live on a street near the Paramount studios, I think. And they got me to do some work there with Lalo Schifrin’s team. I worked as a ghost composer, my name did not appear there, it was the time of the "Mission Impossible" series. And I never even saw Lalo Schifrin, only his photo" [Moacir Santos in an interview to Ronaldo Evangelista, 2005].

Moacir Santos himself confirmed in interviews that he indeed worked as a ghostwriter/orchestrator for more famous composers. Composing and orchestrating without receiving any credit has been very common in the film music industry since the 1930s. This is due to many reasons, but primarily because of the great demand for work, since professionals have to compose for different audiovisual productions simultaneously and still manage the non-musical side of the work, taking into account great productions with huge budgets and many contractual clauses.

It is worth noting that most ghostwriters are musicians starting out their careers, that is, composers who are beginning their professional lives and end up accepting work with precarious conditions. Thus, it is possible to relate this to the context of Santos’ early years in the United States, when he was still establishing himself in the American market.

It is known that Moacir Santos worked as a ghostwriter in the team of Argentinian composer Lalo Schifrin in 1970, leading us to believe that his participation occurred during the fifth season of the Mission: Impossible series.

The main theme of Mission: Impossible is credited to Schifrin, and was used in all of the five seasons of the series’ first version [1966-1973]. In addition to appearing, rearranged by other composers, in all of the rest of the franchise [the series of the 1980s and the four films released between 1996 and 2011]. The initial motif became very famous, primarily because of its peculiar rhythm composed in 5/4 time signature.

There is a certain informal speculation regarding the composition of this theme as many musicians say that it could have been composed by Santos, despite the composer himself denying this in interviews. This speculation is based primarily on the fact that the pattern clearly evokes the structure of Mojo, a rhythmic pattern created by Santos and often used in his compositions.

Overall, the series’ music had quite striking characteristics in all of its episodes in order to define a recurring motif. For example, the soundtrack is always very full. Music is heard most of the time and at various moments the music accompanies the action closely, punctuating rhythmically the scenes, a procedure similar to that of "mickeymousing". The repetition of the same motifs, with variations only in the arrangement, is a trademark of the music for Mission: Impossible, which provides great unity to the overall concept of the work. The most used instruments are: woodwinds and brass [highlighting trumpets and flutes], strings, piano and percussion. The resulting sound is an intersection between jazz and the traditional film orchestra style of the time. Depending on the episode, the music was also used to situate the action geographically and socially, primarily using cultural idioms, for example the appropriation of typical instruments or even composition structures and clichés.

In order to maintain the musical characteristics mentioned above and still meet the release deadlines, taking into account that almost thirty episodes were produced annually, the series’ music soundtrack required a high level of industrialization. This was achieved by designating a main composer per episode who would coordinate the team. A relatively large number of composers would carry out this function, not just Lalo Schifrin, as is wrongly believed. In this manner, the process flowed productively, aligned with the main practices for film and television music of the time. 

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