Titus (TV series)

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Titus
Tituslogo.jpg
The Titus logo used in the opening credits.
Created by Christopher Titus
Jack Kenny
Brian Hargrove
Starring Christopher Titus
Zack Ward
Cynthia Watros
Stacy Keach
David Shatraw
Rachel Roth (Seasons 2–3)
Elizabeth Berkley (Season 3)
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 3
No. of episodes 54 (List of episodes)
Production
Running time approx. 22 minutes
Production company(s) Kenny & Hargrove
Deranged Entertainment
20th Century Fox Television
Broadcast
Original channel Fox
Original run March 20, 2000 – August 12, 2002

Titus is an American dark comedy sitcom that debuted on Fox in 2000. The series was created by its star, Christopher Titus, Jack Kenny, and Brian Hargrove. The sitcom is based on Christopher's stand-up comedy act, more specifically his one-man show Norman Rockwell is Bleeding (which itself would be broadcast on television in 2004), which was based loosely upon his real-life family; lines from Norman Rockwell is Bleeding were spoken by Titus as commentary (see below). Titus plays an outwardly childish adult (based on himself), who owns a custom car shop. The show follows him and his dimwitted half-brother Dave, his girlfriend Erin with the "heart of gold", his goody-goody friend Tommy, and his arrogantly lewd, bigoted, heavy smoking & drinking, womanizing and multiply-divorced father Ken "Papa" Titus.

Series description[edit]

Christopher Titus in the "neutral space", where he provides commentary and exposition

The series first aired as a limited-run mid-season replacement in March 2000 and it received rave reviews. It ran for 54 episodes over three seasons before its cancellation in 2002.

The characters are essentially a dysfunctional family and, unusual for a network sitcom, often deal with dark subject matters including death, attempted and committed suicide, rape, child molestation, mental illness, road rage, violence, drug abuse, domestic abuse, alcoholism, and terrorism — especially in the third season, which was to be the last, partly due to the controversial nature of the show.

One episode, "Tommy's Not Gay", deals with the issue that Tommy — who uses stereotypically gay mannerisms but is not actually gay — lashes out at his homosexual father, Perry, for lying to his mother about his sexuality. However, Tommy later defends his dad against others' homophobia when Perry is beaten up by Titus's friends. The episode makes reference to the real-life killing of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming.

The format of the show begins with Christopher turning on a dangling lightbulb hanging from the ceiling in a black-and-white "neutral space", often breaking the "fourth wall". A crude wooden chair accompanies Christopher and is sometimes utilized as a prop. He performs a short monologue, then the traditional sitcom story begins. During the episode, segments are intercut to this "neutral space", where he narrates or comments on what is happening. There are also frequent flashbacks or dream/imaginary sequences to relevant events. However, almost all episodes took place in only one location. At the end of the episode, Christopher performs a closing monologue, using or rewording the opening, then turns the light off; he occasionally employs other methods, including smashing the bulb or turning it off with a remote. Occasionally, an alter-ego type character of Titus appears with him and gets randomly abused. These altered versions of Titus include "Nerd" Titus, and Titus as a five, ten, or seventeen year old.

The show, unusual for a sitcom, uses serious points as act breaks at times during episodes. These include Christopher admitting to getting beaten by ex-girlfriend Noelle (and reading a note from her in which she promises never to hurt him again if Titus would be hers forever), admitting that he loves his mother, a violent, manic-depressive paranoid-schizophrenic; and explaining how Matthew Shepard was murdered because of his sexual orientation.

Background[edit]

Titus began doing comedy when he was 18. After two years of relatively normal comedy bits, his act soon began to evolve to focus around his family, particularly his father's heart attacks and his mother's mental illness.[1]

One night while performing, an assistant to a Fox executive was in the audience, and he brought his bosses to the show. Word soon reached Brian Hargrove and Jack Kenny; after they saw the show, they knew that they wanted to work with Titus, because his life was a sitcom.[2]

Production[edit]

Knowing he had a deal with Fox, Titus wanted "Dad is Dead" to be the pilot. After the series ended, Titus commented that, if one watches Norman Rockwell is Bleeding, and then "Dad is Dead", the latter essentially "rapes" the former.[1]

Because Kenny and Hargrove came from live theater, and Titus from live comedy, it was a unanimous decision that the live story would be shot in real time, like a play,[1] in as few takes as possible; as cues for the editors in post-production, so they could incorporate flashbacks and action in the neutral space, the action would pause briefly, and then resume.[1] Episodes were blocked and rehearsed extensively, and shot on Friday every week.

