The power of a title should never be underestimated – it is essentially establishes the brand and general premise of a TV show, and often acts as the main form of advertisement. The working title for Friends was Insomnia Cafe – does that really give you the impression of a lighthearted sitcom about twenty-somethings in New York City? Exactly. However once a show becomes popular it can often last much longer than it was originally intended to, or it may just naturally evolve in a different direction than what the show-runners originally intended. This can lead to a shows title becoming obsolete – here are five notable examples…
HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER
Original premise: The title is pretty self explanatory – the show is based around Ted Mosby (voiced in the future by Bob Saget, played by Josh Radnor) telling his children how he met their mother. This includes the various adventures he had with his close friends Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), Robin (Coby Smulders), Marshall (Jason Segal) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan). It’s an interesting narrative device which sets the sitcom apart, allowing for timeline hopping and various other antics along the way – however it also gave the show an expiration date.
What it became: This is an honourable mention because, strictly speaking, the show did adhere to the title with the final episode showing Ted meet Tracey (Cristin Milioti), the mother of his children. However, the show dragged out for a total of NINE seasons, making it the longest explanation for how someone met someone ever. There are entire seasons which have very little to do with Ted’s quest to meet the mother, and even the staunchest fans of the show cannot deny that there was definite deviation from the original premise at various points throughout the shows run.
Original premise: This Fox sitcom was intended as an out and out vehicle for its star Zooey Deschanel. Centred around the quirky Jess (Deschanel), New Girl saw her trying to navigate life after coming out of a long term relationship and finding herself in her early 30’s and living in a loft with three men. It was an interesting premise, with the original idea being that her roommates Nick (Jake Johnson), Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and Winston (Lamorne Harris) act as supporting players alongside Jess’ best friend CeCe (Hannah Simone).
What it became: As great as the early seasons of New Girl were, there is no doubt that the original premise has been left behind as the fifth season is due to begin in the new year. The show is now much more of an ensemble piece a la Friends, but is much the better for it. As fantastic as Deschanel was and is in her role as Jess, both Greenfield and Johnson proved to be the shows breakout characters as Schmidt and Nick. From very early on it was clear that there was some serious talent behind this show, and the decision to focus on the various characters more equally is one that has paid off in the long run. The return of Daymon Wayans Jnr in season 3 (he appeared in the pilot before leaving to star in Happy Endings in ABC, returning after the other show was cancelled) is when the ensemble really comes into its stride, and there have even been attempts to recently to bring the criminally underwritten Winston up to the standard of the rest of the criminally underwritten Winson up to the standard of the rest of the group. Proceeding into season 5 and Wayons Jnr has again departed, whilst CeCe and Schmidts surprise engagement is set to shake up the group dynamic once again.
Original premise: Cougar Town began airing on ABC in 2009 – from the creator of Scrubs Bill Lawrence, the show starred Courtney Cox as Jules Cobb, a recently divorced 40-something who attempts to return to the dating scene. The show originally saw Jules pursue relationships with much younger men, hence the title Cougar Town. The show featured Christa Miller (Bill Lawrence’s wife, who played Jordan in Scrubs) as Jules best friend Ellie, and many other Scrubs actors made cameo appearances during the shows run.
What it became: The idea of Jules being a cougar was dropped very early on, and towards the end of the first season she began to see men of her own age, ultimately entering into a relationship with and marrying neighbour Grayson Ellis (Josh Hopkins). This premise of the show changed so dramatically in fact that Lawrence seriously considered renaming it. This ultimately didn’t happen, but from the second season onwards the title sequences would have a subtitle added – often poking fun at the no longer appropriate title. The show came to an end earlier this year after six seasons, and the subtitle of the final episode had a subtitle which read: “Thank you for watching ‘Sunshine State’ – Finally got the new title!”
SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH
Original premise: Based on the Archie comic of the same name, Sabrina the Teenage Witch starred Melissa Joan Hart in the titular role. The show began airing on ABC in 1996 and followed the life of Sabrina Spellman, a teenage who discovers on her sixteenth birthday discovers that she is half-witch and has magical powers. She lives with her 600 year old aunts Hilda (Caroline Rhea) and Zelda (Beth Broderick), as well as talking cat Salem (Nick Backay). The show is based around Sabrina’s attempts at coming to grips with her powers alongside leading the normal life of a teenager, including High School and dating, all the while hiding her powers from those around her.
What it became: The show’s title stopped making sense when Sabrina stopped being a teenager – though it is a little hard to pinpoint when exactly this became the case. The timeline is a little jumbled, but it can be assumed that Sabrina did not remain a teenager for the entire seven season run of the show, given that she turned sixteen in the pilot. ABC cancelled the show after the fourth season, but The WB picked it up for a further three years, depicting Sabrina’s life as she embarks on a college education. There were numerous shake ups and cast changes, and the show failed to retain a following an ultimately came to an end in 2003.
TWO AND A HALF MEN
Original premise: The series, created by The Big Bang Theory creator Chuck Lorre, charts the life of Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen) who is forced to take in his brother Alan (Jon Cryer) after his divorce. They are also regularly joined in Charlie’s beach house by Alan’s young son Jake (Angus T Jones). The title was derived from the two men – Charlie and Alan – with Jake constituting the half man. The sitcom was originally a vehicle for the infamous Charlie Sheen, and the episodes were generally centred around Charlie’s womanising, partying and the subsequent bad influence on Jake, with Alan desperately trying to raise his son incident free.
What it became: By the time the show entered into its eighth year, Sheen’s real life demons seemed to be catching up with him and his various antics culminated in him being fired. His character was unceremoniously kissed off via being hit by a train off screen. Ashton Kutcher was then brought in as Sheen’s replacement, portraying millionaire Waldon Schmidt, who buys Charlie’s beach house and let’s Alan continue to stay there. It’s rare that a show can ever recover from losing its main character, and Two and a Half Men was arguably already faced with diminishing returns before Sheen’s departure. The show was also faced with outliving it’s premise due to the fact that Jake grew up and was no longer the titular half man. It didn’t help that Angus T Jones turned on the show and pushed for a boycott – leaving Kutcher and Cryer to attempt to carry on alone before the show thankfully drew to a close last year, long after anyone stopped caring.
Original premise: This hilarious British comedy from the writers of Peep Show was originally based around the idea of six students being placed in a shared house for their first year of university. The title was based around the fact they were first year students – freshers – and the majority of the humour was based around this concept, following the trials of the group as they face typical first year problems such as establishing your identity, forging romances and scraping through classes. The show featured an ensemble cast that included comedien Jack Whitehall and Name of The Inbetweeners fame.
What it became: The title was derived from the fact that the characters were freshers in their first year of university, making it redundant as they all moved into second year in series two. That’s not to say that the show suffered any demise in quality – the show was as funny as ever and the no longer applicable title had no negative impact. Following their generally disastrous first year we saw the group continue to navigate life. The writing remains strong and it is great to see these characters develop and continue with their endless blunders.