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Take, for example, The Simpsons - the first season of that show is just called The Simpsons, as is the second season and the third season and so on and so forth. The individual seasons don't have titles/subtitles of their own. I'm not sure there's really a good answer as to why this is, but I'd like to ask anyway - why is this?

This may seem like an absurd question to ask, but I think you will see why I'm asking it if you take a look at the question Why do anime series change titles so often (nearly for every “season”)? over at Anime.SE - it turns out that things work differently in Japan.

Different seasons of a given Japanese anime series will typically have different titles. For an example that may be familiar to some readers here, the first 276 episodes of the Pokémon anime (in Japan) were part of the first season, which was simply titled Pocket Monsters, while the next 192 episodes were part of the second season, titled Pocket Monsters: Advanced Generation, and the 193 episodes after that were part of the third season, titled Pocket Monsters: Diamond & Pearl.

The way I conceptualize television series is that each season is a discrete entity, and so of course each season should have a different name, in the same way that e.g. a sequel to a movie has a different name than the original movie. This matches up with the Japanese syste, but not with the American system. So I guess the question could be rephrased to ask what differences are there between Japanese and American television production that lead the former but not the latter to have different titles for each season?


One factor that may be relevant is that it's almost always the case that the production of the second season of an anime is strongly contingent on the commercial success of the first season, and so production ceases in between seasons. If it works differently in American television (e.g. multiple seasons are scheduled right from the outset), that might help explain why this difference exists.

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"each season is a discrete entity" - And I guess this is the point that I think doesn't hold for most TV series. It may be a discrete entity regarding production and airing, but content-wise there is usually a very deep connection to all the other seasons. –  Sonny Burnett May 14 at 9:57
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Reading the answers it seems it's exactly this misunderstanding (or just culturally different definition) of what a "season" is. In most western TV-shows a season is just an organizational block of episodes, produced and aired in succession (usually per year) and usually doesn't come with any change in concept or content of the show at all. –  Sonny Burnett May 14 at 10:09
    
Starz's Spartacus does this every season, and my DVR settings don't roll over because the name is different. –  Darrick Herwehe May 14 at 13:04

4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

TL;DR

While there certainly are some instances of title changes for a new season, it is uncommon for the simple reason that most of the time a title change only makes sense from an artistic point of view, but not from a marketing one, where it can even bear considerable risks. Because the final decision often lies with the network, requests for title changes are usually declined.

Long answer

As with most things, tvtropes has an article on it:

New Season, New Title

A title change in an ongoing series, prompted by some plot event, a break in production or switching between publishers. Frequently, but not always, involves adding a new subtitle or suffix. Despite the name, does not have to occur at the start of a new season.

In some cases, producers will pass off an essentially new series as a renamed Re Tool of an existing series just to preserve its distribution channel.

Now on to your question:

Why do they almost never change the title of a show for a new season?

The most important part I think is branding and recognizability. If you have established a show successfully with the audience, they will recognize it by its name. If you change the name, you are in danger of confusing viewers and missing out by not making full use of the already successful brand.

The only reason you would even want to change the name of your show for a new season is if some major change occurs. This can be either a change of cast, a new direction of the plot or a completely different tone or setting.

Let's take a look at some examples where the name was almost changed for plot reasons, but ultimately kept for marketing reasons:

  • Stargate SG-1 had some major changes in Season 9, including new cast (Richard Dean Anderson left, Amanda Tapping was absent for the first episodes due to pregnancy, Ben Browder, Beau Bridges and Claudia Black joined the show) and a completely new plot direction (the Ori replace the Goa'uld as the main enemy). According to tvtropes, they almost changed the title to "Stargate Command", but decided against it in the end.

  • Scrubs had a completely new main cast for Season 9 and a completely new setting. Instead of in a hospital it now is set in a medical school where some of the old cast teaches the new cast about medicine. The showrunner wanted to change the name, but was declined by the network:

Lawrence considered the eighth season to be the end of the show Scrubs, going so far as to ask ABC if he could change the name to Scrubs Med. ABC declined, but Lawrence still advised fans to treat it as a new show, even putting a caption under the "Created By" on the X-ray in the opening sequence saying [Med School].

