TV show titles tend to range from brilliant, clever and witty to clunky, vague, awkward and in some cases, just plain misleading. Some titles overcome their initial problems, while others go down in history as being among the more memorably bad series names. Rather than just listing off our favorite terrible TV titles, we found ourselves breaking down the title problems by category. After all, as supremely irritating as some titles can be, they often aren't the first of their kind, nor will they be the last. Of course, it needs to be said that a bad title doesn't necessarily mean a bad show. But some titles just don't work and there are a few reasons why.
Misleading or Overly Vague Titles
A TV series doesn't need to spell out the premise in its title, but there are some shows that seem to go out of their way to keep viewers from having any idea what the series might be. That issue comes up a lot with the "The" titles. The Event, The Shield, The Practice, etc. There's something to be said for the firmness of these types of titles, but they also come off a little vague and don't do much to grab a viewer's attention or give them any indication of what they might expect from the series. The Following may also fall into this category. Some one-word titles also suffer from this. Episodes, for example, is not only vague but also a little confusing when referencing (or writing about) it. On the other hand, USA's Suits gets away with the one-word title because it has a double meaning (lawsuits and dress attire). And then you have FX's excellent but short-lived detective drama Terriers, which was not about nor did it feature any terriers.
We have a similar problem with series named after their lead character. Castle, Veronica Mars Monk are so vague to non-viewers, they're practically misleading. To a non-viewer, Castle could be about a building, Monk might star Tony Shalhoub as a monk, and Veronica Mars could be about a girl from space. Anyone who actually watches those shows knows all three of those assumptions are false, but could you fault people for jumping to the wrong conclusion? Seinfeld is another example of a name-title that probably didn't do much to help the show in its earlier years. Of course, in retrospect there's no better title for the series, and Seinfeld may be the best piece of proof that a vague title doesn't necessarily hurt a show (at least not badly enough to wreck it). If the show is good enough, it can withstand a vague or confusing title.
A bad TV title might seem innocuous at first. Such is the case with many punny titles. I can almost see the eyes lighting up in the writing room, when people realize they can connect a popular theme or phrasing to the title of a show (“Rules Of Engagement!” he said, laughing as he simultaneously slapped his hand on the desk, “That’s it, by jove.”). Rules of Engagement or even the short-lived Father of the Pride may be the least “PUNishing” offenders, however. The worst are the programs that turn character names into puns.
I’d love to say that throwing name puns into titles is a bad comedy’s way of trying to be witty, but unfortunately the pun phenomenon is neither relegated to comedy nor bad programming, Tyler Perry’s: House of Payne excluded. Dramas and some highly rated programs will also occasionally fall into the trap. Tru Calling is a pretty punny (and weird looking) title and Saving Grace stoops to call out its detective lead in its name. The most recent bad pun title offender is probably Running Wilde, and that show didn’t last a whole season on Fox. In fact, shows with name puns generally don’t last overly long on the air when compared to safe titles like Bones or NCIS.
I mean, come on people, there’s a reason that puns are often marketed to kids.
Having a vague title no one understands is a bad idea, but sometimes getting too specific isn’t any better. A show never wants to limit its options down the road. Take West Wing, for example. Had Aaron Sorkin decided to call it The Bartlet Presidency, his run for re-election would have been laughable, and there wouldn’t have even been any point in finding him a successor. Luckily, by overtly making the show about more than him, the writers weren’t caught in a stranglehold during the later seasons.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for How I Met Your Mother. I get where they were going with this, but eight years in, it’s pretty clear the show is actually better during episodes in which they’re not trying to find Ted’s wife. With all apologies to Bob Saget, if the show had a more generic title, it wouldn’t be encumbered by its format. It would just be free to make the best episodes possible.
The same general problem applies to Don’t Trust The B---- In Apartment 23 too. Chloe has to remain a bitch for the entirety of the show’s run, and if she ever decides to move, she’ll either have to choose apartment 23 in a different building or a different bitch will need to move in with June, creating a confusing rotating bitches plot line.
Here’s to hoping Julia Louis-Dreyfus isn’t planning to make more than eight seasons of her hilarious comedy Veep.
Some titles are just too long or too awkward to say, or to write. A TV show title that needs needs an asterisk or an acronym is one that needs to go back to the drawing board. Some titles are trying too hard to be edgy by using curse words, and then censoring them anyway - like Sh*t My Dad Says, and some are so long that no one ever says the full name - like The Secret Life of the American Teenager . Some go the extra mile to combine the two. Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 has both a censored curse word, rendering it nonsensical, and it’s too long. (see also: Plot-binding Titles)
Some titles are short and curse-free, but just plain awkward. Suburgatory is one word but still manages to be a mouthful. The new Hawaii Five-0 replaced the “O” with a zero, leaving us to wonder if it’s Hawaii Five-Zero. The most recent entry into the short but awkward is Matthew Perry’s Go On, which didn’t take long to become Goon (or #GoOn) to many. My So Called Life was a little on the long side, but mainly just awkward.
Some are long and bad for other reasons too: Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place (long and dull), The New Adventures of Old Christine (long and hard to say) and Tim and Eric Awesome Show. Great Job! (long, nonsensical, and just plain awful). ABC has another offender on their hands with the upcoming How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) which is too long even as an acronym.
Bottom line: it’s hard to get people talking about a show when they can’t (or don’t want to) say the name.
Just Plain Bad Titles
Sometimes you have to call a spade a spade and admit there’s just no other way to describe a TV show’s title except ‘Just Plain Bad.’ Of course, you could easily cull titles from our other categories to find more than a few that fit the Just Plain Bad bill but there’s no point in kicking the dead horses and rehashing any names for being misleading, bland, pun-filled and/or a mouthful. Except maybe Cougar Town, that one bears repeating. On top of Bill Lawrence’s terrible title, which even he ‘proudly’ acknowledges is one of the worst ever, one of the other recent series’ monikers to instantly spring to mind was ABC’s GCB aka Good Christian Bitches (or Good Christian Belles). An odd, even absurd, mix of edginess and faith, it should be no surprise that the comedy based on a book of the same name failed to survive its first season despite a talented cast.
Some series are so desperate to capitalize on the success of others that they attempt to not only recreate the show but also make sure that the title captures the same audience as its model. Case in point, Pretty Little Liars which, instead of finding the same catchy, alliterative ring of Gossip Girl, just sounds stupid. Other titles are just plain nonsense, with Dirty Sexy Money, Cop Rock and Shasta McNasty. You remember the last one, right? Sounds like a really cheap strip-club. Gross. Many of the worst offenders come from shows that want to capture the zeitgeist by adopting a certain phrase for the name but executives/creatives must be forgetting that sayings once in fashion or amusing- Baby Daddy, All That, It’s Like, You Know and Work It - can quickly become neither. So what’s in a name? Well, Shakespeare, when it comes to TV audiences, a lot. How many truly terrible titles persevere?