Would "Desperate Housewives" by any other title still be as good?
Well, yes. Devoted fans would probably tune in just as eagerly to watch "Wisteria Lane" or "Cul-de-Sac." But even before the Emmy-nominated show premiered, viewers had a hint of what to expect from one of television's most indescribable shows.
"The series has a real audacity right down to the title," said actor James Denton, who plays hunky plumber Mike Delfino. "You realize the title is as tongue-in-cheek as the show."
Just as parents-to-be agonize over the names of their newborns, series creators stress about what to call their made-for-TV babies. Of the 30 new shows debuting this fall, some titles are, shall we say, questionable. The WB's "Just Legal," may be about a Doogie Howser-type lawyer, but it also sounds like a phone line advertised late at night.
Some titles tell the viewers exactly what they need to know. In CBS's comedy "How I Met Your Mother," a father tells his children how he, that's right, met their mother. And NBC's offbeat comedy about a man making amends via his own version of a 12-step program is appropriately titled "My Name Is Earl."
Since the new series were announced in May, two shows already have changed their names. NBC's "Surface," about creepy underwater creatures, is the TV show formerly known as "Fathom." UPN's "Sex, Lies, and Secrets" now is called "Sex, Love & Secrets." The show changed its name to avoid sounding like the famous movie, "sex, lies & videotape."
Suzanne Martin, creator and executive producer of ABC's new comedy "Hot Properties," faced the same problem. "My original title was 'Sex and Chocolate' -- the two things that get women into the most trouble," Martin said. "But it sounded too much like 'Sex and the City'"
Each new show frantically jostles and competes for viewers' attention. "A good title [alone] is not going to keep people," said Katie Jacobs, executive producer of Fox's "House." "So the show has to be good. Will a title pique curiosity? I certainly don't think that our title piqued the right kind of curiosity. But I think that if it's a good fit, it can help viewers stay and point them in the right direction."
The new Fox series "Head Cases," about two lawyers recently out of mental-health institutions, was called the "Crazy Lawyers Pilot" for a long time.
"I think a title is very important. So much of the success of the show is tied up in the first one or two episodes," said executive producer Jeff Rake. "So how do you get people to watch the first episode? Marketing, publicity, and I think a title is part of it.
"Obviously we wanted something that could convey a legal element, that could convey a mental-health element," Rake said. "When it got down to it, 'Head Cases' was catchy. It's a familiar idiom for somebody who is a little bit off in the head. We just thought it somewhat conveyed the combination of those two worlds -- legal and mental health -- and also had somewhat of a whimsical spirit about it."
Paula Pell is the executive producer and creator of NBC's new midseason comedy "Thick and Thin," about a woman who recently lost a great deal of weight. "I've always loved the use of the word 'thick' when it comes to heavy because it's always a positive thing," Pell said. "I remember working on the main character and thinking of her with her sister and how they've gone through thick and thin. . . . So it's a double meaning of going through life and going through weight change."
But can a show title be too clever for its own good? "Arrested Development's" title might have hurt the show. Although a seemingly perfect play on words (the family is in development, they are arrested in their development, and the father is arrested), Mitch Hurwitz, executive producer of the Emmy-winning comedy on Fox, thinks the term is too abstract.
"I think you need a noun. Like, 'Housewives' would have been a good thing to put in there," Hurwitz said. "One woman said to me, 'I'll be sure to watch it. Deranged Development.' And I thought, 'Oh, she's never heard the term.' And I wonder if a lot of people haven't heard the term."
A show named after the title character brings its own set of issues. Freddie Prinze Jr.'s semi-autobiographical sitcom on ABC is simply titled "Freddie." This worked for Bob Newhart, but can it work for the star of "I Know What You Did Last Summer"?
"I haven't decided how I feel about the title yet. It's fairly new," Prinze said.
"I've already put enough pressure on myself. Whatever standards or pressure or goals others set for me, it's nothing compared to the goals I've set for myself."
And what about a title such as NBC's new series "E-Ring?" Sure, that might be what the outer layer of the Pentagon is called, but do most viewers know that?
"I think it's kind of a catchy title," said executive producer Ken Biller. "I think it's something that you remember, and one of the things we want to do is educate the audience a little bit about some of the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the Pentagon, which is kind of a mysterious building. Remember, no one knew what 'CSI' meant."