  • Cougar Town deviated so far from its premise that the title did not make much sense any more, so they wanted to change it. Ultimately they didn't, because the network was not satisfied with the options. They made a lot of jokes about this in the show's opening screen gag.

Bill Lawrence later stated that two potential titles that they wanted to change to were declined by ABC – Sunshine State (declined because ABC also had a Matthew Perry sitcom on their mid-season schedule that season known as Mr. Sunshine) and Grown Ups (declined because of the then-recent film with the same name).

Interestingly enough, the network was generally in favor of changing the title of Cougar Town, because research showed that the title was not interesting enough for viewers who would like the show after seeing it.

As you can see, a title change for a new season is not something that is not generally considered at all, but is often not done because the network or producers don't want it. This shows the conflicting interests of the creators of the show, who want to preserve its artistic integrity, and the network who foremost cares about its commercial success.

Rebranding a show or even completely decoupling it from its former seasons into a new show is a lot more risk than simply keeping the status quo. Just look at why sequels are so popular in movies and games: you can rely on repeat customers. If a new season appears like an independent work of art, it will be judged on its own and not based on the previous seasons (which usually were successful, or they would have cancelled the show already).

However there are some examples where a title change happened:

  • The fifth Season of Archer is called "Archer:Vice", because the setting changes completely when

    the characters previously working in a spy agency are outlawed and have to turn to selling cocaine instead.

  • 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter changed its title to 8 Simple Rules after the main actor died during the filming of season 2. They incorporated his death into the show and adapted the direction as well as the title.

More examples can be found on the tvtropes page, showing that it is certainly not unheard of, but usually not done for the reasons named.

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The Closer -> Major Crimes seems like a good example, too. Exact same cast/team and concept but different protagonist -> title change. And a very good example for a show that indeed employs different (sub)titles for every season (and one that in fact ocurred to me as pretty unusual) would be Spartacus. –  Sonny Burnett May 14 at 10:15
    
Another is American Horror Story, but it's more of an anthology series, and while the cast largely remains, the story, characters and settings change with each season. Edit: Aaaand just saw @BigHomie's answer below. –  Michael Itzoe May 14 at 15:46
    
Spoiled Archer for me... I only saw up to season 4 on Netflix Canada :( –  Canadian Luke May 14 at 17:11
    
@CanadianLuke: Wow, sorry. I did not consider spoilers when writing the answer. I will put that part into spoiler tags (which of course won't help you now). I hope you can still enjoy the season, its pretty good. –  atticae May 14 at 17:14
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It's really hard writing an example-based answer without talking about major plot changes though, because title changes usually are the result of plot development. On the other hand, putting every example in spoiler tags will hurt readability. I hope the other examples are ok the way they are, I think they are not as heavy spoilers as the Archer one. –  atticae May 14 at 17:24

In the example listed above, the series creator is trying to breathe new life into the series. Like when new characters are introduced. In America, that usually leads to a series' demise (think "Scrappy Doo" or Cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch). Pokemon's "second series" that you speak of introduced a host of new Pokemon, as did the third.

By the way, according to the Pokemon Wiki, what you consider a "Season" is actually considered a "Series". In effect, they're really entirely separate shows.

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Yes, they are entirely separate shows that happen to live in the same continuity and happen to share production staff, voice actors, etc. In the anime community, we still call those things seasons - does this usage differ from the lingo used to talk about long-running American shows? –  senshin May 14 at 2:44
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Most (but not all) American shows are not serialized. Pokemon is a serialized show, so a specific theme or arc exists for the entire season. There are a few American shows like this, notably the Reality TV show called Survivor. Each season has a different name to indicate where it takes place. –  Johnny Bones May 14 at 2:46
    
Could you point me to a definition of what exactly "serialized" means in this context? –  senshin May 14 at 2:48
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A "serialized" show carries a running story line for an entire season, or for the length of the whole show. It's like a long running movie, each episode continues the story from the previous one. Shows like The Simpsons are stand-alone, in that a story only lasts for 1 episode and the next episode is about something completely different. Some American serialized shows would be The Walking Dead and Sons Of Anarchy. –  Johnny Bones May 14 at 2:50
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Minor correction: The cousin on the Brady Bunch was named Oliver, not Arnold. –  Josh May 14 at 12:21

In the example you gave, the first "season" of Pokemon had 276 episodes. That's not one season. That's roughly 6 or 7 seasons.

