A hit drama called "Overspel" from Holland had plenty to recommend it — murder and intrigue in elite society circles, troubled romances and hot sex. What it didn't have, for an American remake, anyway, was a good title.
"It's called 'Adultery,' if you translate it directly," said David Zabel, executive producer of the newly launched
Such an incendiary word as a show title would grab attention, no doubt, but it could've proved distasteful for ABC's female-heavy audience. Those same viewers largely stayed away from the midseason drama
"'Betrayal' sounds juicy, and it's salacious enough to get you to check it out," said Lisa Zwerling, the show's executive producer. "But it's applicable to the series in a bigger way, because there are many types of betrayals — between married couples, between business associates, family members, friends."
With prime-time soaps such as "Revenge" and
"Betrayal," which debuted last week with stars Hannah Ware,
That's a tall order for a few words, but it may make the difference between getting a show sampled and seeing it left in the competitive dust.
"A distinctive title can get you out in front of the fray," said Christina Davis, executive vice president of drama development at
Why then do networks often go with generic names such as "Mom" (CBS), "Dads" (
"It's all about risk mitigation," said Tom Sepanski, senior director at branding firm Landor Associates, New York. "No one wants to alienate advertisers with a controversial title. And they want to keep it flexible. The names end up being relatively benign, watered down and lowest-common denominator."
Not so for "Killer Women," an ABC midseason drama with a name that Sepanski likens to "Snakes on a Plane" or "Sharknado." Pop culture fans may latch onto it ironically, which could propel it in the ratings, but "it's a huge risk," Sepanski said, "the equivalent of shooting the moon."
The show, by the way, stars
"The Crazy Ones," a CBS sitcom that marks
It doesn't matter that Apple super-fans may be the only ones to recognize the show's title from the brand's ad campaign, "Think Different," which used images of Albert Einstein, John Lennon, Jim Henson and other envelope pushers, saluting them as "the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels."
It's appropriate for an ad agency-set comedy, said executive producer-director
When there's source material, it makes sense to use the original name, such as the NBC remake of "Ironside" with Blair Underwood. John Fox, an executive producer on the drama, said the equity of the name and fond remembrances of the original Raymond Burr show should help the new version gain traction, though it's a much more violent, muscular series.
Having a familiar saying, ABC's sports-themed "Back in the Game" with James Caan, for instance, may give audiences a comfortable entree into a show. Fox, among the executive producers of NBC's
Instead, the crime show stars
"The name feels like it has a stickiness to it — it has a connection to the zeitgeist," Fox said. "It has some historical weight."
Producers most often come up with their own titles, although at least a handful of untitled projects from well-known show runners advance nearly every season. Networks say they try not to micromanage that process, but show names do go through audience testing and sometimes brand consultants.
Plenty of oddly named shows have become hits — "How I Met Your Mother,"
"If you're asking the name to do a lot of work for you, you're in trouble already," he said. "If the premise or the pedigree isn't driving the conversation, you could be in trouble from the start."