The prosaic world of renaming TV shows for the international market

We’ve discussed before – albeit ever such a long time ago – the prosaic art of renaming things for international markets. There’s always a lot lost in translation, anyway, but when you’re going for maximum impact in as short a period of time as possible, as you are with a TV show title, then direct translation probably isn’t the best course. 

Street Hawk translated into French? Faucon de rue, literally, but that’s really more or less Boulevard Falcon all the same. Which is silly and not at all cool. So in the end Street Hawk became Tonnerre mécanique or ‘Mechanical Thunder’, which is a bit more evocative at least.

But even when there’s no translation involved, sometimes things don’t translate, because while your audience might well speak English reasonably well – as they do in Germany, zum Beispiel – they might not get all those idioms that pervade the English language. 

Take Doctor Doctor, a warm-hearted Australian show about a hot shot heart surgeon who ends up being sent back to his home town in disgrace where he has to face up to his family and his past. The word ‘doctor’ is pretty basic, but ‘Doctor, Doctor’ is the start of an entire class of English-language joke, which is why the show is so-called.

Can we expect Germans, Austrians, the Swiss, Czechs et al to know this, though? Probably not. And Artz, Artz just isn’t the same in German – there are no ‘Artz, Artz’ jokes.

So oddly, Doctor Doctor has now been retitled for the German-speaking markets as… The Heart Guy. Yep, still in basic English that anyone who can claim English as a second language (ie everyone in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic et al) will understand. But now no idioms and everything’s self explanatory. People will know what The Heart Guy is about and they might even spot the slight subtext that “he’s full of heart”, too. But that’s not vital.

Yet despite everything, something’s been lost in translation from English into International English, don’t you think?

Author

  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.