Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Jumping the shark
Jumping the shark is a metaphor used by television critics since the 1990s. The phrase, popularized by Jon Hein on his web site www.jumptheshark.com, is used to describe the moment when a television show or similar episodic media is in retrospect judged to have passed its "peak" and shows a noticeable decline in quality. Hein also uses the "jumping the shark" concept to describe other areas of pop culture, such as music and celebrities, for whom a drastic change was the beginning of the end.
The phrase refers to a scene in a three-part episode of the American television series Happy Days broadcast in September 1977. In the "Hollywood" episode, Fonzie, wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, jumps over a tank containing a shark while on water skis.
Many have noted the shark episode as the moment when they realized the show was no longer worth watching, when it became impossible to maintain a certain suspension of disbelief. Even before "jumping the shark" was employed as a popular culture term, the episode in question was many times cited as an example of what happens to otherwise high quality programs when they stay on the air too long. Producer Garry Marshall later admitted that he knew the show had lost something as the crew prepared to shoot the scene, but he defiantly pointed out in the reunion special that aired in February 3, 2005, that Happy Days went on to produce approximately 100 more episodes after the shark jump episode. During the same special, in response to an audience member question, Marshall introduced the notorious clip, and noted how the show had inspired the term.
The first use of the phrase as a direct metaphor is reported to have been on December 24, 1997, when the jumptheshark.com web site was launched by Jon Hein. According to the site, the phrase was first coined by Hein's college roommate, Sean J. Connolly, in 1985. In print, the term first appeared in the Jerusalem Post newspaper article "It's All Downhill" written by Jeff Abramowitz on May 29, 1998.
Archetypal jump-the-shark moments
A "jumping the shark" moment is usually specific to what makes a series popular, or to a show's original premise. Common scenes or situations listed below only qualify as shark-jumping moments when they cross a line that in retrospect can be cited as a sign of the show's decline; series have recovered from just about everything listed below, but the following usually upset the chemistry of the show in some significant way. Just because a moment appears on this list, it does not follow that the series it appears in has necessarily jumped the shark - each series is different, and a lot depends on the execution. Also relevant are differences in viewer tastes - what may constitute a shark-jumping moment to one viewer will not necessarily be seen the same way by another.
Soap operas will often use several of these ploys repeatedly, yet (perhaps by their very nature) manage to maintain their loyal viewers.
- Change in the principal setting of the show, either permanently or as the theme of a series of episodes.
- An episode that irreparably strains the credibility or premise of the series or one of its main characters.
- Same main character played by a different actor.
- Same actor (usually a guest performer) plays a different character (especially when the previous character was written out by killing him or her off. Often the writers attempt to cover this by making the new character a long-lost cousin or other relative).
- An ongoing plotline, character, or group of characters comes to play a disproportionately large role in the stories.
- Death or other removal of a main character (usually, when the actor portraying that character leaves the show).
- Unexplained departure of a character, as in the Chuck Cunningham syndrome.
- Key character departs and is replaced by almost identical new character.
- Loss of a key prop or location.
- Key writer and/or producer leaves the show.
- A show continues after the death of a cast member.
- The "clip show" or retrospective, where the characters reminisce about the past with a collection of short clips from previous episodes.
- Main character or cast member gives birth.
- A theatrical film based on the series runs between seasons.
- Show broadcast in color if previously shown in black-and-white (in the case of shows broadcast during the 1960s, when many series underwent this change).
- Child actors enter puberty.
- Non-musical cast members featured singing.
- Introduction of new characters to revive interest, often during a show's waning years. This plot device has been lampooned in several episodes of The Simpsons (most notably, the episode "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show"). Examples include:
- Young, cute children clearly intended to replace child stars who have reached (or are nearing) adulthood.
- Superfluous, clichéd characters who do little more than bog down the storyline, often to replace departed stars.
- Main characters have sex, after an extended period of sexual tension between them.
- Change in a character's personality, usually from negative attributes to positive ones.
- When the show is in an academic setting, the main characters graduate.
- The "very special episode," in which a situation comedy or drama addresses a serious social issue in an awkward way (such as drug addiction, child abuse or racism). The situation comedy Blossom often used this plot device.
