Jump The Shark. It’s a phrase that’s become popular over the last ten years thanks to the internet. If you’re out of the trendy phrase loop, “jumping the shark” is the moment in a TV show when viewers realize the series has reached its peak. Whether it is some ridiculous over-the-top moment that the show is never able to live down or some amazing episode that the show is never able to live up to afterwards, many shows have jumped the shark and many more will.
The phrase originated on the website, titled appropriately, jumptheshark.com. Wikipedia states that the website is the first verifiable use of the phrase and credits Sean J. Connolly as the coiner. “Jump The Shark” refers to the episode in ‘Happy Days’ when Fonzie water ski’s over a shark. It was a ridiculous scene and many believed it was the beginning of the end for the once popular series.
It seems to me that the phrase has become overused over the last couple of years. The moment some major event occurs in a TV series, the “jump the shark” comments start getting thrown around left and right.
Take last week’s episode of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ for example. The episode ended with Meredith’s heart stopping and her crossing over into some after-life hospital room. Since it was sort of a cliffhanger ending, there’s no real confirmation that she’s officially dead. She might only be “mostly dead” right now and will be revived in next week’s episode. There’s a good possibility that this will be the case, as she is the title character. So isn’t it a little too early to declare this incident as the official shark-jumping moment of the series? How can one determine that the show has reached its peak if they haven’t seen the episodes that followed? This is not to say that this whole “Will Meredith die?” plot isn’t the show’s jump-the-shark moment. It could very well be. It’s just too early to tell at this point.
So while I refuse to prematurely declare any show as having jumped the shark, I do think its fun to look back at shows that are no longer on the air and try to determine when or if it ever happened. As for shows that are still on the air, even if the series has dipped in ratings or taken some criticism in it’s recent season (‘Lost’), I don’t believe in declaring the peak of a show before the series has ended. After all, there have been some great shows that had mediocre middle seasons but managed to make a significant comeback by the final season (‘Angel’).
There are some shows that slowly deteriorate over time (‘ER’) but don’t seem to have one specific shark-jumping moment. Granted, the helicopter crashing down on Dr. Romano was a bit ridiculous but when that happened, the show was hardly at the top of its game. To me that was just one of many ratings-boosting gimmicks. ‘7th Heaven’ is guilty of that as well. There’s always a “very special episode” of ‘7th Heaven’ in which something overly dramatic and cliché takes place. You could say that show’s like ‘ER’ and ‘7th Heaven’ are just a series of ridiculous shark-jumping moments. Even if that is the case, it must be working because the shows have survived for more than 10 seasons.
In terms of coming up with a good example of a show that jumped the shark by peaking too early, the first series that came to mind was ‘Alias.’ I was a fan of the show throughout the entire series but looking back, I’ve come to realize that the show peaked during that infamous post-Super Bowl episode. In an episode that aired midway through season 2, titled “Phase One”, Sydney and the CIA take down SD-6 and The Alliance. After that episode, the season drew to a somewhat uneventful close (though the chick-fight she had with the Francie imposter was pretty kickass). The series continued and definitely had its high points but none seemed to measure up to the earlier seasons. The real problem was that part of the fun of ‘Alias’ was watching Sydney manage her double life. In season 1 and part of season 2, part of the show involved her keeping her career as a spy from her friends. Once her secret was out, that fun aspect of the show was gone and the show suffered somewhat because of it.
‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ jumped the shark when the kids graduated high school. The event was unavoidable but that wasn’t for lack of trying on the writers’ part. They did manage to squeeze a second junior year into the characters’ high school days. When Brandon and Brenda showed up at West Beverly High School they were juniors. They didn’t graduate until the end of the third season. This ensured three solid years of high school goodness for the show but graduation was inevitable. The series slid downhill after that. Brenda left after their first year in college and a couple seasons later, so did Brandon. Had the Walsh twins stuck around, its possible the series could have gotten back on track. I suppose we’ll never know and honestly, does it really matter?
