The hallowed list of worst network sitcom titles ever might have a new contender: NBC is developing a comedy titled #Winning. And if that name makes you wince, check out the dozen or so other famously bad sitcom titles below that are arguably worse.
The NBC project is inspired by an apparently true story where a trio of friends learned that their “suddenly famous pal broke up with their entire friend group via a form letter, leaving them more determined than ever to ‘win’ at life.”
Setting the concept aside, let’s take on that title (which could change—this project is only at the script stage and might not even make it to air).
First, the show risks being a sacrificial victim to the irony gods. It really has to be perfect to not have critics throwing up headlines like: “Not Exactly ‘#Winning.'”
Plus, “winning” enjoyed a usage spike during Charlie Sheen’s meltdown three years ago when the actor was fired from CBS’ Two and a Half Men. Nowadays it’s far from trendy, yet is still vaguely associated with that mess (and the fact that Sheen is a former network sitcom star makes for bonus confusion when using the term for a new sitcom title).
And then there’s that hashtag. Haven’t networks learned from CBS’ $#*! My Dad Says and ABC’s Selfie yet? Broadcast TV trying using social media-inspired titles just feels like a dad dressing like a teenager.
#Winning has company. In addition to $#*! and Selfie, here are at about a dozen sitcoms with notably lousy names (and a curiously outsized number have aired on ABC).
1965: NBC’s still-infamous My Mother the Car (a guy’s car is the reincarnation of his dead mom).
1968: ABC’s cross-dressing comedy The Ugliest Girl in Town.
1995: UPN’s off-putting Pig Sty (about male roommates, of course).
1997: UPN’s Hitz (Andrew Dice Clay working at a radio label).
1998: ABC’s rambling and quasi-suggestive Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place.
1999: ABC’s indecisive-sounding airhead-y It’s Like, You Know… and UPN’s never-surpassed awesomely bad Shasta McNasty.
2006: There was CBS’ Love Monkey, and ABC’s Emily’s Reasons Why Not (axed after just one episode).
2009: ABC’s Cougar Town, which proves not all bad titles result in a show flopping. Cougar Town delivered a large initial audience, but it forever seemed like the series had to fight an uphill battle against its own name, one that series creator Bill Lawrence publicly mulled changing.
2011: Fox had its truly spiteful sounding I Hate My Teenage Daughter (also had Traffic Light, which was pretty lousy too).
2013: ABC double-struck with Trophy Wife and the parenthetical nightmare How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life). I should also point out ABC’s Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23 (but I’ve always had a soft spot for that title, despite its awkwardness).
The thing is, it’s often hard to tell if a title is truly bad or simply bad-ish in good-ish way. Networks have to walk that fine line between having titles that pop and grab your attention, without actively turning you off (marketing folks will tell you that vague, forgettable titles are far worse than “bad” ones).
Before the season started, broadcast network research polls found that potential viewers were reacting negatively to the title of ABC’s Black-ish — yet the freshman sitcom has still performed well. If Black-ish had flopped, pundits would have surely pointed to the title as one reason for its demise. There’s nothing like a little success to make a challenging title look a whole lot better.