The Money Shot - Why Titles Matter (!)
Last Saturday night saw the launch of ITV’s new primetime game show Moneyball. It features a succession of hyped contestants, a Ball, and a chance to win Money. Money + Ball. Enough said.
The point here is that the show was originally announced back in January as The Money Shot.
Please don’t Google this. As the wonderful UKGameshows website commented on Twitter at the time:
Apparently they could tell, as the title was changed a few days later.
When I’m developing a new unscripted format, I don’t start with a title, as some creators do, though that is a good exercise for ideation workshops. But from the first moment I actually write the idea down, I have to come up with the title. Not a working title, The Title.
If I can’t, I know I have a problem with the idea itself.
At best a TV title encapsulates the central premise or device of a format in 6 words or less. Big Brother. Million Pound Drop. Deal or no Deal. Splash! Train Your Baby Like a Dog. 101 Ways To Leave A Gameshow (OK, there were only 25).
Titles like these create an instant, direct and emotional line between the show and the viewer, not only promising to ‘do what it says on the tin’, but teasing you to see how the idea plays out.
But why does finding the right title matter from the start?
The whole art of formatting is to reduce an idea down to its essence, before building it up into something more complex. It takes time to get to the heart of an idea, to its basic narrative, its emotional core. But that core idea is what informs everything else - the rules, the set, the script, the edit. And if you can’t describe it, then you haven’t found it.
Describe it in a short, accurate and engaging title, and you have.
The next job of a TV title is to sell the idea to a broadcaster. You may have a half-hour or even 1-hour pitch meeting scheduled, planned and rehearsed. But it is the first minute or two of that pitch that really count. And a title that gets your idea across in a few words is gold - not just because the buyer gets it straightaway, but because they know their viewers will too.
One of the Format People’s most successful formats is called (in English) Chef In Your Ear. That is the central device - in four words. Hopeless cooks attempt to cook high-quality dishes, guided by a chef in their ear. That’s it.
The title was instrumental in the getting the show to air. When the Food Network Canada discussed the pitch internally, it was their marketing department that helped it across the line. The title of show aligned with the network’s brand message: enabling viewers to create great, good-looking food for their families. That’s how the Food Network saw themselves, in essence: the chef in your ear.
Finally, if you want your format to be licensed abroad, it really helps the brand if the title can travel with it.
Chef In your Ear has translated directly in several languages, and indirectly in several others. Whereas titles based on local idioms, or puns like Meat The Family or Till Debt Us Do Part, don’t translate. Swear words aren’t great, either! Think Get The F*** Out of My House.
Of course, some clumsy show titles become great just because the show is great: Have I Got News for You. I’m a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!
But in today’s world of multiple platforms, fragmented audiences and restless channel-hopping, a TV title that sums up the idea, and grabs you, your team, the broadcaster, the viewers and the licence buyer in a heartbeat is the real money shot.
No, really, don’t Google it.