Is it 1899 or 1923? Please Stop Naming TV Shows After YearsPhotos Courtesy of Paramount+/Netflix TV Features
Trends come and go all the time—it is their nature—but if there is one recent pop culture trend that needs to go and never come back, it is naming TV shows after seemingly random years.
In November, Netflix released the German multi-lingual series 1899, which is not related to 1983, a Polish crime drama that premiered in 2018. This month, Paramount+ debuted a new show titled 1923, which is not to be confused with the streaming service’s other numerical-titled show 1883. Oh, and in 2023, it will also stream the show 6666, just to further confuse everyone (that one, at least, is not meant to be a year).
To the everyday viewer, it’s impossible to know what any of these shows are about without Googling them. One can argue that’s the case for most TV series, but descriptive titles like Succession, Stranger Things, Severance, and Ghosts are thematically relevant and offer context clues as to their plots. While you might be able to infer that the titles 1899 and 1923 correspond to years that represent the time periods in which the respective shows are set, you can’t pinpoint that 1899 is a mind-bending sci-fi drama from the creators of the mind-bending sci-fi drama Dark (also a confusing title, by the way). While the creators no doubt intended to obscure the show’s true nature and storyline with its historical title and setting, it still feels too ambiguous to be truly clever.
Meanwhile, unless you’re already aware that 1883 is a Yellowstone prequel, you’re not likely to know that 1923 is yet another spin-off of the popular Taylor Sheridan-created series. And even if you do know, there is still a good chance you don’t realize 1923 is not the same show as 1883 and that it features an entirely new cast and follows a different generation of Duttons.
Although it might not always seem like it, a title can be vital to a show’s success. It is our first introduction to a project, and even in the age of DVR and streaming, when many are discovering shows years after they first aired, first impressions still matter. In fact, you can argue they matter now more than ever because of the sheer volume of shows competing for our attention across broadcast, cable, and streaming. A good and memorable title has the ability to draw viewers in, just like a bad title can turn them off, sometimes for good. We need only look at gone-to-soon comedies Trophy Wife and Selfie to know how true that is. But a title doesn’t even have to conjure up unflattering images and stereotypes to spell doom for a show—confusing titles are no better. The critically beloved FX neo-noir Terriers failed to find an audience until it was much too late in part because of its title (the promotional artwork didn’t help either).
So while a numerical title like 1923 sets the stage for its narrative, it tells us little of actual substance about the series. Who is it about? Where is it set? Why is this particular year relevant? Will anyone who comes across it care enough to find out the answers to these questions? At least the Cold War spy drama Deutschland 83 and its sequels Deutschland 86 and Deutschland 89 gave us a location as well to help us nail down a genre and/or plot based on what was going on in Germany in each of those years.
Beyond the fact these year-centric titles offer little to no real information as to what the shows are about, the fact that more series are apparently following this trend only threatens to confuse viewers as to which show is which. If it is difficult for those who cover television for a living to keep TV series straight or tell them apart, then one can only imagine the confusion that regular viewers must experience as they try to decide what to watch. So, please, can we put an end to this confounding trend once and for all? It’s not nearly as clever as it appears.
Kaitlin Thomas is an entertainment journalist and TV critic. Her work has appeared in TV Guide, Salon, and TV.com, among other places. You can find her tweets about TV, sports, and Walton Goggins @thekaitling or read more of her work at kaitlinthomas.com.
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