One particular change made in the adaptation of David Simon’s The Corner, an HBO miniseries, from The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner City Neighborhood, was that of the title. Omitting the latter, more descriptive portion, The Corner is shorter, simpler, and easier to remember. So, what’s in a name?
A television series’ title is almost always the first impression a potential viewer will have of the show; oftentimes the title will be the most amount of information the potential viewer will have about the show (due to TV guides, or word of mouth). Therefore, it is extremely important to assign meaning to that short, but well organized word or phrase. A sizeable proportion of pilots up for consideration by major networks are still untitled; oftentimes focus groups and consultants are brought in to aid writers and creative executives in choosing the right name.
The Hollywood Reporter describes nine “dos and don’ts” in assigning a name to a show; I listed them below, as it was a relatively inclusive list of the highlights.
(1) DON’T be too witty
Such as Better Off Ted
(2) DON’T be too generic
Such as Housewives instead of Desperate Housewives
(3) DON’T be too long
Such as The New Adventures of Old Christine, shortened to just Old Christine
(4) DON’T be lazy
Such as That 80’s Show as a follow up of That 70’s Show
(5) DON’T be too vague
Such as Traffic Light, The River, or Up All Night – What are these about?
(6) DO keep it simple
Such as, Friends, Seinfeld, Cheers, or ER
(7) DO be specific
Such as, Desperate Housewives or Modern Family
(8) DO be timely
Such as, The Good Wife airing in light of political scandals
(9) DO use humor
Such as, Grey’s Anatomy or Curb Your Enthusiasm
It is difficult to claim that a title has a huge help in the overall success of the show; usually it is the quality of the show itself that carries it to good ratings. What a name does is bring in the initial viewers, similar to the book cover effect. Friends is hailed as being an excellent name; it is simple, descriptive, and inviting. However, it might be safe to assume that the show could have found success under its original name, These Friends of Mine. A terrible name, however, usually has much more influence in the failure of a show. For example, Dweebs, a canceled 1995 show, was told that nobody over the age of 16 would watch it.
Would The Corner be any different if it had been listed as The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner City Neighborhood? Or, a totally new name more descriptive than the result but shorter than the original? As somebody that has already seen the series, I feel as though The Corner is a wonderful name; it is concise and encompasses the entire meaning and content of the show. The characters’ entire lives revolve around the corner. The name is short and sparks curiosity. However, as somebody who had absolutely no prior knowledge of the show, The Corner does not necessarily specify much; I remember envisioning a much more pleasant type of corner going off the title on the course syllabus alone.
The decision to shorten the show’s name to The Corner was certainly an easy decision, but illuminates the power that a name has in determining the fate of a show. However, despite the nine do’s/don’t’s spelled out, among other considerations, I’m not sure if there is a specific rhyme or reason to the naming of shows (otherwise it would be much easier to “get right”).