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What does It Mean to "Jump the Shark"?

"Jumping the shark" signifies the moment a beloved show makes a far-fetched plot twist, signaling a decline in quality. It's when writers resort to outlandish scenarios to maintain viewer interest, often indicating a series has peaked. Have you noticed your favorite series taking a bizarre turn? Let's explore how shows evolve past their prime and what that means for their legacy.
Garry Crystal
Garry Crystal

To jump the shark is a term originally used as a metaphor for when a television series has passed its sell-by date. The term originated after an episode of the hit television series Happy Days. In one episode, Arthur Fonzarelli, otherwise known as The Fonz, literally water skis over a shark. It was at this point that viewers became disenchanted with the show and its days were numbered.

Viewers of the show felt that the series had lost its way with this incredulous plot line and could no longer believe in the characters. Jump the shark entered into the vocabulary of pop culture. The new saying was used for anything that was no longer of interest. The phrase can be applied to music, film or anything in real life that has gone past its expiry date of usefulness.

When The Fonz water skied over a shark in an episode of Happy Days, it was referred to as a "jump the shark" moment, or a point when viewers became disenchanted with the show.
When The Fonz water skied over a shark in an episode of Happy Days, it was referred to as a "jump the shark" moment, or a point when viewers became disenchanted with the show.

Although the Happy Days episode is thought to be the instigator of the term, the first use of it was in December 1997. A website called jumptheshark.com was created by Jon Hein. He claimed that his college friend, Sean J. Connolly, used the phrase first in 1985. Hein, who now works for the Howard Stern show, sold the website for a reported one million US dollars (USD).

Jon Hein created a website in 1997 named jumptheshark.com, claiming that his friend was the first to use the phrase in 1985.
Jon Hein created a website in 1997 named jumptheshark.com, claiming that his friend was the first to use the phrase in 1985.

Jump the shark is most commonly thought of in television terms. Think of your favorite television show, one that you look forward to seeing every week. Then imagine something changing; something is off, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. Your attention has started to wane and you no longer mind if you miss one or two episodes of the show.

"Jump the shark" may be used in reference to musicians that no longer have the same appeal to their fans as they once did.
"Jump the shark" may be used in reference to musicians that no longer have the same appeal to their fans as they once did.

This usually happens when the series is long running and the creators have to come up with new ideas to keep the show fresh. They may transport characters to different locations from their normal setting or may introduce celebrity guests in a number of episodes. A main actor may leave the series and be replaced with a different actor playing the same character.

These are all devices used to keep the audience's interest in the show and prevent the metaphorical jump the shark moment. As a nation of media savvy television watchers, we instinctively know when the show has passed its sell-by date. We may hang on for a few more shows, even seasons, out of habit, but it won’t be long before word of mouth spreads and the axe falls.

The term jump the shark can also be applied to musicians. Think of your favorite artist - perhaps their first two CDs were great, but by the third they may have tried to reinvent themselves to gain a wider audience. This may work for some, but for others, the artist strays too far from the reason fans loved their music in the first place. The band may not seem to talk to or for the fans anymore, and they begin look for someone new who seems more genuine.

Jump the shark is a term that can now be used for anything that has turned stale or mediocre. It has left the arena of pop culture and strayed into real life. This phrase can now be applied to the boss who pushes too far, or even the partner with the sell-by date that is beginning to peel off.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the origin of the phrase "jump the shark"?

The phrase "jump the shark" originated from a scene in the fifth season of the American TV series "Happy Days," where the character Fonzie jumps over a shark while water skiing. This moment, which aired on September 20, 1977, is widely regarded as the point when the show's quality began to decline, signaling a desperation to retain viewers with outlandish plots. The term has since become a metaphor for the moment when something, especially a television show, makes a gimmick or storyline twist that indicates a decline in quality or originality.

How is "jumping the shark" used in popular culture?

In popular culture, "jumping the shark" is used to describe a moment when a creative endeavor, particularly in television, makes a turn for the worse with a plot twist or event that is perceived as absurd or indicative of a decline in quality. It's a critical shorthand for the point at which the creators have exhausted their creativity and resorted to attention-grabbing stunts. The term has been widely adopted in discussions about television shows, movies, and even other forms of media or events.

Can "jump the shark" apply to things other than TV shows?

Yes, while "jump the shark" originally applied to television shows, it has since expanded to describe any situation where something that was once widely popular begins to diminish in quality or veers into absurdity, signaling a loss of originality or relevance. This can apply to film series, book series, political careers, company strategies, and even internet memes or social media trends that have passed their peak of cultural significance.

Are there any notable examples of shows that have "jumped the shark"?

Aside from "Happy Days," there are several other notable examples of shows that are often cited as having "jumped the shark." These include "The X-Files," particularly after the departure of David Duchovny; "Dexter," with its widely criticized final season; and "Game of Thrones," particularly in its last two seasons where many fans felt the storytelling quality declined. These examples are often discussed in fan forums and critical analyses of television series.

Is there a way for a show to recover after "jumping the shark"?

While it's challenging for a show to recover after "jumping the shark," it's not impossible. Some shows manage to regain their footing by refocusing on core characters and storylines that made them popular in the first place. A change in writers or showrunners, a return to narrative basics, or even a time jump can sometimes refresh a series. However, such recoveries are rare and often depend on a strong connection with the audience and a willingness to adapt creatively.

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Discussion Comments

anon958031

"Castle" comes to mind.

widget2010

This also no longer just refers to television shows. Movie sequels, book series, and even things like webcomics and comic books, all do this. It bothers me most when, while doing so, they break previously set rules in the canon, basically saying "well, we said this, but just kidding, the rule really meant that". It shows how dishonest, and uninterested in anything but money, even the good writers have become.

accordion

@aaaCookie, and there is the problem. If television shows were not all so formulaic, they would have far less need to make things crazy to get more viewers. reality television, for example, is the worst part- the entire genre is like a big shark-jumping contest.

aaaCookie

The Happy Days cast is just the start of so many shows jumping the shark; after all, many television shows, then and now, have basically run on a formula. The main characters have specific quirks, and these quirks conflict with one another, causing the action; eventually, these quirks get boring, and this is when they have to change things up; often the only way is to jump the shark to get attention.

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    • When The Fonz water skied over a shark in an episode of Happy Days, it was referred to as a "jump the shark" moment, or a point when viewers became disenchanted with the show.
      By: Richard Elzey
      When The Fonz water skied over a shark in an episode of Happy Days, it was referred to as a "jump the shark" moment, or a point when viewers became disenchanted with the show.
    • Jon Hein created a website in 1997 named jumptheshark.com, claiming that his friend was the first to use the phrase in 1985.
      By: Gage Skidmore
      Jon Hein created a website in 1997 named jumptheshark.com, claiming that his friend was the first to use the phrase in 1985.
    • "Jump the shark" may be used in reference to musicians that no longer have the same appeal to their fans as they once did.
      By: Andrey Armyagov
      "Jump the shark" may be used in reference to musicians that no longer have the same appeal to their fans as they once did.