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What's in a Name? 9 Do's and Don'ts of Picking TV Titles

03.26.12 @ 6:01PM Tags : , ,

Coming up with a good title can be a royal pain.  Is it intriguing or just vague?  Is it descriptive but too dry?  Does it suggest a dynamic concept or sit on the page?  In television, good titles can determine whether a project gets backed by development executives, or viewers tune in for a premiere.  As part of a larger feature exploring how shows like Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond and Lost got their titles, the Hollywood Reporter put together a list of 9 Do’s and Don’ts for picking a solid TV title — and there’s plenty for a DIY content creator to mull over as they consider their own projects:

The title is your project’s first impression, and being able to load it with the thematic feel and taste of the content is what helps separate intriguing titles from boring ones.  This tip stands out:

DO Be Specific

A title should neatly encapsulate the content and tone of a show, like Desperate Housewives and Modern Family. “If a title really contextualizes the tone of a show,” says MTV’s Janollari, “that’s a big factor in helping you launch a show and market and position it to an audience.”


I think a good practice is to look at lots and lots of existing titles, come up with alternate titles for them, and compare and contrast — get a sense for why the actual title works better or doesn’t.  For example, an accompanying article does a good job of illustrating what could have been – Friends could have been titled Six of One, Lost could have been Nowhere, and That 70′s Show could have been Teenage Wasteland.  (I actually think that last alternate would have been better, but according to the article they couldn’t secure permission to use it.)

These tips are a pretty good starting point for analyzing and weighing the strengths of a given title, so for the full tips go here.  What are your favorite TV or movie titles?  Why do you think they work?   Which titles fall flat for you?  What would have been better?  Let us know!

[via Hollywood Reporter]

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  • As far as direct and to the point movie titles, KILL BILL has always been one of my absolute favorites.

    • Tarantino has had a long line of cool two word titles, with the quasi exception of Grindhouse (Death Proof). If this was mentioned in the do/n’ts, I apologize.

  • Good points to think about, but it’d be dangerous to take this advice without a pinch of salt. Really it’s an opinion piece; it’s not scientific. There’s no way to know how much a title will affect a show’s fortunes, but it’s easy to make seemingly obvious (and quite possibly spurious) connections in hindsight.

    The article even admits to contradictions; e.g. “House”. And that particular example is a contradiction to possibly the most “obvious” rule of all 9 – “don’t be vague”! So, useful to think about, but there’s no certain route to picking an objectively good name.

    • its house MD isnt it? I’d say people (who like the show) watch one episode or a few at most and become very intrigued by the character house and so then the title becomes very effective.

  • Also the realities of a TV show as opposed to working on a spec script for a film is that episodes in the focus of the series could change as some element works better or there’s a standout character that connects with audiences, Family Matters being a pretty notable example of a show early on changing directions so radically that the first season seldom resembles the last.

  • Simon Pegg has run the gamut on this. SHAUN OF THE DEAD is one of the best titles I’ve ever seen, telling pretty much all you need to know about the movie in four words. A few films later, he’s reduced to PAUL, a wonderful film with a godawful title. Is it a McCartney biopic? A biblical epic? A documentary about Libertarian politics?

  • Favorite movie title: “Snakes On A Plane”. OK it was an over-budgeted B-movie, but you got what you paid for. As you did with “Death Race 2000″ – in the late 70s, this was immediately evocative.

    Much more recently, “Whip It” was an evocative title, but sadly lacking in long tapering pieces of leather you flick with your wrist.

  • Mike Cockayne on 03.27.12 @ 7:30AM

    Why did John Carter fail so miserably at the box office? The answer’s in the question. Or should I say title. Disney could have made themselves a few hundred million dollars more just by calling it Mars Wars, or Man From Another Planet or absolutely anything that might stir the imagination of a potential cinema goer. I know it’s the name of the book but I reckon some poetic license here could have changed the films fate as it’s actually a great movie. But if you don’t know the book or haven’t seen the trailer it could be a film about a brick layer, a gangster, a football player or just a local barber, who incidentally happens to be called John Carter where I live..!

    • It’s not the name of the book but rather part of the name of the final book in the series; JOHN CARTER OF MARS, which, in my opinion, would have been a much smarter choice.

      • Wow, if the original title had been “John Carter of Mars”, I would’ve gone to watch it because that actually adds some intrigue vis a vis the previews

    • Daniel Mimura on 03.30.12 @ 10:10PM

      A friend who’s way into the fantasy/sci fi genre had told me about John Carter months ago…

      …and then the opening night, another friend told me she was seeing, “John Carter”…I was like, oh, I don’t know him…where is he playing? I assumed it was some singer/songwriter! What kind of movie title is that? I didn’t have any idea what it was, even though my other friend told me about it months before and that it was this huge budget movie… The biggest problem I think is that Stanton and crew *assumed* people knew who the hell John Carter was. We all know who “Conan The Barbarian” is…and but guess what? Only sci-fi/fantasy fanboys have any idea who Egar Rice Burrows other characters are. And Conan The Barbarian…it tells us a LOT about what it’s about. I don’t have to see any trailers or read or hear anything to assume there’s gonna be swords and half naked women (sex and violence…the biggest draws for the male 13-18 biggest demographic for films—the demographic that is most needed for a film that costs $250M).

      Get Carter (to reference another film with “Carter” in the title) is so much better a title. It’s not just a generic name that means nothing to anyone by itself (except a very small crowd of people.) “Get Carter” is an action. It’s not passive. I don’t know who the hell Carter is or what he did (or what time period it’s set in…etc…) but somebody wants him!

  • Sabina Rowling on 03.31.13 @ 11:29PM

    If you think that medical dramas are slow-paced, monotonous and far-stretched with regards to storylines, then watch House MD online and think again. It has re-ignited viewer interest in the imagination-driven hospital scenes. The physician’s optimism to drag a patient away from the tunnel of death, a patient’s strong will to free himself from the strong clutches of death and out of the queue medical procedures are once again gripping the audience.

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