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“Selfie” was the word of the year—and now it’s a TV show

July 15, 2014
July 15, 2014

LOS ANGELES—After dominating social media during the past year, “selfies”—the term referring to an image taken of one’s self, especially for posting via social media—are now setting their sights on television. But who will actually want to watch a show about them?

ABC will find out this fall when it launches a new comedy called—yes—Selfie. It’s a modern-day take on My Fair Lady and Pygmalion, in which professor Henry Higgins gives Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle speech lessons and a makeover to pass as a “proper” upper-class lady. In ABC’s version, the Eliza character is a social media star who celebrates her 263,000 followers before realizing that being “friended” isn’t the same thing as actually having friends. She enlists her marketing guru coworker Henry to help transform her and teach her social graces.

The show’s creator and executive producer Emily Kapnek told reporters Tuesday at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour that she had initially developed a show about “modern obstacles” and the presence of technology in modern relationships before realizing “there was inherently a Pygmalion aspect, so we embraced it.”

But not entirely: when it came to choosing a title, she opted against the show’s famous namesake, which shows like Fargo and the upcoming series 12 Monkeys are doing. Instead, she went with Selfie, which “feels very topical and relevant to me,” Kapnek said.

Indeed, “selfie” was added to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary in May (along with “hashtag” and “tweep”), after being named “word of the year” by Oxford Dictionaries in 2013. During March’s Academy Awards ceremony, host Ellen DeGeneres’s “Best photo ever” Oscar selfie became the most retweeted tweet ever.

But taking a series, which its creator and the network hope will air for years to come, and calling it Selfie seems about as risky a bet as naming a show Macarena back in the mid-1990s (which no one did, thankfully). Given that some have argued that the word has already jumped the shark, Selfie’s title could quickly feel dated, and eventually become an albatross for the show.

“We definitely talked about it,” admitted Kapnek when asked about concerns over the title. But she concluded that “selfie is a very provocative word. It speaks to the disease that Eliza has, keeping the world at arms distance …It becomes a descriptive word for us. It felt natural.”

Still, Selfie seems destined to join a long line of ABC shows, including Cougar Town and Trophy Wife, with quirky titles that were ultimately off-putting to a segment of viewers. However, network execs won’t be changing their approach. “You always want a title that will catch the eye and capture the imagination,” ABC entertainment president Paul Lee explained.

Only time will tell if audiences will find Selfie, and its title, worthy of a retweet—or a delete.

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