It’s Official: TV Shows Have Run Out of Titles

They’ve used them all up.

The Best TV Episode Numbers of All Time
Photo: Art by Chloe Lewis

Back when it was all fields around here, TV show titles were in abundance. In the days when television used to be hand-stretched and sun-dried and made at a gentlemanly pace by artisanal methods, there were titles galore. Worzel Gummidge. Starsky and Hutch. Last of the Summer Wine. Distinct and descriptive titles milled around drinking holes, and all writers had to do was toss in a lasso and drag out a Sapphire & Steel or a Knight Rider.

But thanks to streaming, nowadays TV is made in windowless factories and injected with antibiotics and e-numbers. There can never be enough. Every streamer requires a chunky flow of television shows they can release all on the same day, not tell anybody about, and quickly delete for tax purposes before anybody watches them. And the first casualty (aside from the livelihoods of the writers, directors, crew, cast and the collective human spirit)? The titles.

The problem is, the glut has dried up the supply. Abstract nouns. Character names. Place names. Common phrases. “Fun” puns. Creepy lines from nursery rhymes for psychological thrillers. Every combination of words in the English language has already been used to name a TV show. ITV got lucky with Mr Bates Vs the Post Office, but it’s hardly a long-term solution.

Neither is it a uniquely new problem, but it is getting worse. Time was that two competing TV shows with the same title would be released a good many years apart, by which point, who could really remember the first one? When HBO brought out android interplanetary sci-fi Raised by Wolves in 2020, it was several years after the Channel 4 comedy Raised by Wolves set on a Wolverhampton council estate, and fairly difficult to confuse the two.

Ad – content continues below

Now, those gaps are shortening. Apple TV+ sci-fi Dark Matter comes out in May, and has nothing at all to do with the cancelled-in-2017 Syfy sci-fi Dark Matter. Sky’s 2019 dystopian thriller Curfew is still in our rear view mirror and we’re already getting press releases about Paramount+ 2024 dystopian thriller Curfew. Sky crime drama Wolfe in 2021 was followed in 2023 by BBC crime drama Wolf. You can’t just add an ‘e’ to the ends of words. This is television, not Chaucer.

One solution suggests itself, which is to do away with TV show titles altogether and start again with a numbering system. After the stroke of midnight on a predetermined date, every new television programme will simply be named 000000000001, 000000000002, 000000000003 and so on, until they reach 100 billion (estimate: March 2026), when, if there’s any creative industry or reason for enjoying life left, they can start naming shows alphabetically, like hurricanes.