That ’70s Show was one of Fox’s biggest sitcom in the years after its flagship comedy Married with Children went off the air. As the title suggests, the program was a riff on the 1970s through America’s topical lens in the late 90s and early 00s. However, despite an iconic name that gives away the show’s entire thesis, the original title may have made it harder to sell to a broad audience.
What is ‘That ’70s Show’?
At its core, That ’70s Show had a simple premise. A group of teenagers went through life while learning about the struggles of growing up in a show that stretched from the end of Vietnam to the onset of the Reagan administration. At its start, the show featured many unknown actors, but by the end, it made many different stars.
Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, who went on to marry and have a family after the show went off the air, were the cast’s biggest success stories. But the other members became stars, too.
Topher Grace remains a heavily-sought-after actor, while Wilmer Valderrama remains a steady television actor. Fans of Orange of the New Black can thank the sitcom for introducing Laura Prepon. Danny Masterson also found limited success, although he recently found himself on the wrong side of an off-camera scandal that likely put an end to his career.
The show covered many taboo topics, from drugs to sex to all the highs and lows of being a teenager. While Fox later tried to emulate this success again with That 80s Show, the formula only proved to work on the original.
Fourteen years later, it is still an essential piece of television history. It’s slapstick humor, and one-liners made their way into the lexicon, while its edgy humor stayed true to a brand that Fox boasted when it tried to be a different type of network. Perhaps its greatest sell, however, was the name.
Setting the mood
Of course, if anyone wants to set a show in the 1970s while also bearing such an on-the-nose name, they have to set the mood. The show was drenched from head to toe with pop culture references that, while from the era where it got its name, resonated with an audience years after its titular decade. One way that it did this was through music.
However, as the cameras got closer to rolling, the series’ makers could not decide on a name. To help this, they decided to borrow from that same pop culture pool. From Teenage Wasteland to The Kids Are Alright and Feelin’ All Right, the show workshopped several names based on songs, but after they failed to secure the music rights to use these titles and lyrics, they went back to the basics.
How the series got its name
When the cameras started rolling, things began to come together with it. Not only did the makers of the show have a soon-to-be all-star cast, but they had a significant network and an audience full of people to watch the pilot.
There was just one problem. What they did not have was a name for the show. Running out of ideas, they called the show That ’70s Show as both a placeholder and a joke about what people would eventually call it.
That name stuck. Soon, the show had a name, a Cheap Trick theme song, and a loyal audience to go with it. It’s easy for people to assume that hit ideas are drawn from hours, days, months, years, or decades of brainstorming, but sometimes it’s a happy little accident. This accident worked out, and 14 years after the decade ended on the show, it remains a favorite for a new generation of nostalgia-starved fans.