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MARKETING, LEGAL FACTORS INFLUENCE TV'S NAME GAME
RIGHTS AND RESEARCH FORCE SOME NEW SHOWS TO CHANGE TITLES

What's in a name? Well, in the case of a new television series, the title can determine whether viewers will be attracted to a show.

Take "Jack & Bobby," the clever, new inspirational WB drama that gets my vote as one of the top three pilots of the fall.

It stars Christine Lahti as the flawed mother of two young boys who live in the present in Hart, Mo. One of the sons is elected president in the year 2040. In infrequent but moving flash-forward interviews, we learn from White House staffers, the first lady and longtime friends how the president's beliefs were molded and influenced during his childhood years.

From the title and the political setting, you might think that the show has something to do with the Kennedys. It doesn't. The names Jack and Bobby were chosen for reasons that don't become clear until late in the pilot, and I'm not going to ruin the surprise.

Asked why the title was chosen, executive producer Greg Berlanti as much as admitted it was a form of misleading political advertising.

"It really evoked brotherhood and politics, at least in terms of arguably the most famous political brothers in the last 100 years," said Berlanti. "I just think it's a catchy title, and I want as many people to watch as possible. And I think once they get there, they'll see what the show is about and appreciate it for what it is."

"It sounds a lot better than 'Jimmy and Billy (Carter)' or 'Roger and Bill (Clinton),' " cracked Thomas Schlamme, Lahti's husband and another of the show's producers.

Unfortunately, viewers will have to vote at 9 p.m. Sunday between "Jack & Bobby" and another of the strongest shows of the fall, ABC's "Desperate Housewives." A combination of a soap, mystery and dark comedy, the drama from sitcom writer Marc Cherry is about a group of women who learn how true the old adage, "heaven help those who get what they want," can be.

Cherry said the title was inspired by an off-Broadway musical written by a friend called "Angry Housewives."

"I was just thinking of housewives, housewives, housewives," said Cherry. "And then suddenly the word 'desperate' popped into mind, because there was something that I thought was so intriguing about the idea of identifying these women. It's their desperation that defines them."

Cherry added the he was also inspired by a Shakespeare quote, "sweet are the uses of adversity."

"And I so believe that," he said. "I just think that it's in the desperate times that you achieve any kind of personal growth. You get to find out who you are and what you're about."

Speaking of housewives, ABC is premiering a reality series this fall with a title that conjures up all sorts of images, "Wife Swap."

It isn't what you're thinking. There's no sex involved. Based on a British hit, it follows two mothers from different backgrounds. They swap families for two weeks to see how the other half lives. Fox is airing a similar show, "Trading Spouses," this week.

Asked if there was any pressure to change the title in these sensitive times, "Wife Swap" producer Stephen Lambert said it was used in Britain for a simple reason. "It draws attention to the show," said Lambert. "I mean, yes, does it conjure up notions of something that the show isn't? Possibly. But I mean, the big, big plus is that people take note of it. And once they start watching the show, they see what it is. And our experience so far has been that people like what they see."

While the title of "Wife Swap" didn't have to be changed, a couple of other shows weren't as fortunate.

"Savages," an ABC slob comedy about a family of messy brothers being raised by a single father, now is known as "Complete Savages."

Asked why, producer Mike Scully said: "Another show had the rights to the title, apparently, and we weren't aware of it. So we had to change the name to something else, so it's 'Complete Savages.' "

Legal problems also led the stylish ABC drama that focuses on teen sexuality, "Life As We Know It," to become "life is as we know it." Why the stylish change to lower-case letters?

"There is actually someone who owns 'Life As We Know It' with capital letters," explained co-creator Gabe Sachs. "Dead serious."

Speaking of legal issues, the title of David E. Kelley's spin-off of "The Practice" starring James Spader and William Shatner was changed from "Fleet Street" to "Boston Legal."

"The title change was just an attempt to get more people to watch it," said producer Scott Kaufer. He added research had indicated that "Fleet Street" conjured up images of British journalism instead of Boston law.

"We became convinced that people wouldn't know what it meant," added Kaufer. "Research indicated that more people would watch something from David E. Kelley called 'Boston Legal' than called 'Fleet Street.' "

Of course, if the primary goal of a title is to give viewers a better understanding of what they are about to see, then a number of fall shows being previewed her would have the same title.

But one doubts that "Complete, Desperate Garbage" would bring many viewers to the set.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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