When it comes to television shows, what’s in a name?
“You’ve got to have something that makes people say, ‘I want to check that out,’” former Warner Bros. Television president David Janollari told THR. “It has to be catchy, and it has to frame for the audience the context of the show.”
Janollari had a hand in moving off “Six in One,” the oddly-phrased original title for what would become NBC’s mega-hit, Friends. Five years earlier, NBC shot a pilot for The Seinfeld Chronicles, only to tighten up the moniker for its new sitcom later on. The rest was history.
Would these two venerable sitcoms have reached comparable heights had they stuck to their first iteration? Maybe! Producing a television series is a multi-million dollar process that not only takes several years, but also relies on a number of outside variables to be considered a commercial and critical success. When a show finally does hit the air, the reality is that something as simple as an off-putting name, for whatever reason, could be the difference between a viewer tuning out or live-tweeting every episode.
With the pressure of selecting show titles falling square on the shoulders of the networks, it’s no surprise that they change their minds so frequently during production. According to a THR report, five network pilots changed titles in 2011; most notably “Damage Control” became ABC’s Scandal (which coincidentally freed up the title for the future Damage Control series from ABC/Marvel).
Some even change multiple times or change mid-run. ABC thrice-altered the variation of its Krysten Ritter-led sitcom Don’t Trust the B—in Apartment 23 and trimmed 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter to the more polite 8 Simple Rules. This year, IFC chopped “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of” off Todd Margaret for season three.
Rarely, though, do networks recycle titles from previous shows. And no, Battlestar Galactica doesn’t count.
The most recent case of network agita comes from Fox’s Second Chance, which premieres on January 12th. The title may or may not sound familiar for a few reasons. Originally in production under “Frankenstein,” Fox introduced the show to us at its 2015 network upfront in May as “The Frankenstein Code.” Borrowing an obvious element from Mary Shelley’s classic gothic novel, the series tells the story of Jimmy Prichard, a hard boozing 75-year-old retired, morally corrupt cop who is given a second chance at life when a pair of tech scientists bring him back from the dead as a 35-year-old.
In August, the title was officially changed to “Looking Glass,” after the tech company that is responsible for the “frankenstein” project. By October, Fox cut the episode order to 11 and by November, the show was christened with its premiere day title, Second Chance.
Perhaps Fox initially looked to distance the project from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which studios have taken their share of liberties with over the years. And as we saw with last year’s Victor Frankenstein flop, the big, green walking stiff isn’t the same attention grabber when Universal made him the first king of the trilogy in the 1930s. As for why the network moved on from “Looking Glass,” Variety was told that Second Chance “speaks more to what the core of the show is about, opposed to ‘Looking Glass,’ as the character-driven drama is about man who gets a second chance to live his life.”
If you’re having deja vu because you’re a hardcore television junkie, or Matthew Perry’s biggest fan, you’ll remember this isn’t the first time Fox debuted a series called Second Chance. In fact, it’s the second time that Fox debuted a show called Second Chance with a premise about a man who “gets a second chance to live his life.”
Back in April of 1987, Fox was the fourth network, the new kid on a primetime block dominated by ABC, NBC and CBS. Fox entered into primetime with hits Married… with Children and 21 Jump Street and later that year, premiered its first fall launch with two new series: Women in Prison and Second Chance.
Women in Prison, the original Orange is the New Black, lasted only 13 episodes. Second Chance, however, proved slightly tougher to kill. Starring Kiel Martin of Hill Street Blues fame, 1987’s Second Chance follows Charles, a man who dies in a hover board accident on the Santa Monica “Fly Way.” When Charles gets to the pearly gates, St. Peter tells him he’s not good enough for Heaven, but also not bad enough for hell. Meaning if he were music, he’d be Barry Manilow. Instead of spending eternity singing “Mandy,” he gets the second chance (there’s that phrase again!) to keep an eye on his younger self, played by a fellow who then went by Matthew L. Perry.
In the pilot, Martin’s Charles and Perry’s “Chazz” lock eyes for the first time, leading to the theme song that bemoans “if I had a second chance/tell me where would I take it/how different would I make it?” With low ratings and an unenthused response from the newspaper critics, Fox literally took the song’s advice by hitting the reboot button for 1988.
The network changed the title of the show to “Boys Will Be Boys,” axing Kiel Martin from the show to focus on the promising Perry in his first leading role. The boys wouldn’t be boys for long. The show was canceled after merely 21 episodes. It’s only other notable contribution to television lore was the pilot episode correctly predicted Libyan prime minister Muammar Qaddafi would be killed in 2011.
History tells us for every Seinfeld there is a Boys Will Be Boys. Playing musical chairs with show titles could put you in the wrong seat of a hover board or propel you into annals of great TV. As Fox marches on with its Frankenstein drama, the second chance could be its last. To my knowledge, there has never been a show called “Third Chance.”