November 27, 2006
TV Show Naming: Justice Has Its Predators
Just two months into the new television season and already networks are announcing their cancellations, for example, Jerry Bruckheimer's show, Justice. Given Bruckheimer’s track record of creating such well-known TV brand names as CSI and Without a Trace, Justice seemed that it was bound for success.
Perhaps the reason that Justice was cancelled had something to do with its name. Is the word “justice” enticing enough to motivate a viewer to actually tune in?
American Crime might have been better. That was the show's original name, but due to the impending release of the 2007 film An American Crime, a name change had to be made. The word “crime” would have instantly infused suspense and mayhem into the show’s brand.
The only other freshman legal drama that had a chance of making it was CBS’s Shark, starring James Woods.
Shark is a success, even though it suffers from seen-before storylines and a remarkably boring cast, with the exception of Woods, who already has a high level of brand recognition and identity. That’s the main reason why the show got better ratings and ultimately survived longer than Justice.
However, if you were to level the playing ground by eliminating Woods from the equation and just pitted the two shows Shark and Justice against one another on paper (say, in TV Guide, where the name of the show really matters), Shark would still prevail.
Why? Because it has a much more interesting and powerful brand name:
- A shark is a predator, devouring its prey with reckless abandon, and therefore evokes images associated with conflict, danger, perhaps even survival
- When used as a metaphor, the word “shark” describes highly competitive, ethically challenged business people, attorneys, politicians, agents, and other positions of power (Woods is a hotshot defense attorney who defects to the other side)
- ”Shark” helps deliver on the brand promise of providing excitement in a dangerous world (in this case, the world of criminal law)
Although Justice reached a more satisfying result per episode, it undermined itself from the outset with a title that was too vague and exhausted to deliver an accessible brand promise.
And that’s why it’s not surprising that Shark, as simple and as concrete as it sounds, devoured its freshmen competition.
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