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Kayvan Novak, Kirsten Dunst, and Tim Robinson

2019 Was the Year Show Titles Got Loooong

And they're only gonna get longer

Kelsey Pfeifer

Historically, TV show titles are nouns (ER, The Jeffersons, ALF) or short, simple phrases (Three's Company, L.A. Law, Dirty Sexy Money) that communicate the premise of the show. But as of 2019, show titles are getting long and abstract. This year saw the premieres of I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, Too Old to Die Young, I Am the Night, What We Do in the Shadows, and my personal favorite loooong TV title, On Becoming a God in Central Florida. These conceptual phrases don't really tell you anything about what the show is about, but they certainly stand out in a sea of Emergences and Prodigal Sons and Daybreaks, and with the number of scripted series on TV hovering around 500 this year, shows have to do whatever they can to stand out.

Stylistically, these titles have more in common with novels and movies than TV shows -- What We Do in the Shadows shares its title with the movie it's adapted from -- because TV has grown more novelistic and cinematic. Book-to-TV adaptations are becoming more common, and the book titles are being kept, except when they're not, like I Am the Night, which is based on a book called One Day She'll Darken. There's still a limit to how weird TV titles can get.

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But the main reason titles are getting so long is that TV is running out of them. Like I said, there were about 500 scripted shows this year, plus unscripted shows and daytime shows and children's shows and on and on. Netflix's Daybreak is the eighth show with some version of that title, not including the 1993 HBO movie with Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Moira Kelly. All the good nouns and short, simple phrases are already taken, so producers are forced to get real weird with it. (That's a reference to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, an outlier that was ahead of the long, abstract title curve.)

And the Great Lengthening will stretch even further in 2020. HBO has a twin Mark Ruffalo limited series called I Know This Much Is True. Netflix has I Am Not Okay With This, and Freeform has Everything's Gonna Be Okay. Apple is doing a show called My Glory Was That I Had Such Friends, an outrageously unwieldy book title that I won't be surprised if it changes before it comes online. And I predict that by 2022, BET+ will do Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood: The Series and Quibi will do a shortform series based on Fiona Apple's album When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He'll Win the Whole Thing 'fore He Enters the Ring There's No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might so When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won't Matter, Cuz You'll Know That You're Right where someone does a dramatic reading of the title.

Kirsten Dunst, On Becoming a God in Central Florida

Patti Perret, Patti Perret/Sony/SHOWTIME