There are 40 episodes per season because in the US TV shows usually take a break during the summer. A "season" usually refers to a TV "year".

If we use your definition of "season" to mean a group of episodes spanning several years then we get lots of examples of US TV shows changing titles:

  • Cheers ran for 11 years before changing title to Frasier
  • Friends ran for 10 years before becoming Joey
  • Star Trek became Star Trek: The Next Generation

But in general, when a US TV show change title they split into two shows instead of simply continuing the old (often with the newer show continuing after the older show stops airing). Examples of this includes:

  • Star Trek: TNG -> Star Trek: Voyager -> Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
  • CSI -> CSI Miami -> CSI New York
  • Law and Order -> Law and Order: SVU
  • Buffy -> Angel

This contrasts with Japanese franchises where the tendency is to let a show complete before continuing with another version.


Additional answer:

I've just realized that there are American TV shows that progresses very much like Japanese shows. Though they are rare. The most obvious would be Ben 10:

  • Ben 10 -> Ben 10: Alien Force -> Ben 10: Ultimate Alien-> Ben 10: Omniverse

Then there's Avatar which is even more extreme since not only do each sub-series have their own titles but each year-season is also named after a "book":

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender -> Avatar: The Legend of Kora

Where within each "season":

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender (book 1: Water)
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender (book 2: Earth)
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender (book 3: Fire)
  • Avatar: The Legend of Kora (book 1: Air)
  • Avatar: The Legend of Kora (book 2: Spirits)

But Avatar is stylistically heavily influenced by Anime so the choice of the naming convention may be intentionally influenced by Japanese naming conventions.

I should note that there are some Anime that don't change title even though the cast of characters change dramatically. One example is Bleach which has been and still is Bleach. Though, like Avatar, Bleach does have a name name for each year-season.

One example of a US TV show that, like Bleach, has a name for each year-season but doesn't change the actual show title is Heroes:

  • Heroes (volume one: Genesis)
  • Heroes (volume two: Generations)
  • Heroes (volume three: Villains, volume four: Fugitives)
  • Heroes (volume five: Redemption)
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Your first three examples are not correct. Frasier and Joey are spin-offs, i.e. completely different shows. They did not just change titles. TNG as well is a different show, but in the same universe. –  atticae May 14 at 9:02
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@atticae I agree, but I think the answer is trying to make the point that the asker is actually talking about more-or-less spin-offs/different shows, too, and is using the word season in the wrong way. –  Sonny Burnett May 14 at 10:03
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Ok, I can see that with TNG. Really not with Joey though, that one was planned as a separate show with little to no remaining ties to Friends. I don't think that is the kind of name change the question is about. –  atticae May 14 at 10:10
    
North American seasons aren't 40 episodes BTW (except maybe for current-events or late-night). A season of episodic television is 22-26 episodes, with a half-season/mid-season replacement getting 13 episodes. –  Allen Gould May 14 at 15:30
    
@AllenGould: Ah, I got my calculations wrong. Should have been easy to remember with 24 having 24 episodes per season :) –  slebetman May 15 at 1:23

The way I conceptualize television series is that each season is a discrete entity

You may be thinking of an Anthology Series, Such as American Horror Story. The fact is, a lot of American television series aren't anthologies, but are meant to be continuous, developing stories as time progresses. They use the same characters, and mini/subplots don't change based on season, but at the discretion of the writers I assume, and can change from episode to episode, halfway into a season, or the season opener/closer.

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