There are plenty of great shows that never jumped the shark. ‘Seinfeld’ is a prime example of that. The show started off rocky but by the second season it hit a stride that didn’t break until the show’s finale. ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ is another example of a show that stayed great throughout the entire series. Sure, most fans are able to choose their favorite season but even if they picked seasons two or three, most fans would agree that the series stayed great all the way through to the end.
What’s your opinion on the whole “Jump The Shark” idea as it pertains to TV shows? Do you agree that people tend to overuse the phrase? What are some of your most favorite (or least favorite) shark-jumping moments?
Here is the infamous scene from ‘Happy Days’ in which Fonzie jumps the shark:
’Grease: You’re the One That I Want’ (NBC) 8:00 pm
(New!) – The group continues to get narrowed down as the guys and girls compete for the role of Danny and Sandy in the Grease revival cast.
’Desperate Housewives’ (ABC) 9:00 pm
The Little Things You Do Together- (New!) – Pizzeria Scavo opens. The promos are strongly suggesting that someone could die.
’Battlestar Galactica (SCIFI) 10:00 pm
A Day In The Life - (New!) – Chief and Cally get stuck in a broken airlock. Adama flashes back to his late wife, Caroline.
’How I Met Your Mother’ (CBS) 8:00 pm
Stuff- (New!) – Robin wants Ted to get rid of the stuff he’s saved from past relationships. The gang votes on what stays and what goes. If there’s one thing this show excels at, its hilarious flashbacks.
Watch: ’24’ (Fox) 9:00 pm
3:00 pm – 4:00 pm- (New!) – Milo and Jack’s sister-in-law are on the run from Mr. Bauer’s people. Jack deals with the news that his father was behind everything, including his brother’s death.
TiVo: ’Heroes’ (NBC) 9:00 pm
Unexpected- (New!) – Claire confronts her father about what he’s been up to. Peter deals with a betrayal. We get to meet yet another hero. Hopefully this one wont be dead by the end of the episode like the last one.
’American Idol’ (Fox) 8:00 pm
(New!) – The top 12 male singers perform.
”Veronica Mars” (CW) 9:00 pm
Mars, Bars (New!) – Last week’s episode ended with Veronica getting arrested for somehow helping Josh escape from jail. Hopefully her dad will help free her and then they can figure out who killed the coach. Meanwhile, Logan joins Mac and Parker on a Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt.
’American Idol’ (FOX) 8:00 pm
(New!) – The top 12 female singers perform.
”Jericho” (CBS) 9:00 pm (AI fans: This ep re-runs on Saturday at 8 pm)
The Day Before (New!) – The show returns after a rather lengthy hiatus. It’s a flashback episode which will show us Jericho the day before the nuclear attack.
’Lost’ (ABC) 10:00 pm
Stranger in a Strange Land(New!) – Last week we got a much-needed break from the Kate/Sawyer/Jack story but now we’re back in it. Kate and Sawyer are still trying to escape the island. Jack is stuck dealing with the mysterious “others.”
”The Office” (NBC) 8:30 pm
Cocktails - (New!) – Michael and Jan go public with their relationship at a work-related party. Jim meet’s Karen’s ex and the rest of the Office gang goes out for drinks together.
’Grey’s Anatomy’ (ABC) 9:00 pm
Some Kind of Miracle - (New!) – ABC promises a devastating conclusion to this three-part episode. Rumor has it, someone will die (for good). Think it’ll be Meredith? Probably not.
”Oprah Winfrey Oscar Special” (ABC) 10:00 pm
With the Oscars coming up, former Academy Award winners interview other former Academy Award winners. The special will feature A-list celebs like Julia Roberts, Russell Crowe and George Clooney. It could be good. Or it could go something like this – “You’re the greatest actor in the world!”…”no, youare!”… “No, really, you are!”
Die Hard (HBOe) 7:45 pm
John McClane is the Jack Bauer of the big screen.
Big (Encore) 8:00 pm
Tom Hanks goes crazy and wakes up one day, convinced he’s a 12 year old. Ok, maybe that’s not exactly how it happens but you get the gist.