Titus (TV series)

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Titus
Tituslogo.jpg
The Titus logo used in the opening credits.
Format Sitcom
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. This sitcom was 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 halfbrother Dave, his girlfriend Erin with the "heart of gold", his goody-goody friend Tommy, and his arrogantly lewd, bigoted and multiple-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 until it was cancelled in 2002.

The characters were essentially a dysfunctional family and the situations the show dealt with were often serious and dark and unusual for network sitcom fare, 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", dealt with the issue that Tommy—who uses stereotypically gay mannerisms but is not actually gay—lashes out at his homosexual father for lying to his mother about his sexuality. However, Tommy later defends his dad against others' homophobia when Tommy's father ends up getting beaten by Titus's friends. The episode made reference to the real-life killing of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming.

The format of the show always began 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 would accompany Christopher and sometimes be used as a prop. He would do a short monologue, then the traditional sitcom story would begin. During the episode, segments would be intercut to this "neutral space" where he would narrate or comment on what was happening. There were also frequent flashbacks or dream/imaginary sequences to relevant events. However, almost all episodes took place in only one location. In the end, Christopher would do another monologue, with the same beginning as in the show's opening, then turn the light off, sometimes smashing the bulb or even turning it off with a remote. Occasionally, an alter-ego type character of Titus would appear with him and gets abused randomly. These altered versions of Titus included Nerd Titus, 16-Year-Old Titus, 10-Year-Old Titus, and 5-Year-Old Titus.

The show, unusual for a sitcom, used serious points as act breaks at times during episodes. These included Christopher admitting to having been 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 violent, manic-depressive, paranoid-schizophrenic mother; 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 joke 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 funny could be, and knew that Ward would nail it when the episode was filmed.[1] Watros asked Titus to point out where the joke was, and promised she would hit her mark.[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.

In most episodes, there was a reference to 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) and/or guns, as a running gag.

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, since he would have the punchline, but Keach's set-up would be funnier.[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 centered on the premise that the U.S. government believes Titus is a terrorist after Titus suffers a nervous breakdown on a plane from his mother's suicide, 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, gurgling mouthwash (which seems like he is speaking unintelligibly) and wearing a towel turban, a robe, and shaving cream on his face which looked like 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 drink again since Ken's sobriety is making him boring). Christopher 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 sexually 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 3 premiere "Racing in the Streets" dealt with Titus's recovery from the accident in "The Pit" and continued in "The Pendulum", yet he seems unaffected and the accident is not mentioned in the Season 2 finale. This is also confirmed by these episodes' production codes, which put "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 her second husband after Titus, Ken, Dave, and the priest presiding over the wedding tie up the man and yell at him for abusing his wife).[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). 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".[9]

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 the 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.[10][11][12]

In March 2014, Titus posted on his Facebook page[13] 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 they did not have to use a laugh track on the show. 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 for a quick one-liner from Titus, sometimes for some informative exposition, and often for a quick flashback or a sparingly used fantasy scene. The Live Show would also usually take place in one place, either a recurring location like Ken's house, or the garage, or a one-time location, like the 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 neutral space (always in black and white) would always start and end the show, usually with the same sentence. 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, and vice versa (one notable exception was Dave's suicide note in "Private Dave"). 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 also be saying it in reality, and not realize it, like when he calls the prosecutor an idiot, thinking he just 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 17 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 (especially in the flashbacks of Titus's mom, Juanita [the violent, manic-depressive schizophrenic], on episodes where Juanita is not the focal point of the plot, but Titus does mention something about his childhood involving his insane mother, such as the flashback on the season three episode "Grad School" where it showed Titus being forced to live with his mother [who is wearing an Army jacket, white go-go boots, and no pants or underwear] after a social worker accuses Ken of being an unfit father). 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 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 with 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 has his brother Dave and friend Tommy employed 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 came 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. 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. 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 (Titus and Dave) to keep them from being "wussies" and was married and divorced five times (with all of Ken's 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 making himself 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 mom and tries to reconcile with her, only to find that Titus's dad 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 Ken and her can have sex.
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's 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[14] 9.53[14]
2 2000–2001 #67[15] 9.7[15]
3 2001–2002 #89[16] 7.9[16]

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.[17][18]

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. ^ KRQQ, February 18, 2009 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MveKEAJyZ0g&playnext=1&list=PL541EB5705D2DB6C7
  10. ^ "Christopher Titus Reunites with Fox for a New Sitcom". Collider. Retrieved 2012-10-18. 
  11. ^ Published Monday, May 31, 2010, 10:28am EDT (2010-05-31). "Christopher Titus returning to TV - TV News". Digital Spy. Retrieved 2012-10-18. 
  12. ^ "Christopher Titus Talks About Working with Fox, Round Two, and a 'Special Unit' Movie". Tvsquad.com. 2010-06-17. Retrieved 2012-10-18. 
  13. ^ https://www.facebook.com/176979062329771/photos/a.381218571905818.101305.176979062329771/779192265441778/
  14. ^ a b "Top TV Shows For 1999-2000 Season". Variety. Retrieved 9 January 2010. 
  15. ^ a b "The Bitter End". Entertainment Weekly Published in issue #598, June 1, 2001. June 1, 2001. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  16. ^ a b "How did your favorite show rate?". USA Today. May 28, 2002. Retrieved 9 January 2010. 
  17. ^ "Titus: Seasons 1 & 2 DVD @ DVD Empire". Dvdempire.com. 2005-12-07. Retrieved 2012-10-18. 
  18. ^ "Titus: Season 3 DVD @ DVD Empire". Dvdempire.com. 2006-01-17. Retrieved 2012-10-18. 

External links[edit]