The cast also had different methods of working. Being a comedian, Titus knew where the punchline would be and never explored anything else.[1] Zack Ward had difficulty finding the joke during rehearsals, but Kenny realized that he was looking for where the joke could be.[1] Watros asked Titus to point out where the joke was, and promised to hit her marks.[1] During breaks in rehearsal, Shatraw would work by himself on set, looking for specific quirks or actions that Tommy would do or take.[2]

The season two episode "The Last Noelle" is one of Titus's favorites,[3] and is based on his relationship with an abusive ex-girlfriend.

As a running gag, in most of the episodes there is a reference to guns and/or fire, usually the threat of someone or something being set on fire, as well as Titus's story of how he drunkenly fell into a bonfire and nearly died when he was a teenager..

Casting[edit]

Cynthia Watros was the first person to audition for the role of Erin,[3] and was also the first person cast. Steve Carell[4] and Zack Ward both auditioned for Tommy;[2] Carell lost out to David Shatraw, while Ward was soon cast as Titus's brother, Dave. After a number of auditions for Titus's father Ken, Stacy Keach was cast after Titus admitted Keach intimidated him.[2]

Before his passing, Christopher's real father, Ken Titus, would give tips to Keach on how to better portray him.[5] Titus also admitted that, even with the driest line the writers could invent, Keach would find a way to make the line funny.[1] This often upset Titus because Keach's set-up would be funnier than Titus's punchline.[1] Hargrove has also commented that Keach could get an audience response with just a look;[6] Hargrove's favorite moment is the look Ken gives Tommy in "Insanity Genetic (1)" after Tommy comments "I have no nuts."[6]

Censorship by the network[edit]

More than one episode was censored/banned by Fox,[citation needed] including a two-part episode made in the months after the September 11 attacks that centers on the premise that the U.S. government believes Titus and his family and friends are a terrorist group after a series of misunderstandings -– as a result of his mother's suicide, Titus suffers a nervous breakdown on the plane ride home, Tommy complains to a flight attendant about his mispronunciation of 'chicken à la king', to the point where Tommy gets down on his knees and cries "A la, a la, a la king!" (which sounds like "Allah king"), and Dave comes out out of the plane's bathroom gurgling mouthwash, which seems like he is speaking unintelligibly, and wearing a towel turban, a robe, and shaving cream on his face which resembles an Islamic beard.

The episode "The Intervention" was also almost banned, as the censors were wary about the episode glorifying alcoholism, since the story focused on Titus convincing his father, Ken, to start drinking again since Ken's sobriety is making him boring. Titus had to read the script to the president of Fox page-by-page[1] over the phone in order to show him how the episode could be funny.

Another episode, "The Protector", was not aired until the very end of the last season, as it dealt with the revelation that Erin's niece, Amy, was molested by a male family friend who looked after her while her parents were in prison, which Amy remembers because the man had a rose tattoo on his penis. Had "The Protector" aired in production order, viewers would have seen the real reason behind Amy's asocial, criminal behavior (besides the fact that her parents are drug addicts who neglected her and were always in jail for drug crimes or domestic violence), and a possible explanation for Amy being a lesbian (as seen in "Errr"). Also, if "The Protector" had been broadcast in production order, the references to Amy being molested and going after a boy who sexually harassed her in school (who turns out to be the son of the man who molested Amy) in such episodes as "The Session" and "Insanity Genetic (2)" [which, in production code order, aired after "The Protector"] would have made more sense.

"The Wedding" was aired out of order, as well, as the season three premiere "Racing in the Streets" deals with Titus's recovery from the accident in "The Pit" and continues in "The Pendulum", yet he seems unaffected and the accident is not mentioned in the season two finale. This is also confirmed by these episodes' production codes, which puts "The Wedding" in between "Tommy's Girlfriend II" and "Hard Ass". "The Wedding" was banned due to scenes depicting violence at a church -– Juanita's second husband punches her in the face after the two argue about Juanita taking her medication, and Juanita ends up shooting him after Titus, Ken, Dave, and the priest presiding over the wedding tie up the man and yell at him for abusing her.[7]

Cancellation[edit]

