The Flight Attendant is a distinctly unique show, a pitch-black comedy whose antics are made even more enthralling by its music. The man responsible for that is Blake Neely, who contends for his fourth career Emmy nomination, for the show’s main title theme music.
Awards Radar had the chance to speak with Neely, last featured on the site as part of our conversations with artisans for Greyhound, about his approach to scoring this series and the many other TV shows he’s created memorable music for, including the one that earned him his first Emmy nomination almost twenty years ago.
Q: Congratulations on your Emmy nomination for the main title theme music for The Flight Attendant.
A: Thank you. So exciting!
Q: What was the genesis of your involvement in that project?
A: I’ve been working with Greg Berlanti and Berlanti Productions for, this is going on my twentieth year. Kaley had brought him the script which Steve Yockey had written based on the book, and they said, why don’t you have a meeting with him? So I read the script and went in with a huge number of producers there. They liked my pitch, they liked my idea, and we went from there.
Q: What was your pitch?
A: My pitch was, I read the script and I just saw Cassie as a broken child, so why don’t we play around with kids’ instruments, and broken kids’ instruments and toys and things like that. Steve, in the meeting, said, and how about percussion? I said, how about only percussion? And then realizing what I had done to myself and the box I had put myself in, I start to panic but think, oh my god, wait, piano’s a percussion instrument, temphony, marimbas, I can do that.
Q: The main title design is also very memorable. Was that guided by what you were doing, or the other way around?
A: I didn’t get to see the main title design but they talked me through their ideas, and graphically what it would be, with its crazy images. I riffed with that and sent them this piece of music that became our main title theme. It’s so exciting then when you get the graphics back, because so much of our job is, fit the music to the graphics. On their side, it’s like, well, we’re doing this graphic, but what if the tempo doesn’t work with the music? So we got to literally work together, which I think makes it so seamless.
Q: This is a very unique show that’s definitely a hybrid of genres. It was classified as a comedy for all these awards. Are you scoring a comedy?
A: I don’t know. I think it could be in any category. It’s a thriller, it’s a heavy emotional family drama, and it’s funny. When I was reading the script, I found myself mostly laughing, even at the dark stuff, because it’s noir comedy. I think they placed it right.
Q: In addition to the main title theme music, you also wrote the score for the show. What was your approach, and did you have a vastly different take given how a scene fit any of those genres?
A: Yes. Still sticking in percussion only. I think when you read a script like that and it’s pretty funny throughout, and the lead is going to be Kaley Cuoco, who we know is hilarious from twelve years of Big Bang Theory, you’re not expecting these scenes with her brother or alone, in that pilot episode when she’s breaking down. The alcoholism, all these heavy tones. So I just had to kind of follow that and find a way, in our wacky instrumentation way, to still support that. Sometimes it became just a soul piano, sometimes it became some things I created out of vibrating strings. It’s just a great relief, even though it’s sad, it’s a relief from the freneticism that’s happening throughout the show. She’s always on this balancing act.
Q: Do you have a favorite track that stands out to you?
A: No. I love the main title theme because it was the first baby born, but once you have that many kids and you send them all off to college, you love them just as much.
Q: You’ve written a lot of other main title themes in the past, especially for some of the Arrowverse shows that didn’t have actual opening credits. Do you like having something like that to write to, or does it not really matter?
A: I love it, because I grew up watching so much television. One of my heroes was Earle Hagen, who wrote the Dick Van Dyke theme. We don’t get the time anymore, especially on network TV, because they need to sell ad time, I get it, keep them in the story, but it was such a nice way to start the evening. Start your show and have this moment to get in character, even as the audience, and go, this is what’s coming. I love when a show will give me that space to have a main title. But I also understand when it’s just a card. I’ll spend just as much time writing a five-second title card as a one-minute because it has to be right. It has to tonally hit. You hope it’s memorable. With the superhero shows, they’re so thematic and operatic that you get a chance to do these big themes without having it by itself.
Q: You’re in great company in your Emmy category, including Bridgerton, which doesn’t have a main title, and Ted Lasso, plus something like WandaVision, which is really creative. Do you have any thoughts about your fellow nominees?
A: I am thrilled to be in their company. I’ll just start with, I’ve been a huge Mumford and Sons fans forever, so the fact that I’ll get to say hi to Marc is great. I love his show. I love that Ted Lasso theme. WandaVision is a cool, cool throwback. What the Lopezs did reminded me of how I felt when I would watch Bewitched when I was a kid. Kris is a fantastic composer on Bridgerton, and Michael Abels, of course, phenomenal composer for Allen v. Farrow. I’m in steep competition, but I love all of them. It will be a fun night.
Q: This is your second nomination in this category after Everwood almost twenty years ago. How do you feel your work and your attitude has changed in that time?
A: It’s crazy that the first show I ever got, I got an Emmy nomination, so I was set up for this crazy path. I’ve never taken a lot of stock in awards, but it’s nice, because it’s from your peers. You want to please the audience, you want to please the producers, but when you feel the support from all your composer community to say, we think you did a good job, it’s fantastic. My work has evolved, of course. My writing, I hope, has gotten better. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Everwood.
Q: What other TV or movie music has impressed you this year?
A: Oh man, there’s so much. I know that sounds like a dodge, but there’s so much great content now. When I started twenty years ago, there were the four networks, or five – the WB was new. Now we’ve got so much to watch that I just soak it in, like, oh, that’s a great theme, and I’ll text them, wow, that’s amazing. Ludwig Göransson, he’s also nominated, does incredible work on The Mandalorian. Laura Karpman on Lovecraft Country. And it’s so diverse in the category this year. It used to be the same old people were getting nominated, and it’s all these new names, new faces. Really cool year. And to have come out of a pandemic.
Q: Is there anything that you haven’t done yet that you would like to try at some point musically?
A: Oh yeah. There’s tons. I’m not stopping. I’m not stopping anytime soon. It was a great year. The Flight Attendant, Greyhound, did the third season of You, which is really fun this year. It’s been great. I just want to do cool projects that let me tell good stories. I love Star Wars, but I’m not the guy who’s like, I really want to do Star Wars X. I’ve been very lucky with Greg and his team and his production company. The stories they bring are just so rich, whether it’s on the CW, or Netflix, or in the theaters. They’re always really challenging because he loves tonal shifts, so it’s never like, oh, we’re not going to have any comedy in Arrow. Suddenly we have comedy in Arrow. That keeps it fun.
Q: From those Arrowverse shows, do you have a particular favorite score that you’ve done?
A: No. In fact, I’m the type that, my favorite will be the next one that I’m doing.
Q: In that vein, what do you know about The Flight Attendant season two? Has anything started, and are you coming back?
A: I am unable to spoil anything because they haven’t shared any scripts.
Q: But you are involved?
A: I am being asked back, which is exciting. I’m already starting to think, how can we make it wackier? Stranger, more emotional, deeper. But until I get that script, I have no idea.
Season one of The Flight Attendant is streaming on HBO Max.