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Dos and don’ts for titling

A rose by any other name may smell just as sweet, but some program titles are just plain stinkers. And it can reflect in the ratings. If you want to really attract viewers, realscreen offers the following advice:
March 1, 2006

A rose by any other name may smell just as sweet, but some program titles are just plain stinkers. And it can reflect in the ratings. If you want to really attract viewers, realscreen offers the following advice:

DO: Expect your titles to change. Vanessa Case, VP of content at Life Network in Canada, says titles get changed from the pitch to the screen about 70% of the time, so producers shouldn’t get attached. It’s often the case that a producer’s suggestions are repeats of other pitches Life has already received, or they can’t be cleared because they exist elsewhere. Solicit ideas from more than one person and be prepared to hit the drawing board when you approach your broadcaster.

DO: Be clear, says Mark Rafalowski, COO of Sherman Oaks, California-based distributor Rive Gauche International TV. ‘You want to be fairly simplistic, like 101 Things Removed from the Human Body.’ That series title worked for both Fox in the US and Channel 4 in the UK.

DO: Be catchy. Executive producer Jim Erickson of Toronto-based prodco and distributor Breakthrough Entertainment singles out the series Design Match for the title’s double meaning. The show is a match in that people are competing, but they also have to match the design of a high-end room with a low-end budget.

DO: Keep titles short. Case says the Life Network tries not to use over 15 characters. ‘We’ve all faced the terrible scenario of coming up with a great title and seeing it chopped in half [on screen or in a program guide],’ she says. If viewers can’t see the full title, they aren’t as likely to understand the program, or tune in.

DON’T: Use words that roll off the tongue. ‘If it’s too elaborate or can be mispronounced, you’re not doing yourself any favors,’ says Case.

DO: Lead with a known entity or brand. ‘The movie Ray, about Ray Charles, uses one word, but people recognize it instantly and it’s impactful,’ says OTX EVP and MD of media and entertainment insights Bruce Friend.

DON’T: Titles shouldn’t be too clever. ‘[Producers] think: Let’s not be so on-the-nose with this. We’ll make people think a little,’ says Friend. ‘You know what? People don’t want to think – they have too much to think about. Say what the movie is in the title.’

DO: Wave the non-fiction flag when naming ancient history docufictions. France 2 recently aired a one-off called The True Story of Black Beard, which had 20% market share – roughly 5 million viewers – in primetime.

DON’T: Relying on the word ‘celebrity’ to entice viewers is a mistake. It now appears to have lost its fizzle.

About The Author
Selina Chignall joins the realscreen team as a staff writer. Prior to working with rs, she covered lobbying activity at Hill Times Publishing. She also spent a year covering the Hill as a journalist with iPolitics. Her beat focused on youth, education, democratic reform, innovation and infrastructure. She holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from Western University and a Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto.

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