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Would 'Trophy Wife' Still Exist with a Better Title, and Is ABC Making the Same Mistake This Fall?

Photo of Ben Travers By Ben Travers | Indiewire July 15, 2014 at 3:52PM

It may be too late to save it, but critics haven't let go of ABC's failure to properly support their freshman comedy.
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Trophy

By now, we've all properly mourned the loss of ABC's critically beloved but ratings starved sitcom "Trophy Wife" and are ready to move on to the new shows about to pop up this fall. The TCAs are a great place to do so, with every network shoving their upcoming programs down your throat for up to 90 minutes at a time. We get to know new shows, actors, dynamics and stories all in two exciting/exhausting weeks of presentations -- but some critics are determined to make ABC remember their past failings in the hopes history won't repeat itself.

During the morning executive session with ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee, critics brought up "Trophy Wife" and its disappointing cancellation a number of times, asking the network head if he'd made a mistake with its title and time slot. "Trophy Wife" was given a bad rap before it was ever seen simply because the title illustrates the ugly idea of rich, old, white men marrying dumb young blondes who they can parade around as prized possessions. By the time people found out it was really about a woman marrying for love and facing the stigma attached to her decision because of their age difference, it was too late. 

The show also developed into one of TV's best family comedies, making it an ideal partner for "Modern Family" on ABC's Wednesday night comedy block. One critic at Tuesday's TCA panel asked Lee why they never shifted the ratings-starved freshman series behind the juggernaut lead-in to boost its chances of survival. Lee mainly dodged the question, pointing to the success of "The Goldbergs" airing reruns on Tuesday nights to grow its audience as proof some shows work and others don't ("Trophy Wife" also aired reruns after "Modern Family," though not consistently).

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"We tried hard toward the end of the season to create really promotable episodes we tried to promote," Lee said. "In my job, it’s hard to create really good shows that just can’t find an audience."

So if the time slot wasn't the problem -- which one could still argue it was, seeing as reruns aren't the same draw as brand new episodes -- was it the title? 

'The Goldbergs'
ABC 'The Goldbergs'


"You always want a title that will capture the eye and capture the imagination," Lee said, after saying two of its fall shows with questionable titles -- "Black-ish" and "Fresh Off the Boat" -- came from people with "powerful voices." 

Does that criteria apply to "Trophy Wife"? It certainly captured the critical eye of many disapproving culture writers, but it certainly didn't stimulate the imagination. It held it in check. Audiences couldn't get past the title, and the show never found the audience it deserved.

To make matters worse, ABC is facing a slew of the same questions at this year's TCA panel. The upcoming comedy "Black-ish" has a confusing title even if it's not a fairly straightforward family comedy. It aims to discuss assimilation for a black family living in the predominantly white suburbs, but only time will tell if it touches on the subject as extensively as it needs to in order to justify its title (and long enough, considering many shows stick with a premise early on only to abandon it as time passes and the program outgrows its roots). 

Creating titles for a world run by social media presents its own brand of challenges -- how does ABC and its shows' creators actually come up with their titles? While no one gave a straight answer outside of "we liked it," powerhouse show runner Shonda Rhimes ("Grey's Anatomy," "Scandal") did make one thing clear.

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"We don't consider a hashtag when writing a show title," Rhimes told the crowd of critics at the TCA panel for her new show, "How to Get Away With Murder." 

'Scandal'
Danny Feld/ABC 'Scandal'

The question arose after ABC handed out cookies with the hashtag "#HTGAWM" written across the white icing, attempting to stimulate a Twitter trend during the panel from critics tweeting information about the show (like yours truly). The practice was not approved by Rhimes.

"The idea that we decide what Twitter will call something is [wrong to me]," Rhimes said. "Twitter will decide what to call it. Twitter makes this stuff up and it’s more fun that way."

Considering the creator's absolute dominance of the social medium, it's hard to disagree with her train of thought. We, the people, don't like to be told what to do and certainly won't subscribe to hashtags as confusing as #HTGWKDADKDOWM. 

If you take a step back from thinking about "the man" trying to run your Twitter account, though, it makes sense for networks to be thinking about hashtags when it comes to show titles, especially broadcast networks who cater to the largest audience possible. Users want to engage with an audience via Twitter, but they don't want to try too hard to search for an official hashtag. People will just use whatever comes most naturally or they see being used in their feed. 

It sounds like another ABC show really thought about making their title hashtag-friendly when naming the show. "Selfie" is very much about social media -- the lead character is addicted to it -- and #Selfie should come naturally for fans (and critics) to use when the show comes out. "Black-ish" could go either way. Special characters break the hashtag, so anyone who actually types in the full title (hyphen included) will be using the blue hashtag #Black with "-ish" after it in black print. Fans may simply delete the hyphen, though -- a simple decision for anyone who knows how to use hashtags -- making it a short addendum to any 140 character message related to the show.

#TrophyWife was certainly an easy hashtag for users to rally behind -- short, easy, to the point -- but the same could be said for #CougarTown. Hopefully ABC starts learning from its mistakes before Twitter, and thus the world, forgets them entirely. 

This article is related to: TCAs Summer 2014, Trophy Wife, ABC, Television







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