- Change in where the show is produced, usually a move back to southern California by a show produced somewhere else (a sign that the actors and producers are beginning to get tired of doing the show and want to be available for other projects).
- Change in length of episode, usually when a 30-minute show attempts hour-long episodes.
- Change in day and/or time of air, which affects the commercial pressures on a show.
- The producers start to dilute the show's brand with too many spinoffs; or other networks do the same with cheap imitations of the show.
- Likewise, the show gets into merchandising and/or its stars start doing ads. However, this was a common practice during the early days of television, when characters of a show pitched a certain product either as part of the gag or during a commerical.
- Special celebrity guest star, particularly one who doesn't normally do television or even act.
- Crossover episodes with other series.
- A key premise of the series is changed or discarded completely.
- Use of a plot device which is regarded as a cliché, for example, a story involving the evil twin of a main character.
- A cliffhanger season finale with a disappointing resolution.
- A character who had never shown any previous signs of being gay comes out of the closet.
- A substantial reduction in the show's budget in a way that is noticable on screen.
- Series production moves.
- Off the set, a key cast member is charged with a crime, is a defendant in a major lawsuit, has well-publicized maritial problems, or is involved with some other scandal (e.g., drug problem, revelations he/she is gay).
- Ted McGinley has been dubbed the "patron saint" of shark jumping by Jon Hein because of the number of series which jumped the shark when he joined the cast. However, this is perhaps the most controversial of the shark jumping categories since several of McGinley's shows continued for many more seasons after he joined the cast, most notably Happy Days and Married... With Children.
- A show with a realistic premise (or at least reasonably so) such as a sitcom starts using sci-fi plot devices such a time travel, cloning, virtual reality and alien invasion.
- Sitcom characters start becoming involved on a daily basis with cloak and dagger situations, such as a character being accidentally recruited in a counterintelligence service, spying agency, maffia task force or is simply found to be a dead ringer to an influencial politician or monarch, usually from a non-existant country created for the episode.
Some shows' JTS status has been "Day One" (the moment the show aired its premiere episode). While this relates mainly to inferior, short-lived shows, this can also apply to longer-running shows that some perceive as having a corny premise or whose main plots are implausable and would never happen in real life.
Examples of shows said to have jumped the shark
Warning: This list in inherently subjective in nature. Tastes differ, and it is unlikely that any one person would agree with every item on this list.
- 8 Simple Rules, when John Ritter unexpectedly died during the show's second season.
- All in the Family, most notably:
- When Mike, Gloria and Joey move to California (series stars Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers leaving the cast).
- Stephanie (Archie and Edith's 10-year-old niece) comes to live with the Bunkers (following the above plot development).
- Edith's death (Jean Stapleton having left the series in 1980, a year after the show became Archie Bunker's Place).
- Ally McBeal, when Maddie joins the cast.
- Alvin and the Chipmunks, when The Chipettes are introduced.
- The Andy Griffith Show, including:
- The A-Team, when the characters stop running from the government and start working for it.
- Batman, when during the course of the third season, Batgirl (Yvonne Craig) was introduced, ABC cut the telecasts down to only once a week (thus, eliminating the regular two-part cliffhangers), had Eartha Kitt replace Julie Newmar as Catwoman, and the production values greatly detoriated.
- The Beverly Hillbillies, when CBS began telecasting color episodes in 1965.
- Beverly Hills 90210, when:
- Bewitched, when Dick Sargent replaced Dick York as the actor playing main character Darrin Stevens (and at the same time the show recycled many of the earlier scripts).
- Blossom, when the show began resorting to the "very special episode" plot device seemingly each week. Also, when Blossom's father re-married and she gained a step-sister.
- Bonanza, most notably when series star Dan Blocker (who played middle son Hoss Cartwright) died suddenly in 1972. Also:
- The show's move from Sundays to Tuesdays (also in 1972).
- The departure of Pernell Roberts (who portrayed eldest son Adam Cartwright) in 1965.
- Ben adopts 14-year-old Jamie Hunter (Mitch Vogel ), who joined the family in 1970 (along with a new theme song and opening credits sequence; and the show's production move from the Paramount studios to Warner Bros. at that same time).