On a Sirius Radio interview on Raw Dog 104, Titus said the show got canceled due to an argument with executives.[citation needed] They wanted to split up Titus and Erin because the show Dharma & Greg had done similar and their ratings went up.[8] Titus refused, because not only was he still married to his then-real wife, Erin Carden, but the entire focus of the show as "two screwed up people living a normal life" would be compromised (ironically, Titus and Erin would divorce in 2006, following a rocky marriage in which Erin cheated on Titus, stole his money, threatened to kill him, and constantly goaded him into committing suicide).[9] Upon Titus's refusal, on-air promotion ceased and the show was soon canceled.[citation needed] In another radio interview, he claimed the show was also taken down for its content and being "too edgy".[10]

Revival[edit]

As of May 2010, Christopher Titus was reportedly in negotiations with the Fox network to start up a new series again, billed as a sequel of sorts to his first sitcom (and based on his comedy specials The 5th Annual End of the World Tour and Love is Evol). The series was confirmed to eventually be revived and will pick up eight years later with Titus divorced from Erin, Titus's father dead, and Titus dealing with his new normal girlfriend and her perfect family.[11][12][13]

In March 2014, Titus posted on his Facebook page[14] that the revival project was shut down due to legal issues with 20th Century Fox and limited funding.

Format[edit]

Ken Titus (Stacy Keach) in the neutral space in "The Pendulum". Christopher, the neutral space's normal occupant, was in a coma during the Live Story as a result of an accident in "The Pit".

Part of the show's success was its unique format; a few exceptions aside, the show stuck to what worked. The "neutral space" was where Titus opened and ended the show. This lead-in and lead-out allowed for one liners and a monologue, before heading to what the producers called the Main Narrative, or "Live Story". The live story was the bulk of the action, and was the basis for the theme of the episode and the other gags. The live story was unique in that it was extensively rehearsed throughout a production week, and shot in one day, in as few takes as possible. The result allowed the actors to keep their comedic timing, and kept the studio audience engaged to the point that the show did not have to employ a laugh track. Also of note was that the Live Story was (for an overwhelming majority of shows) shot on just one set.

Most episodes also took place over a short course of time, usually only a few hours; very rarely would a plot carry over to "the next day". The main narrative was frequently intercut with the neutral space, sometimes just a quick one-liner from Titus, or for either informative exposition, a quick flashback, or a sparingly used fantasy scene. The Live Story would also usually take place in one place, either a recurring location like Ken's house, the garage of Titus's car shop, or a one-time location like a bus station or a houseboat.

Neutral space[edit]

Erin Fitzpatrick in the neutral space, in the episode "Bachelor Party". Before the series ended, plans were to have Dave and Tommy appear in the neutral space, as well.

The show always opened and closed in the black and white neutral space, usually with the same sentence, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Titus was the neutral space's only occupant except in two episodes, when he was replaced by Ken and Erin, respectively, and would appear always wearing similar clothes, with a wooden chair, a lightbulb, and the bland walls. Frequently, props appeared for one-shot gags in the neutral space. Very rarely would anything from the Live Story appear there (one notable exception was Dave's suicide note in "Private Dave"), nor would anything from the neutral space appear in the Live Story. There are many allusions to the neutral space being Titus's mind, though it is never said outright. On a few occasions, the neutral space is used to demonstrate the passing of time, or Christopher will do something "in" the neutral space when he is really just thinking about it while doing it; we only see his thought process. Also, as in "The Trial", sometimes he will say something in the neutral space and not realize he is also saying it in reality, like when he calls the prosecutor an idiot, thinking he only thought it. Following the credits in the final episode of the series, Titus drags the bare wooden chair into the middle of a real life street, sets it on fire, and walks away, whistling.

Flashbacks[edit]

A collage of flashbacks from the episode "Errr". To convincingly play the younger versions of their characters, the actors have exaggeratedly humorous costumes and mannerisms.

Flashbacks — always introduced from the Neutral Space — were frequently used for character development and background. Flashbacks generally went back to one of three time periods: when Titus was five, ten, or seventeen. Three different child actors played the five and ten year old versions of Titus, the latter sometimes joined by five year old and ten year old versions of Dave and Tommy. Flashbacks to high school with the seventeen year old Titus had all of the current actors playing the younger versions of themselves. To compensate for being too old to believably play the roles, the actors have humorously exaggerated costumes and mannerisms. Except for a few flashbacks in "Grandma Titus" that featured Ken as a child, Stacy Keach is the only one to appear in all of his character's flashbacks; only his hair and clothes change with the times. The flashbacks themselves had no specific format other than being quick, one laugh gags. They frequently showcased Ken Titus's unique approach to parenting, relationships, and drinking. The women that Ken is shown dating (or even married to) in these flashbacks are frequently not given a name, and their faces are rarely shown. Episodes with guest characters who had any connection with the main characters, like Tommy or Erin's families, frequently appeared in flashbacks as well.

