I was a judge at a Royal Television Society school day contest earlier this week and one team called their proposed TV show “Help! I’ve Lost My Dignity”. They nearly won on the title alone. Earlier this autumn, I was struggling with a title for a collection of stories. Earlier this year I was arguing over the title for another project. Instantly, after three prods, a week, two months and half a year, I immediately realised that I wanted to talk to you about titles. I just didn’t and don’t know what to call this.
Tell a lie: it was four prods.
A few days ago the script to the pilot of Timeless leaked online. I really like this show – it’s coming to E4 soonish but I have a US iTunes Store account so I’ve been watching it about a day after it airs in the States – and I envied its title. That would’ve been just right for my collection. The bastards. Only, as well as a very revealing deleted scene, the script also shows that the series was going to be called Time.
That’s it. Just Time. I felt better: they had to go through some trouble to get to a great title and they managed it.
But then that reminded me of how it seems everyone goes through the same hell and they continue to. Jeremy Clarkson and the other two who are late of Top Gear are about to start a car series called The Grand Tour but it was going to be called Gear Knobs.
When that was rejected – I can’t imagine why – they also looked at Speedbird, No Limits, Dip Sticks and The Best Car Show… in The World.
Speaking of words that might not pass muster on a broadcast channel, have a read of Elizabeth Meriwether’s pitch for the US comedy New Girl sometime. It is a gorgeous piece of writing, so alive and full of verve, and it begins with this: “The working title of the show is ‘Chicks and Dicks’. But obviously this isn’t France, so we’ll have to change it.”
New Girl is a bit of a dull title and progressively out of date as the new woman of the name has now been around for something like five seasons. Whereas The Good Wife was a great title for a brilliant series. I just hanker for one of its working titles: among an apparently 75-100 considered names there was The Whole Truth, In The Spotlight and – wait for it – Leave the Bastard.
I also love Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt but would’ve been just as happy if it had been called Tooken. That title makes its way into a single sentence of dialogue in one episode. Whereas in the UK Phil Redmond went further when he wanted to call his show Meadowcroft but legal concerns forced him to change it to Brookside. Reportedly in its early years you can see characters in Brookside watching TV – and the show they’re tuned in to is a drama called Meadowcroft.
That’s the subtlest way of airing a working title. Less subtle is actually calling your show by one name and maybe later on fixing it. So Seinfeld aired for a season as The Seinfeld Chronicles. The sitcom Ellen’s famous and excellent coming out two-parter was disguised from the network with the innocuous title The Puppy Episode and in the end aired as that.
Whereas the whole show Ellen aired for one season as These Friends of Mine. It was then reportedly renamed Ellen because of potential confusion with a new hit called Friends. Though speaking of Friends, that was going to be called Six of One or Across the Hall. It was sold to the network without a title but then went a long way with the name Friends Like Us.
Which reminds me: My So-Called Life was originally Someone Like Me. I do love and cherish MSCL from its title to its end credits but Someone Like Me was very clever for a tale of a high school teenager feeling estranged and different to everyone around her.
None of which is helping me find titles for a collection or, since I’ve now decided I loathe some of my story titles, any good story titles. I’ve been around the houses on this subject – oh, EastEnders was going to be called Round the Houses. Also East 8. I’ve got a book somewhere that talks about the terribly problems they had finding a title for them. It seemed to work out.
Everything does when you get a good title. I know that a good title catches the readers’ or the audience’s eye and attention but there’s more to it than that. When I’ve got a good title, my writing flies. Pity I haven’t found a clever title for our chat this week.