[MUSIC UP AND UNDER] BOB GARFIELD: When Dan Rather filed his 70-million-dollar lawsuit against CBS for breach of contract last month, he said he was strong-armed into giving up his job. But Rather isn't the only one feeling slighted by the whole situation. Consider Neal Fox, the composer who co-wrote the theme music to The Evening News with Dan Rather. When the royalty checks stopped, Fox's life changed dramatically - also, the venue for his compositions.
His one-man musical revue, Thank You, Dan Rather -- that title is half sincere, half sarcastic -- opened last week in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Alicia Zuckerman has the story. NEAL FOX: CBS news anchor Dan Rather had the proof that George W. Bush had a dubious military past. The documents used as proof turned out to be fakes, but instead of apologizing, Dan blamed the Republicans.
My name is Neal Fox. I'm the co-writer and co-producer of the theme music for Dan Rather and The CBS Evening News. For 13 glorious years, every time you would hear - [CBS EVENING NEWS THEME MUSIC] Cha-ching! Money would go in my pocket. Good money. I came to expect that money. Thank you, Dan. [SINGING] Dan, you're the man, no one does what you can. ALICIA ZUCKERMAN: In early 2005, as Neal Fox and his wife, Naomi, both in their late 50s watched the evening news from their four-bedroom house in San Diego, California, they saw it coming. NEAL FOX: They kept going, my God, he's going to get himself canned. [LAUGHS] ALICIA ZUCKERMAN: They knew that if CBS got rid of Dan Rather, there was a good chance they would get rid of that lucrative theme music, too. Fox declined to say exactly how much he was making, but Shelly Berg, dean of the University of Miami's music school, worked in the industry for years, and he has an idea. SHELLY BERG: Off of one thing like that, you're probably getting 100,000 a year. Not bad. The Dan Rather theme, because it was primetime news, was probably better than several hit records in terms of income. You know, you could live off of it and consider yourself happy, [LAUGHS] lucky. ALICIA ZUCKERMAN: For a few months after Dan Rather left, there was still hope. NEAL FOX: And they got Bob Schieffer to replace him. And I was biting my nails, watching, you know, waiting for 6 o'clock. And Bob comes on, and, [SINGS] ta, ta, ta, ta. You know, all of a sudden, there it is. And I thought, hey, we got a reprieve from the governor. Ah, no such luck.
[SINGING] You changed everything from A to Z, the music and the lights and the scenery. It's out with Bob and in with Katie Couric. So, Dan, look what you've finally done to me. ALICIA ZUCKERMAN: Then, of course, CBS announced that Katie Couric would be taking the anchor seat, and, yes, the music would be changing. So Fox made one, actually three last-ditch efforts to keep those checks coming. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] NEAL FOX: So I called up the director of CBS. They were only allowing a few people to put in demos. So I made three demos. A few weeks later, he said, sorry, you know, we're going with somebody else. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] Some little-known guy named James Horner. He happened to compose Titanic. Yeah, my life was flashing in front of my eyes. I thought, well, you know, in a few months we're going to have no income. We had to just sell the house, move to Florida, put on a show. GROUP SINGING: What's wrong, Mr. Anchorman? ALICIA ZUCKERMAN: That's right. Fox and his wife packed up and moved across the country when the Dan Rather money stopped. Fox was already planning to mount a show that would illuminate and satirize the jingle business, along with the media in general, but he was planning to do it with all that passive income. Now they're living on the money from the sale of the house and hoping to turn a profit in ticket sales.
The truth is, Fox's tale of woe isn't all that uncommon, says Shelly Berg, the music school dean. He says whose music gets picked and why can be extremely arbitrary. SHELLY BERG: I was doing a show one time and there was a scene with a turtle in it, and they rejected my music because they said it sounded like land turtle music and this was an aquatic turtle. ALICIA ZUCKERMAN: But he does hear rhyme and reason in these news themes. [CBS EVENING NEWS THEME MUSIC] SHELLY BERG: Well, the Dan Rather music is very heroic. It reminds me of that scene in Field of Dreams when the big home run gets hit and all the woodwinds are going [IMITATES WOODWINDS] you know, and there's a big heroic French horn theme that says we've reached the pinnacle. And I think Dan Rather made his reputation covering Hurricane Carla and out in the field, and I think it says he's our hero. [CBS EVENING NEWS THEME MUSIC] The Katie Couric, it sounds like it's the her that we want you to think of as her. It's compassionate but it becomes more and more heroic as it goes along. ALICIA ZUCKERMAN: Just over a week before opening night, Fox got a publicity break he couldn't have paid for. Dan Rather filed his 70-million-dollar lawsuit against CBS. NEAL FOX: You couldn't ask for better timing. We have zero advertising budget. It gives a hook on there from people who are going to write news stories about you. If I said "The Life and Times of Neal Fox," I don't think you'd be [LAUGHS] standing here interviewing me. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] Thanks to Dan, once again, you know? [LAUGHS] I mean, thank you, Dan. [SINGING] From New York to Japan. Tell me - ALICIA ZUCKERMAN: Neal Fox's one-man show, Thank You, Dan Rather, runs through October 14th in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. After that, he hopes to take it on the road. For On the Media, I'm Alicia Zuckerman in Miami.