- Boy Meets World, when the main cast graduated from high school, and Matthew Lawrence, Maitland Ward , and Trina McGee were added to the show (1998).
- The Brady Bunch, when Cousin Oliver joined the family late in the series.
- Dallas, the infamous "shower scene" to start the 1986-1987 season, where Pam Ewing (Victoria Principal) said the entire previous season (and Bobby Ewing's (Patrick Duffy) death from a hit-and-run accident a year earlier) was but "a dream." Duffy had left the series for a year due to a contract dispute.
- Designing Women, when Delta Burke left.
- Diff'rent Strokes, when Mr. Drummond (Conrad Bain) re-married, and her young son, Sam (Danny Cooksey ) moved in with the Drummonds.
- Also, very special episodes about a pedophine attempting to molest one of Arnold's friends; and when former first lady Nancy Reagan guest-starred to support Arnold when he wrote an exposé in his school's newspaper about his school's drug problem.
- Although not having happened during the series' original run, when cast members Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges and Dana Plato had run-ins with the law.
- Dora the Explorer, when Diego was introduced.
- The Drew Carey Show, when the opening theme music was changed to "Cleveland Rocks."
- The Dukes of Hazzard, when Bo and Luke left and were replaced by "cousins" Coy and Vance (series stars John Schneider and Tom Wopat having left for most of the 1982-1983 season due to a contract dispute).
- The Facts of Life, when the girls graduate from Eastland and open a bakery.
- Family Feud, when Richard Dawson returned to host and the show was made much cheaper looking in 1994.
- Family Matters, when neighbor Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) became the main character. Also, when Judy (Jaimee Foxworth) and Aunt Rachel (Telma Hopkins) were written out of the show without explanation.
- The Flintstones, with the introduction of The Great Gazoo.
- Friends, when Monica and Chandler became an item. When baby Emma was born through Ross and Rachel.
- Growing Pains, when Maggie gave birth to Chrissy, who was subsequently "aged" five years (and played by Ashley Johnson).
- Also, when Leonardo DiCaprio joins the cast during the final season (as homeless teen-ager Luke).
- Hee Haw, when the show's rural, cornfield-based set was scrapped in favor of a more urban setting (in 1991); at that same time, when pop-oriented country performers were invited onto the show.
- Jeopardy!, Although this reverse quiz show has never officially jumped, many viewers have cited the following:
- The Jetsons, when the 1980s version premiered in syndication, with the introduction of the Jetsons' new alien pet, Orbitty.
- Jonny Quest, same as The Jetsons in the 80s. The show also had a revival in the 1990s.
- Law & Order, Although this show's JTS status currently is "Never Jumped", there are a few alternatives revolving the show's cast changes:
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, when actress Stephanie March (ADA Alexandra Cabot) left the show in 2003.
- Little House on the Prairie, two common storylines are often cited:
- When Matthew Laborteaux joined the cast as the Ingalls' adopted son, Albert, in 1978, and several episodes that centered around Albert (e.g., his carelessness causing a deadly fire, his relationship with a troubled girl who was impregnanted by a rapist; his addiction to morphine). Related: the Ingalls adopt James (Jason Bateman) and Cassandra Cooper (Missy Francis ); the real-life Ingalls, on whom this TV series is based, never adopted any children.
- Episodes concerning oldest daughter Mary's illness that caused her to become blind (often cited: scenes where Mary panics after realizing she has lost her eyesight).
- Looney Tunes, when Chuck Jones re-imaged Daffy Duck.
- Also, during the Warner Bros.-Seven Arts era of the mid- to late-1960s, when the studio turned out inferior cartoons that were critcally panned.
- Mad About You, when Jamie Buchman (Helen Hunt) gives birth to daughter Mabel.
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show, when Mary moves to a new apartment after Rhoda and Phyllis have left.
- Mission: Impossible, when Martin Landau and Barbara Bain left
- Monday Night Football, when Howard Cosell and/or Frank Gifford left.
- or when Dennis Miller was hired to be a color commentator in the booth.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus, when John Cleese left the show.
