Studios put a lot of effort into coming up with titles for their shows, but does it really pay off?
According to HitFix TV critic Alan Sepinwall, titles are a neutral factor — unless they're terrible. "It's very rare that you see a clever title being the thing that draws an audience in," he said.
And yet every year the lineup features a cringe-worthy title or three, those punny/winky titles that might as well include "Get it?" in parenthesis. This year brings us "Angel From Hell" on CBS, with Jane Lynch as a guardian angel who drives everyone crazy, and "Grandfathered" on Fox, starring John Stamos as a middle-aged bachelor who finds out he not only has a son he never knew about, but a grandson, as well.
Consider the NBC variety show "Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris," a title so insistent you just want it to back off, already. Stop selling so hard.
"Cougar Town," "Trophy Wife" and "Terriers" are the big disasters of recent TV vintage — all beloved by critics but saddled with titles that "made the shows sound like something they weren't," per Sepinwall. And that, he said, "can be crushing."
"In general," he said, "simple titles tend to be the smarter bet. NBC went round and round on what to call 'Friends,' and everyone acted like that name was too dumb to be of use, but it said exactly what the show was, in a way that 'Six of One' did not."
Other titles originally considered for the sitcom: "Friends Like Us," "Across the Hall" and "Insomnia Cafe."
Maybe a good title is one you don't forget. Star Alison Brie appeared on a Los Angeles talk show to promote her film "Sleeping With Other People" and talked about growing up in Los Angeles and attending sitcom tapings as a teenager. Which ones, she was asked?
"That show with Donal Logue where he was, like, a dad, and they were an Irish Catholic family — do you remember that show?" Um. Puzzled looks all around. Everyone knew the show she was talking about, but no one could name it.
(Eventually, someone remembered: "Grounded for Life.")
None of this is an exact science, but there are people who study the psychology of words and names, including Adam Alter, a professor of marketing and psychology at New York University. Three factors, he said, are important when trying to peg which titles will grab hold.
• Is it easy to pronounce? Good luck there, "Sicario," the Emily Blunt drug cartel actioner, and "Chi-raq," Spike Lee's satire about gun violence in Chicago.
• Does it sound like the thing it represents? As an example, Alter singled out "Krampus," an upcoming horror flick. "Krampus is a demon character with horns that's associated with Christmas, so it's a scary title and a scary idea," he said.
• "The main thing that I think matters is semantics, or meaning," Alter said. To this end, a title such as "Three Men and a Baby" that tells you exactly what to expect works better than, say, "As Good As It Gets" or "Something's Gotta Give," which could apply to just about anything.