Occasionally a word or phrase appears and the next thing anyone knows it becomes a part of the American lexicon. Jumped the Shark is such a phrase.
The terms jump, jumped, or jumping the shark originally came into being in the mid-1980s when a group of friends at the University of Michigan were discussing the moment in time when certain television shows lost their spark, or edge, and began their decline from popularity into eventual cancellation.
Jon Hein, creator of jumptheshark.com, noted a friend of his suggested Happy Days “jumped the shark” during the episode where Fonzie went to Hollywood to become an actor. During the third of a three-episode arc, Fonzie donned a pair of swimming trunks, his trademark leather jacket, and a pair of skis and jumped over a shark while water skiing. The friend’s opinion was the action was contrary to typical “Fonz” behavior, causing viewers to lose respect for the show and start drifting away.
Although Happy Days continued its run for another 100 or so episodes, the show was never quite the same. Longevity of a show does not necessarily equate to quality or popularity. As most viewers know, some shows are cancelled during their prime while others, for whatever reason, hang on much too long.
Jon Hein brought the phrase to the attention of the public when he created the hugely popular jumptheshark.com website. On the site, he related numerous examples of television shows that had jumped the shark, while allowing viewers to vote and to leave their own suggestions in the comment section. The website itself jumped the shark when Hein sold it to TV Guide. Viewer comments were deleted, they were no longer allowed to participate, and the site was absorbed into TV Guide’s website.
Jumping the shark often occurs when television shows attempt to remain fresh by making significant changes, most of which backfire causing the show to decline instead. Sometimes the changes may occur because a cast member left do to dissatisfaction, illness, or death. Other times, the writers or powers-that-be decide to alter a show in some way because they think their changes will increase viewers whereas their actions actually have the opposite affect.
I Love Lucy jumped the shark when the setting of the show moved from New York City to a new town. When John Amos left Good Times, he left a huge hole in the show that no one else could fill. The popular Cheers ran for eleven seasons, but was never quite the same after Shelly Long left the bar.
Sometimes a popular sitcom jumps the shark and it is obvious to everyone involved. At other times, viewers only know that something is not quite right, but do not have the full picture until the show declines to the point of cancellation.
So popular has the phrase become that it is now a part of the American lexicon, a metaphor used in any industry to describe anything that peaks, then falls into decline. Has your favorite sitcom jumped the shark?