- Mork & Mindy, when:
- The title characters were married.
- When Mork gave birth to Mearth (Jonathan Winters).
- My Three Sons, most notably when Steve (Fred MacMurray) remarried in 1969 (to Beverly Garland ) and gained a step-daughter, Dodie (Dawn Lyn ). Also:
- Mystery Science Theater 3000, Joel Robinson leaves and is replaced by Mike Nelson.
- The Price is Right, Although this show's current JTS status is "Never Jumped," several JTS developments have included:
- The death of announcer Rod Roddy in 2003.
- The departure of longtime models Dian Parkinson (who left in 1993 after accusing Bob Barker of sexual harassment); Holly Hallstrom (fired in 1995); and Janice Pennington and Kathleen Bradley (who were forced out in 2000). The show subsequently hired younger models Bradley and Pennington left, presumably to entice younger viewers.
- Host Bob Barker allowing his hair to turn gray (also suggesting his advancing age).
- A proliferation of college-aged students as contestants (starting in the 1990s).
- Roseanne, two plots cited are:
- The Connor family hitting the lottery.
- Actresses Lecy Goranson and Sarah Chalke alternating the role of oldest daughter, Becky.
- Rugrats, when Dil Pickles is introduced (and later when Chuckie's dad gets married, and Chuckie's stepsister Kimi joins the cast)
- Scooby-Doo, when Scrappy-Doo is introduced.
- Sesame Street, including:
- Elmo joining the cast in the mid-1980s, and subsequent marketing of toys based on his character.
- Everybody can see Mr. Snuffleupagus (Big Bird's "imaginary friend").
- The death of Will Lee (and subsequent storyline death of Mr. Hooper, the role he played). Related: the deaths of Jim Henson (puppeteer of Muppets Ernie and Kermit the Frog) and Northern Calloway (who played David).
- When rumors abounded that Muppets Bert and Ernie were gay (see the following link for more information about this false rumor).
- The 2005 announcement that nutrition concerns would be addressed by changing Cookie Monster's habits so that he would eat fewer cookies, as well as changing his trademark "C is for Cookie" song with "Cookies are a sometimes food."
- The View, when Debbie Matenopoulos was fired and replaced with Lisa Ling .
- Wheel of Fortune, Although this show's JTS status currently is "Never Jumped", several developments most often cited include:
- The show's change to an "all-cash" format (replacing the "post-puzzle" shopping).
- The introduction of a new electronically-operated board, replacing the original board of trilons. Now, hostess Vanna White merely presses individual screens instead of "turning the letters."
- On the NBC daytime version, the introduction of Rolf Benirschke as host (when Pat Sajak left the daytime show to host a nighttime talk show). Or several years earlier, when Sajak replaced original host Chuck Woolery.
- The West Wing, when creator Aaron Sorkin and director Thomas Schlamme left the show after the fourth season. Producer John Wells assumed creative control and the show shifted in tone from Sorkin's "Love Letter to Public Service" to the soap opera-like, topical stories common to Wells' other shows, ER, Third Watch, and China Beach. However, the show enjoyed a creative renissance during its sixth season, particuarly the episodes focusing on the lead-up to the 2006 Presidential Election.
- Who's the Boss?, when Tony and Angela became romantically serious during the series' final season.
- Also, when Billy joined the cast as Tony's foster son.
Also said to have jumped the shark, are several shows regarding child versions of cartoon characters.
"Jump the Shark" references
Sitcom or Dramatic series references
- Arrested Development has a character played by the Fonz himself, Henry Winkler. In the episode "Motherboy XXX" he remarks "I missed breakfast, so I’m on my way to Burger King" and then hops over a shark. The joke being that Arrested Development sold out to Burger King, and jumped the shark. Another case has been made for that episode, such as the fact that it had two celebrity guest stars (Carl Weathers and Dave Attell) but that might not be as intentional.
- It has been argued that Buffy the Vampire Slayer's sixth season can be viewed as an extended reference to various Shark Jumping moments (including a musical episode, a wedding episode, a major character leaving, and a character being killed off); it has also been (uncharitably) suggested that the writers really were running out of ideas, although this theory would not fully explain the sheer density of such moments in that season.
