TV episode titling is a fascinating phenomenon. Whether it’s puns (Arrested Development), riffs on movie titles (Gossip Girl), or the dreaded “The One With…” (you know what we’re talking about), diehard fans and online programming guide stalkers pay really close attention to TV episode titles. Themed titles are more like a wink from the writers, but sometimes the pattern is so obvious it can’t be ignored and it stays in your head like a song. Especially if it is a song. Take a look at our slideshow of TV shows that regularly used song titles for episode names.
Three hundred episodes ago, Grey’s Anatomy admitted us to Seattle Grace Hospital with a pilot episode titled “A Hard Day’s Night.” By the end of the show’s 2005 midseason run, which ended with the in-our-face titled “Who’s Zoomin’ Who,” we knew we were getting more than just a random Aretha Franklin reference. Every Grey’s Anatomy episode — and there are a lot of them — is named after a song, with every artist from BJ Thomas (“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”) to Metallica (“Where the Wild Things Are”) represented. In a clever Season 2 two-parter, one R.E.M. song was even used for two episode titles. The infamous “bomb” episode, “It’s the End of the World,” was followed one week later with “As We Know It.” All they were missing was a third part titled “And I Feel Fine.”
(Photo: ABC/Peter “Hopper” Stone)
Over 13 seasons (and counting), Eric Kripke’s fantasy horror drama has pulled from all things pop culture — and song titles are fair game. In addition to the recurring use of the 1976 Kansas song “Carry on Wayward Son” (which, starting in Season 2, has been played during the last episode of every season and has become the show’s unofficial anthem), Supernatural regularly uses song names for episode titles, borrowing from a diverse group of artists, including Johnny Cash (“Folsom Prison Blues”), Supertramp (“Goodbye Stranger”), and Madonna (“Like a Virgin). The 1982 Buckner & Garcia novelty song “Pac-Man Fever” even got a shout-out, so we’d say this show has pretty much covered every stop on the pop culture map.
(Photo: Diyah Pera /The CW / Courtesy: Everett Collection)
It’s no secret the first 13 episodes of Netflix’s Luke Cage are all named after Gang Starr songs. But is there a reason why the show is so deeply entrenched in classic hip-hop? Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker told HipHopDX he took a page from Shondaland’s book, as well as a trick he used in music journalism class, where he learned to pick a song for a cover line. “It was really just a combination of finding songs titles that resonate and then seeing how you can build cinematic resonance with your story and your characters,” Coker explained. “What I noticed in going through my iTunes is that Gang Starr songs always had that kind of presence, and so it just worked basically picking those song titles and making it into something.”
(Photos: Myles Aronowitz/Netflix)
The music of tragic country-and-western legend Hank Williams lives on in the first season of Nashville. With the exception of the pilot, each episode of Season 1 of the musical drama was named after a Hank Williams song, starting off with the 1951 hit “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still in Love With You” and ending with 1952’s “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive,” which, incidentally, was the last single to be released during Williams’s short lifetime. By Season 2, Nashville moved on to episode titles inspired by Patsy Cline (“I Fall to Pieces,” “Crazy”), but there’s no denying the Hillbilly Shakespeare set the tone for the series.
(Photo by Katherine Bomboy-Thornton/ABC via Getty Images)
For four wacky seasons, this ’80s NBC sitcom about a rogue extraterrestrial from the planet Melmac featured episode titles that played like a British-American jukebox. A few were riffs (“Oh Tannerbaum”), but ALF is probably the only TV show in history that has an episode named after the Rolling Stones song “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow.”
For seven seasons, HBO’s vampire drama took a bite out of pop culture with a haunting score and song-themed episode titles. In an interview with IFC, True Blood music supervisor Gary Calamar revealed it wasn’t always easy to find the perfect song title for the episodes. “It’s difficult, especially if we’re thinking about a budget,” he said. “You know, maybe initially they’ll name it after a song which for some reason is too expensive for us or we can’t license it for whatever reason. A few times we have gone back and changed a title of an episode just because the song didn’t work out as originally planned.” Titles that made the cut? “Burning Down the House,” “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” and “F*** the Pain Away,” because, let’s face it, HBO doesn’t have to deal with those pesky “seven dirty words” rules.
Midway through the second season of NBC’s 1990s sitcom about staffers at AM radio station WNYX, something strange happened. British rock group Led Zeppelin started taking the episodes. The last nine episodes of NewsRadio’s second season are named after Led Zeppelin albums and songs, representing all the band’s studio albums. And in a random Zeppelin recurrence, an episode in Season 3 is named “Led Zeppelin Box Set.” While the titles don’t appear to have anything to do with the storyline for most of the episodes, it seems show creator Paul Simms was a fan of the legendary band and even wore a Led Zeppelin T-shirt to his first interview with the New York Times to promote the launch of the series.
(Photo: Brillstein/Grey Entertainment/courtesy Everett Collection)
Courteney Cox may have jumped onstage with Bruuuuuuce in Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” video, but for her series Cougar Town, it was all Tom Petty, all the time. The majority of episodes from Cox’s ABC/TBS sitcom were titled after Petty songs (fun fact and the probable reason why: Cougar Town was set in Florida, and Petty was from Gainesville), and luckily, the rocker’s vast library contained enough interesting titles to make it through six seasons of Cougar Town, starting with “Into the Great Wide Open” and ending with “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.”
(Photo: TBS / Courtesy: Everett Collection)
‘Degrassi: The Next Generation’
The long-running Canadian teen drama series kicked things off with episodes named after ’80s songs (“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun?” Check. ”Karma Chameleon?” Check. “Voices Carry?” A double check for ’Til Tuesday, thanks to a two-parter), and by the end of its run it was knee-deep in the ’90s with Nirvana and Alanis references. But even the lighthearted song references didn’t take away from the show’s serious subject matter, which included teen pregnancy, bullying, drug abuse, suicide, and racism.
(Photo: CTV/Epitome Pictures / Courtesy: Everett Collection)
‘That ’70s Show’
On That ’70s Show, the ’70s music wasn’t limited to 8-tracks played on Eric Foreman’s basement stereo. About half of the 200 episodes of Fox’s ’70s-set sitcom were named after rock songs, with a different band dominating each of the final four seasons. Season 5’s episodes were named after Led Zeppelin songs (yes, there’s an episode titled “The Crunge!”), with the Who (Season 6), the Rolling Stones (Season 7), and Queen (Season 8) rounding out the primetime playlist. We don’t know exactly why writers switched to the band-themed titling, but it’s interesting to note that the show was initially titled “Teenage Wasteland,” and then “The Kids Are Alright” until legal issues forced producers to scrap the Who references.
(Photo: 20th Century Fox Film Corp. /Courtesy: Everett Collection)
‘One Tree Hill’
What did you expect from a show named after a U2 song? The Joshua Tree single inspired the title for the WB/CW series, which was set in the fictional town of Tree Hill, N.C., and all the episodes were named after songs and albums. One Tree Hill creator Mark Schwahn told Buddy TV the song titles came to him a variety of ways — and not always before the episodes were written. “I think we’ve done it every which way,” the showrunner said in 2008. “Every once in a while I’ll be very inspired by the tone of a song or a lyric in a song, and I’ll sit down and want to write to that lyric or to the tone of that song. Sometimes there’s a play on words, sometimes I’ll write an episode and there will be a theme. Then I’ll just sort of search for a song title that’s a play on words.”
(Photo: The WB/ Courtesy: Everett Collection)