Occasionally, instead of a flashback, a far-fetched "What if...?" scenario (showing an alternate reality, what Titus's life will be like when he is older, or a one-off gag similar to those found on The Simpsons and Family Guy) will be presented, such as Titus and Erin as a bickering married couple in their old age, Titus and his father as rich men who use their butlers to beat each other up while Christopher and Ken read the newspaper, Titus trying to deal with Ken being married to a man, and Titus, Dave, and Ken as heads on a couch.

Characters[edit]

Role Performer Character Summary
Christopher Titus Christopher Titus The protagonist and center of the dysfunctional chaos of the show. Christopher tries to mediate things in his dysfunctional life (his hard-nosed, alcoholic father, his gifted, yet mentally deranged mother, and his stoner brother) and situations, although he finds himself at loss for words in some situations. Christopher owns his own car shop called Titus High Performance, and employs his brother Dave and his friend Tommy there. Titus sometimes feels that Erin is in denial or disillusion when it comes to dealing with "crazy people" and has his own way of going about things, sometimes behind her back. Christopher is always striving to seek his father's approval but rarely gets far, though it is clear that he loves both his parents despite their faults.
Erin Fitzpatrick Cynthia Watros Christopher's girlfriend and later fiancé, with a dysfunctional family of her own. Both her parents — Nora (Susan Barnes) and Merritt (Hamilton Camp) — are alcoholics; her sister, Kim, is a sexually promiscuous drug addict with a wild teenage daughter [Amy] whom she hardly cares for; and her brother, Michael, is a criminal who is constantly beaten by his father. Erin put herself in denial when it comes to dysfunctionality, often convincing herself that everything is fine. She often puts herself in over her head and Christopher usually comes to her rescue. She often tries to mend the relationship between Christopher and Ken, but rarely gets far. She is the only girl that Ken likes and often is willing to do things for her. She is loving and caring but often is taken advantage of, causing her to sometimes do the exact opposite of what she really feels. She is based on Christopher Titus's then-wife Erin Carden.
Dave Scovill aka Dave Titus[a] Zack Ward /
Adam Hicks (child)
Christopher's half-brother. Dave was abandoned by his mother (Ken's third wife, who left Ken because she couldn't handle having her self-esteem crushed by him) when he was young. He is a stoner who, despite his marijuana habit, is a savant when it comes to detailing cars and has flashes of genius (on "Houseboat", there was a flashback of Dave reviving his dead father, Ken, by opening a beer just as the paramedics were ready to pronounce Ken dead from a heart attack).
Ken Titus Stacy Keach Christopher and Dave's father, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, skirt-chasing man who often pulls cruel pranks on his kids to keep them from being "wussies". He was married and divorced five times, with all of his ex-wives cleaning him out every time. Despite being an alcoholic, Ken has, to quote Titus, "never missed a car payment, never missed a house payment, never missed a day of work," and would make sure his kids were provided for before himself, often going without for the sake of his kids if money was ever tight.
Tommy Shafter David Shatraw Christopher's buddy since childhood. The supposed "normal" one. Is often mistaken for being a homosexual — the result of emulating his father, Perry (who actually was gay, but kept it a secret while married to Tommy's mother). When Perry came out of the closet, Tommy severed ties with his father, not because of his homosexuality, but because Perry lied to his mother and abandoned her without any consideration for her feelings. In "After Mrs. Shafter", Perry realizes he was wrong to break up with Tommy's mother and tries to reconcile with her, only to find that Ken wants to date her. In the end, Perry, Mrs. Shafer, and Ken enter a sort of three-way relationship, which Titus and Erin find morally abhorrent, but Tommy likes, as it means he can bond with his father again. Perry can do the affectionate things she likes, while she can have sex with Ken.
Amy Fitzpatrick Rachel Roth Erin's rebellious teenage niece who lives with Erin and Christopher during the third season after getting in trouble for beating her uncle (Erin's brother, Michael) over the head with a skateboard. Lived with her drug addict mom (Erin's sister, Kim) and her abusive alcoholic stepfather (Kim's boyfriend, Bob), both of which were either too stoned or in jail too often to care for Amy. In "The Protector", it was revealed that Amy was sexually molested by a man who offered to care for Amy while Amy's parents were in jail (and the man is the father of a boy who harasses Amy at school). In "Errr", it is revealed that Amy is a lesbian and has a girlfriend named Charlie.
^a "Dave Titus" appears on the DVD material, but Dave's last name was given as Scoville in the show. The only clue to this discrepancy in the show proper is when Dave says he was never legally adopted by his father in the first season episode "Red Asphalt".