- That '70s Show had an episode where Fez imagines jumping over a shark, thinking how cool it would be to be the Fonz, then commenting on how he never really watched the show after that episode.
- The X-Files episode "Jump the Shark" in the last season (season 9). It concluded the roles of The Lone Gunmen in the series.
- Clerks (the animated series) featured a clip show episode consisting almost entirely of its four main characters reminiscing previous incidents from the series. This was the second of the six produced episodes, and most of the incidents were in fact entirely new. At one point, the characters reminisce about their favorite Happy Days episodes - the Shark Jumping episode is among them.
- Dora the Explorer began its 2003 season with an episode in which the title character literally jumped a shark. Changes to the show that ensued made fans wonder if the writers were trying to tell them something.
- The Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "The Good Old Ed" is a spoof of the ubiquitous clip show. In the episode, the boys collect items for a time capsule, several of which prompt memories of schemes from previous episodes. However, the only "flashbacks" are to incidents not yet seen on the show, and when Ed tries to flashback (to a clip from an earlier episode), Eddy cuts Ed off by smacking him upside the head and protesting "I hate clip shows!"
- Sealab 2021 featured a shark jumping over a pool of Fonzies.
References on The Simpsons
The Simpsons has referenced jumping the shark in its opening credits, as well as in the following scenes:
- Itchy & Scratchy Land , which depicts the family's visit to an amusement park built around Itchy & Scratchy (a cartoon cat-and-mouse duo based on Tom and Jerry). In one scene, Bart and Lisa visit a gift shop, where they see stuffed toys of the characters "Uncle Ant," "Disgruntled Goat" and "Ku Klux Klam." Bart explains these characters were hastily created to provide a supporting cast for "The Itchy & Scratchy and Friends Hour," and subsequently forgotten by most viewers. A pre-JTS reference, "The Itchy & Scratchy and Friends Hour" spoofed several cartoon shows of the 1970s (including one built around Tom and Jerry), where extra characters are created (usually with little or no thought put in their character development or stories) and introduced for no apparent reason other than to provide "friends" for the main characters.
- The show built an entire episode around the ill-fated attempt of The Itchy & Scratchy Show to reinvigorate the show by introducing a new character, Poochie, voiced by Homer but so unpopular with the show's fans (the Comic Book Guy introduced the catchphrase "Worst. Episode. Ever.") that he was killed off in his second appearance. The episode abounded with knowing references to how this affects television shows. In one scene, Lisa complains that it's a sign of TV shows going stale when they suddenly add new characters, and immediately we see a new college-aged man, Roy, (who looks suspiciously like Poochie) sitting at the Simpsons' breakfast table and saying "Morning, Mr. S." He does nothing during the show and disappears after the episode claiming that he's moving into an apartment "with two foxy ladies".
- The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase (4F20), which features three pretend spin-off shows starring minor characters, is also mainly a parody of jumping the shark. The show ends with a preview of the new season, which includes magic powers, multiple weddings, and a tiny green space alien named Ozmodiar that only Homer can see. Ozmodiar is a parody of The Great Gazoo, a character introduced in the last season of The Flintstones. Ironically, this episode itself has been labelled a "shark jumping" episode by critics of the series.
- The parody documentary Behind the Laughter (BABF19) also spoofs sneak peeks of future episodes, including one with Homer's bold declaration, "The Simpsons are going to Delaware!" This is a joke on the fact that after the family's many contrived vacation destinations, future possibilities have been nearly exhausted.
- The clip show Gump Roast (DABF12) ends with many jumping the shark allusions, including a shot of Homer water skiing over a shark. It includes a song where (apparently) Matt Groening and his staff answer to fans worried over comments he made that he was running out of ideas, saying "Have no fears, we got stories for years".
- Certain episodes have also been centered around an act of jumping the shark listed above, such as Maude Flander's sudden death during a sports event, or when Marge's sister Patty Bouvier suddenly comes out of the closet in the episode There's Something About Marrying.
References in other media
- The computer game Jumpman Zero has a level titled jump the shark, which requires the player to do just that.
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