The art of TV Titles

Choosing a TV title that sums up the show and grabs our attention is a bit of an artform.

What’s in a TV title?


There’s a fascinating article about the value of a title in The Hollywood Reporter, and I couldn’t resist sharing some of its insights.

It’s all back in the spotlight thanks to Good Christian Bitches aka GCB. There’s also the upcoming Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 (coming to Foxtel).

Recently we also had $#*! My Dad Says.

Choosing a title that sums up your show and grabs our attention is a bit of an artform.

They should be catchy, but not cheesy; clever, but not confusing; inclusive, but not vague; provocative, but not inappropriate…

“You’ve got to have something that makes people say,’I want to check that out,’ ” says MTV programming chief David Janollari.

“It has to be catchy, and it has to frame for the audience the context of the show.”

It notes that Friends was originally due to be titled Six of One. Lost was to have been Nowhere. And Grey’s Anatomy was set to be called Surgeons.

Clever TV shows also include the backstory in their opening credits: Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Gilligan’s Island and of course, The Brady Bunch, to name a few. Credit sequences are really worth a separate story…

Some titles miss their mark. I couldn’t remember the name of A Gifted Man even after I had watched the show.

So here are the nine vital title tips from execs and producers:

DON’T Be Too Witty
DON’T Be Too Generic
DON’T Be too Long
DON’T Be Lazy
DON’T Be Too Vague

DO Be Specific
DO Be Timely
DO Use Humour

The full article is a very good read.

19 Responses

  1. Australian’s were the worst at Titles.We had Heartbreak High and it’s school Hartley High(A poor rip off of Beverly Hills 90210 which in actual fact not only had the suburb postcode and area which they set in but ironically the school was known as West Beverly High).Others included Wombat,The Morning Show which before it became a day time Morning chat show was actually a bunch of cartoons and other things for kids before they moved it to the Afternoons and then off to the scrap heap but this was mostly a decade or two ago.Any others?

  2. One trend I’m not enjoying from 7 at the moment is their urge to shorten titles from announcing them. Eg calling “Packed to the Rafters” “Rafters”.. do they get paid by the word or something. Just spend a couple of extra seconds to say the whole title. Just saying 🙂

  3. I do miss titles – Channel 7 especially are lacking in credits these days. As far as recent Aussie shows go, I reckon Rush on 10 had a good intro – catchy theme too.

    It’s odd that Home and Away (for example) has an end theme tune still overseas – filmed flying over “Summer Bay”, whereas we just have a spoiler which either misleads or gives the plot away. Very tedious. No room for imagination anymore regarding what’s coming up!

  4. Steven/Julie – another reason some US shows have given for dropping opening credits is the cost of the theme tune. That’s the official reason One Tree Hill dropped theres.

    For some shows the shorter openings work – but I can’t understand why shows with iconic openings such as Home and Away have axed theres – if people are tuning into the show they’re not going to tune out because the titles make them wait 30 seconds.

  5. I have no desire to return to the old days of a lengthy opening titles sequence. Get into the story asap, why waste time? Also, I think choosing the name for a show is a bit like choosing a name for a baby; everyone has a very different opinion, some love the name, others hate it. In the end, it’s a subjective choice.

  6. I’ll note Person of Interest explains itself largely in its credits also I think Alcatraz may also do so but I’ve not seen it much especially with the credits intact. Fringe doesn’t but I love their opening credits as well as music. They also do indicate what universe they are in by changing the colour. That’s why it’s annoying when the channel edits them out. I like that Eleven doesn’t do that. Especially for the Star Trek opening and end credits.

  7. I always though “Home and Away” is a terrible title.

    Yes, Mr J, Talking Bout Your Generation should have just been called “Your Generation” or “My Generation”. Game shows are often bad like “Sale of the Century”.

  8. “The project” is vague. A current Affair makes it sound like a news and politics show but it is more like a consumer affairs show. BBC1’s “Strictly Come Dancing” was a tribute to the movie “Strictly Ballroom” and the 1970’s show “Come Dancing” but someone must’ve realised it was confusing so they sold the format rights as “Dancing with the Stars” BBC3’s “Snog Marry Avoid” is one of those titles I would avoid as I had no clue what is was about. I presumed it was a sit-com. I saw it on channel GO on Friday night and surprised it was a kind of “What Not to Wear” makeover show.

  9. @steven – the reason behind the shorter titles is advertising. For US tv shows they film approximately 41 minutes for a one hour show. The rest of the time is taken up with ads. If they want to fit more of the story in a show, the credits are sacrifice – this also accounts for the rapid speed that the end credits have.

    If you look at TV shows from the 1960s – they filmed about 50 minutes for a one hour show and that is why the opening credits go for at least a minute or so. This has gradually gone down over the years to the stage we are at now.

  10. David, as you’ve touched on here, some of the best TV programs have had great opening credits.

    These days, we’re lucky if a show has opening credits at all – look at The Good Wife, Greys Anatomy or Packed to the Rafters, around 4 or 5 seconds. And yet, others keep a full opening, eg Rush or Sea Patrol or Spirited.

    Anyone know what the reasoning is behind this?

  11. I think aussie lingo is fine for aussie shows. It’s when they resort to non aussie sounding names like Cops LAC and Rescue Special Ops that they go wrong. I think the Brits have a lot of bad titles for shows, often named after the title character, but just sounds bad as a show title. The Stephen Fry drama Kingdom was one example, but there are plenty out there. Downton Abbey, love the show, but bad name in that Downton was hard to say at first. In the US, Knots Landing was a bad name, too non discriptive and too clever ( their was a pun on knots, as it dealt with married couples). House was a dumb name for a medical show. I could go on for a while here…

  12. Cougar Town is a show also with a bad name but the original intent of the show was an older woman, newly single dating younger guys, but as we know this was quickly changed but the name stuck.

    FYI it was also named after the high school football team the ‘Cougars’.

  13. Australia is really bad at titles, I particularly don’t like it when they fall back on Aussie lingo, like “Crownies.”

    Also, “Spicks and Specks” is a truly horrible title for anything, let alone a quiz show, but didn’t seem to affect it any, except maybe if they tried to shop it around internationally.

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