Show Name Changes (Probably) Help the Series
While a name change for a TV series is a rare occurrence, this fall sees a pair of shows scrap their original titles in favor of — their producers and network stewards believe — something that better captures the vibe of the series. Premiering on ABC Oct. 3 is Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, with Jason Ritter playing Kevin, a self-serving, down-on-his-luck dude who is called upon by a celestial visitor to help save the world. The show was initially known as The Gospel of Kevin, though creators and executive producers Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters said the new name better lines up with its tone, and makes it clear the program will not espouse overtly religious themes.
“People weren’t getting the jokes with the Gospel title,” Fazekas said. “I don’t think it captured the tone of the show.”
And premiering Oct. 16 on Disney Junior is the third season of kids-in-space series Miles From Tomorrowland, which has been rebranded Mission Force One. That title, believes creator and executive producer Sascha Paladino, suggests a more grown-up series — main character Miles moving beyond missions with his family, taking on new adventures with his crew, Mission Force One.
“The stories are a little more complex,” said Paladino. “It’s geared more toward the higher end of preschool.”
Some believe a show’s name change indicates tumult within the series — casting changes, a shift in focus. David Bianculli, critic on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross and editor of TVWorthWatching.com, recalls a column he wrote in the ’70s that told viewers, “If a show changes its title, change the channel.”
“Usually changes like that are not healthy signs,” he said. “You change the name because you’re worried you don’t have the right thing.”
‘Friends …’ on ABC, ‘Friends’ on NBC
To be sure, there are a number of shows that went through name changes and survived the experience. Seinfeld, for one, first arrived as The Seinfeld Chronicles. When Ellen DeGeneres’ comedy Ellen premiered on ABC in 1994, it was called These Friends of Mine. The name change a short while later captured DeGeneres’ emerging star quality, and perhaps deferred to the growing might of Friends over on NBC.
More recently, ABC had Good Christian Bitches in the works. That was later tweaked to Good Christian Belles, and finally, GCB, which premiered in 2012. Around the same time, Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 became Apartment 23 at ABC, and ultimately, Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23.
ABC is also the home of Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. A previous version of the project was titled Dan the Messiah. It touched on, “if the Messiah came back today, no one would believe him,” said co-creator and executive producer Butters.
Showrunners Butters and Fazekas, who previously created The CW’s bounty-hunter-for-the-devil drama Reaper, said there’s been a name-change discussion with most every pilot they’ve worked on, so going through the process with ABC has not been a big deal for the pair.
The project was a late sale at ABC, they said, with the network grabbing the series in December. The creators believe Kevin’s upbeat tone, about a guy learning to make the lives of others better, is a good fit for the nation right now. “It’s very easy to find ugliness in the world,” Fazekas said. “They were looking for something hopeful.”
At Mission Force One, Paladino said the name change was a “collaborative decision” with Disney Junior, and both parties felt good about it. They pondered the name Miles From Tomorrowland: Mission Force One, but felt it was too wordy.
“We wanted something action-packed, a team on a mission,” said Paladino. “It’s time to explore new stories, and I’m happy we found a way to do it.”
There’s a significant difference between a show changing its title for season three and one doing so before anyone has seen it. Paladino concedes he’s “a little concerned” about losing out on the brand equity he’s built up across two seasons of Miles From Tomorrowland, but adds that a recent special setting up the new season, and sharing the new name, had an extraordinary social media reaction.
“It’s my dream that we keep the audience we’ve built,” he said, “and also find a new one with the new name.”
For Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, there is little equity built up for a show that no one has seen. “Within the industry, a name change catches your attention,” said Wally Podrazik, co-author of Watching TV and television curator of the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago. “In the public, it’s, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ In general, the public’s not reading Variety, not reading your publication.”
Podrazik was actually struck by the parenthesis, of all things, in Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. “That got my attention,” he said. “That little flag might help set it apart.”
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.