Episode list[edit]

(Episodes listed as they were ordered on the DVD release)
Season Ep # First Airdate Last Airdate
Season 1 9 March 20, 2000 May 22, 2000
Season 2 24 October 3, 2000 May 22, 2001
Season 3 21 November 14, 2001 August 12, 2002

Season ratings[edit]

Season TV Season Ratings Rank Viewers
(in millions)
1 1999–2000 #61[15] 9.53[15]
2 2000–2001 #67[16] 9.7[16]
3 2001–2002 #89[17] 7.9[17]

DVD releases[edit]

Anchor Bay Entertainment (under license from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) released the entire series on DVD in Region 1 in two packages in 2005/2006. Both are now out of print.[18][19]

DVD Name Ep # Release Date Additional Information
Seasons 1 & 2 33 July 12, 2005
  • Audio Commentaries
  • Hard Laughs
  • Rehearsal Footage
  • Promos for Titus
  • Cross-Promo Trailers: Doogie Howser M.D. & Profit
Season 3 21 January 17, 2006
  • Audio Commentary with Creator/Star Christopher Titus and Creators Brian Hargrove and Jack Kenny
  • "Brotherly Love": An Interview with Zach Ward
  • "His Better Half": An Interview with Cynthia Watros
  • "Honor Thy Father": An Interview with Stacey Keach
  • Gag Reel

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Titus, Christopher. Hard Laughs (Titus Seasons 1 & 2 (DVD)). Anchor Bay Entertainment. 
  2. ^ a b c d Titus, Christopher; Hargrove, Brian; Kenny, Jack. Dad Is Dead (DVD audio commentary). Anchor Bay Entertainment. 
  3. ^ a b Titus, Christopher; Hargrove, Brian; Kenny, Jack. The Last Noelle (DVD audio commentary). Anchor Bay Entertainment. 
  4. ^ Titus, Christopher; Hargrove, Brian; Kenny, Jack. Tommy's Not Gay (DVD audio commentary). Anchor Bay Entertainment. 
  5. ^ Keach, Stacy. Honor Thy Father: An Interview with Stacy Keach (Titus Season 3 (DVD)). Anchor Bay Entertainment. 
  6. ^ a b Titus, Christopher; Hargrove, Brian; Kenny, Jack. Insanity Genetic (1) (DVD audio commentary). Anchor Bay Entertainment. 
  7. ^ Titus Episode Guide - Titus Season Episodes - TV.com
  8. ^ WSUN-FM, May 29, 2009 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5x0PncXkYc8
  9. ^ Titus, Christopher. Love is Evol (Television comedy special). Levity Entertainment Group. 
  10. ^ KRQQ, February 18, 2009 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MveKEAJyZ0g&playnext=1&list=PL541EB5705D2DB6C7
  11. ^ "Christopher Titus Reunites with Fox for a New Sitcom". Collider. Retrieved 2012-10-18. 
  12. ^ Published Monday, May 31, 2010, 10:28am EDT (2010-05-31). "Christopher Titus returning to TV - TV News". Digital Spy. Retrieved 2012-10-18. 
  13. ^ "Christopher Titus Talks About Working with Fox, Round Two, and a 'Special Unit' Movie". Tvsquad.com. 2010-06-17. Retrieved 2012-10-18. 
  14. ^ https://www.facebook.com/176979062329771/photos/a.381218571905818.101305.176979062329771/779192265441778/
  15. ^ a b "Top TV Shows For 1999-2000 Season". Variety. Retrieved 9 January 2010. 
  16. ^ a b "The Bitter End". Entertainment Weekly Published in issue #598, June 1, 2001. June 1, 2001. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  17. ^ a b "How did your favorite show rate?". USA Today. May 28, 2002. Retrieved 9 January 2010. 
  18. ^ "Titus: Seasons 1 & 2 DVD @ DVD Empire". Dvdempire.com. 2005-12-07. Retrieved 2012-10-18. 
  19. ^ "Titus: Season 3 DVD @ DVD Empire". Dvdempire.com. 2006-01-17. Retrieved 2012-10-18. 

External links[edit]