Friday, December 29, 2017

What's In a Name? Or, Does Anyone Care About Episode Titles?

Is there a way to make a blog about TV episode titles interesting? I’m not sure. Let’s find out.

I’m intrigued by titles because just about every episode of every scripted television show has one, yet even the most ardent TV fans rarely use them. Even today, when the titles are readily accessible in reference books and on DVD cases and at, most TV fan conversations are filled with references like “the one where Maude finds out she’s pregnant” or “the one where Fonzie gets glasses.” 

The creators of Friends, who grew up with these shows from an earlier era, picked up on this predisposition, which is why they start every episode title with “The One…”

The practice of showing the title on screen is more conspicuous with dramas than comedies, though exceptions in both genres abound.  

The Quinn Martin shows (Cannon, Barnaby Jones, The Fugitive among others) made the biggest fuss about them. Each series had a narrator who, after listing the guest stars, would solemnly intone, “Tonight’s episode…Night Flight to Murder.” 

Did that add anything to the viewing experience? Maybe a dash of additional substance, but ultimately it didn’t matter – when two Barnaby Jones fans get together they won’t talk about “Trap Play” or “Venus in a Flytrap”; they’ll say, “Remember the one where that punk kid called Barnaby “Pops”?

Full disclosure: The “Pops” line is actually an old Jay Leno joke, since that was something that happened in almost every episode.

If the title didn’t appear on screen during life pre-Internet, you might find it in TV Guide. But even in the Comfort TV era when that publication covered the medium with care, intelligence and insight, its policy toward titles was hit-and-miss. 

Titles were restored to prominence for awhile at Nick at Nite, when each episode would be introduced not just by title but also with the episode number and the original airdate. I enjoyed that. After years of watching the Lucy Show episode where Lucy gets a date with Dean Martin, it was nice to finally be able to put a title to that story. Turns out, the title was “Lucy Dates Dean Martin.” Maybe that’s why more viewers don’t know or care about titles – most shows rarely put much effort into them. 

A list of shows that were laziest about titles could start with Twin Peaks, which opted for numbers instead of names, and the British series Sapphire and Steel, which had seven episodes titled “Assignment 1” through “Assignment 7.”

Daytime dramas also don’t have episode titles. I guess the fear was they’d run out after awhile, or start recycling them just as certain stories are reused (General Hospital episode #10,624: “Sonny Gets Arrested (again).”

But lest you think titles are completely superfluous, there have also been instances when a show’s title came first, before it had a story or even a writer. ABC Television executive Fred Silverman was so excited about Charlie’s Angels that he made a list of titles for stories he’d like to see. One of them was “Angels in Chains,” which was later written by Robert Earll and became one of the series’ most popular episodes.

There is also one subset of classic TV where titles are more acknowledged, and that is science fiction shows like Star Trek and Doctor Who, which command a more obsessional fan base. You’ll never hear Vulcan-garbed fans at a convention talking about “the one where Kirk goes back in time and meets Joan Collins.” They all know that episode is “City on the Edge of Forever.” 

Think you know your TV episode titles? Here’s a list of titles from classic shows, all of which were attached to episodes that rank among the more prominent from their respective series. Can you identify them by name?

“Job Switching”
“The Town of No Return”
“The Case of the Deadly Verdict”
“Mr. Big”
“Put On a Happy Face”
“Balance of Terror”
“That’s My Boy”
“The Bellero Shield”
“The Subject Was Noses”
“Time Enough At Last”
“A is For Apple”
“Lamb To the Slaughter”
“TV or Not TV”
“The Judgment”


  1. From your posts over the years, I would infer that you are somewhat younger than I am.

    In the early '60s, many dramatic series seemed to have a competition between themselves to see which show could come up with the most abstruse episode title - which would run in TV GUIDE and be shown on screen.
    Here's a sampling from just one series, Naked City (and all of them had some sort of reason mentioned within the episode for the title):

    "The Man Who Bit The Diamond In Half"
    "Take Off Your Hat When A Funeral Passes"
    "Ooftus Goofus"
    "Today The Man Who Kills The Ants Is Coming"
    "And If Any Are Frozen, Warm Them"
    "Kill Me While I'm Young So I Can Die Happy"
    "A Horse Has A Big Head, Let Him Worry!"
    "Robin Hood And Clarence Darrow, They Went Out With Bow And Arrow"
    "Alive And Still A Second Lieutenant"
    As I said, just a Naked City sampling; I could come up with similar lists for Route 66, Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, Breaking Point, The Eleventh Hour, and many others from this period.

    In a later period, when Steven Bochco became a successful producer, the studios/networks/TV GUIDE had stopped publicizing episode titles.
    Bochco got back, in his way, by giving even serious episodes titles that were groaner puns:
    On LA Law, an episode about two characters getting married was titled "Full Marital Jacket".
    About evidence from a stool sample: "Urine Trouble Now".
    About old guys who would lick cane toads to get a semilegal high: "On The Toad Again".
    The one where Diana Muldaur's character fell to her death down an elevator shaft: "Good To The Last Drop".
    ... and many, many others, on any show that Bochco (or his protege David Kelley) produced over the years.
    These weren't shown on camera, and only occasionally got mentioned in TV GUIDE, so there too ...

    1. I'm not sure if you're right about our respective ages, but I'll hold on to the thought that I might still be younger than somebody. And I readily admit to my age outstripping my level of maturity by several decades.

    2. I think you're younger than I am as well, David - it's alarming how many classic shows I remember seeing in their first run, or how many at least aired after I was born...

  2. Um, was Quinn Martin's artistic reputation really THAT much better than Aaron Spelling's?

    1. Toss-up. Both had their prestige titles and their mainstream entertainment for the masses.

  3. I won't give away which shows used which of your above titles, but I can tell you that included in your episodes listed are at least 1 episode of each of the following shows:
    GET SMART pilot

    1. I missed an obvious one my first time here - PERRY MASON.

  4. On a more extreme note, I think that's one of the things I dislike about the whole Netflix binge thing too. I will remember individual episodes of Arrow, The Flash, or Supergirl but can I tell you the name of an episode of Daredevil, even a good one? NOPE.

  5. Interesting Guide section as I see some French Canadian content. What region is it from?

    1. I wish I could tell you, but I pulled the image from a Google search, so whatever is on that page is all the info. I have.

  6. Since I started the comments here with a list, perhaps I can finish wit another one.

    Here are some episode titles from Route 66, Naked City's sibling from Herbert Leonard, Stirling Silliphant, and Screen Gems.

    Again, all these titles appeared on screen, all were promoted in TV GUIDE, and all make a kind of sense if you actually see the shows:

    "The Man On The Monkey Board"
    "Most Vanquished, Most Victorious"
    "Birdcage On My Foot"
    "First Class Mouliak"
    "How Much A Pound Is Albatross?"
    "There I Am, There I Always Am"
    "Give An Old Cat A Tender Mouse"
    "Shall Forfeit His Dog And Ten Shillings to The King"
    "Build Your Houses With Their Backs To The Sea"
    "Like This It Means Father, Like This Bitter, Like This Tiger"
    "93 Per Cent In Smiling"

    Kind of poetic, no?
    I guess this should round it out ...

  7. Well I naver care about any title of my favorite TV show. I just remember my TV show by their story. I am big fan of cartoon TV shows and watch many time scooby and shaggy in Scooby doo TV show.I really enjoyed this TV series in my childhood.