John Landgraf Thoughtfully Explains How to Craft the Perfect TV Series Title

TCA 2020: FX chief says it’s best to either go “specific” or “generic”

John Landgraf has a formula for what makes a good title for a television series. And if that strategy doesn’t work, he’s got a fall back plan.

The FX chief gave a very thoughtful explanation of his methodology on titling TV shows at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour.

“Frankly, I’m in favor of going all the way towards super original, distinctive, perfect, nailing it — or all the way towards relatively generic at the other end, as opposed to a messy middle,” he told reporters Thursday.

Landgraf used the network’s popular medical drama “Nip/Tuck,” which ran for six seasons from 2003 to 2010, as an example of a “perfect” title.

“Having observed this and participated in it for a couple decades now, what I can tell you is that sometimes the title just declares itself instantaneously,” Landgraf told reporters. “‘Nip/Tuck’ was never called anything else but ‘Nip/Tuck,’ and it was always Nip-slash-Tuck. And by the way, Ryan [Murphy] is really good at titles. No surprise there. And what else would you called Nip/Tuck, right? It’s perfect, and it’s evident that it’s perfect.”

To illustrate the opposite end of the title spectrum, Landgraf explained the reasoning behind the title of FX crime drama series “The Shield.”

“‘The Shield,’ another good example, was originally called ‘The Precinct,’ and of course they looked and looked and looked for the perfect distinctive title that would convey in one word or two words or three words the unique and distinctive tone, and with ‘The Shield,’ and they couldn’t find one,” Landgraf said. “And when you can’t find one, in our experience, what happens is you choose a title that isn’t — it’s not better to choose a mediocre title that tries to be distinctive. It’s actually better to choose a title that’s relatively generic, because that generic title then, if the show is great, can absorb over time.”

“‘The Shield’ became a title that was meaningful because it became synonymous with a show that was meaningful. I would say ‘The Wire,’ is a pretty generic title. Same quality of show, great show, launched about the same time. Generic title. But they eventually became synonymous.”