Now that the Big 5 networks have unveiled their new fall shows (with a few midseason offerings thrown in), we can get down to really investing in what we’re going to see this year. But first, let’s address an issue that we’re sure many viewers have when it comes to getting excited about new shows: really awful titles.
What’s in a name? Well, if you ask “Trophy Wife,” everything. The critically acclaimed series didn’t feel like the usual sitcom fare. Its humor was smart, ironic and a little bit daffy, and the performances were delightful and nuanced. Sadly, during its entire 22 episodes, it couldn’t ever escape bubble status, and in the end, really lame marketing tactics was its downfall. The show wasn’t about a trophy wife at all, and in fact, that title undermined its strong, feminist voice. The show never saw a Season 2.
Beyond just unfortunate or misleading titles, however, are the more egregious ones: the confusing titles. Sometimes that means the network got a little too cute with the title as far as strange spellings or characters. Other times, a concept is difficult to sum up, and whatever workshopping that took place ended up landing on something that’s still equally confusing or obscure.
This is not to say that every show title must be as explicit as, say, “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders” or “Young Sheldon.” There is still room for creativity. “How to Get Away With Murder” is still one of the nuttiest titles that didn’t detract from its premise. But the point is that first impressions do matter, and a title is the hook to get someone to check out a show in the first place.
Here are the shows that we thought had the worst point-of-entry titles, especially compared to their premise, and our suggestions on titles that would work better.
First Impression: Is this a vanity plate for Dr. Jekyll? Maybe a Dr. Jekyll cat with nine lives?
What It’s Really About: After his divorce, Josh moves back into the apartment his parents still own, which happens to be next door to his parents… and next door to his brother and sister-in-law. Nosy family shenanigans ensue.
Better Titles: “Parental Units,” “Apartment Complex,” “The Family Next Door,” “My Nosy Neighbors,” “Family Unit”
“The Orville” (Fox)
First Impression: This has to be an origin story about the popcorn guy, right? Or maybe it’s an alternate history where one of the Wright Brothers got all of the credit for man taking flight?
What It’s Really About: Seth MacFarlane isn’t the first choice to captain the spaceship called The Orville in this “Galaxy Quest”-like space opera spoof. Naturally that means his poor leadership leads to wacky diplomatic situations with aliens and his ex, who happens to be on staff.
Better Titles: “Star Dreck,” “Taking Up Space,” “Captain’s Log,” “Galactic Guy”… I mean, really anything is better than “The Orville.”
”Wisdom of the Crowd” (CBS)
First Impression: A nursing home full of geniuses or, perhaps, assimilation into a Borg-like entity.
What It’s Really About: Jeremy Piven, as a Steve Jobs-like figure, quits his tech company to launch a crowd-sourcing site that will allow everyone connected digitally in the world to input data in order to catch his daughter’s real murderer. In the process, the site becomes a tool to catch other criminals.
Better Titles: We’re assuming that “Crowd-Sourcing” was taken (if not, then what’s stopping ya?), so maybe “Crowd-Solving,” “Citizens Arrest,” “The Net.”
Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter also offered up these suggestions:
“Ten Days in the Valley (ABC)
First Impression: We envision this to be “The Hangover” meets “Clueless.” A group of college students go to a party in Sherman Oaks during summer vacation but when a friend of a friend unexpectedly dies, we retrace each person’s footsteps “Rashomon”-style to find out what exactly happened. In the process, surprising relationships and incidents are revealed.
What It’s Really About: Wow, we’re still really invested in our fake story idea, but okay, fine. This is really about a single mom (Kyra Sedgwick) who has to do a last-minute script rewrite at night, but when she gets back to the bedroom where she left her daughter Lake, she finds her missing. What happens after those 10 days are up is also problematic, story-wise.
Better Titles: “Girl Abducted,” “Amber Alert” (although there might be legal restrictions on using that as a title), “The Writing on the Wall”