My column has jumped the shark

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 9th March 2010.

Have you ever been watching your favourite television show and thought that it didn’t seem to be as good as usual? There’s a good chance that it has jumped the shark.

“Jumping the shark” is a popular term used to describe a TV series that has peaked and has begun to decline. This is often when the creative forces behind a show have run out of ideas and are starting to use desperate measures to regain their once loyal viewers.

The phrase refers to an episode from the fifth season of Happy Days which was filmed in 1977. In this episode, to prove his manhood, Fonzi (Henry Winkler) jumps over a deadly man-eating shark, complete with stock footage, on water-skis. Looking ridiculous in his budgie smugglers and trademark leather jacket, Fonzi’s stunt is widely regarded as a sure sign that the popular TV show was beginning to decline creatively. Of course, Happy Days continued for many years following that infamous episode but it never quite had the same magic.

There are several indicators that a show has jumped the shark. Here are a few.

One of the lead actors departing from a series is a significant clue. Actress Valerie Harper left her eponymous 80’s sitcom in a dispute with the producers, who promptly renamed it “Valerie’s Family”. After threats of litigation from Harper, it was then re-renamed “The Hogan Family”. By this time, the audience had lost interest and the show was cancelled soon after. John Ritter’s tragic premature death in 2003 also brought an early end to his sitcom 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter. It stumbled on for another 2 years as “8 Simple Rules” and his character was deemed to have died also from a heart attack between seasons.

Shows built around the sexual tension between characters also tend to lose their appeal and audiences once the writers make the mistake of having those characters marry or sleep together. This is another sign that a shark has been jumped. A great example of this is Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which was axed soon after its lead characters were married. Other examples include Moonlighting, Who’s The Boss? and The Nanny.

Bringing in a cute child character is another red flag that a shark is circling. Remember the little fat kid from Hey Dad? Annoying Arthur MacArthur, played by Sorbent ad child actor Matthew Krok, was added to the cast to ensure that the cute factor remained as Mr Kelly’s youngest daughter Jenny grew up. By the time the show ended a few years later, only Betty the Receptionist (Julie McGregor) remained as an original cast member. In fact, even the dad in Hey Dad abandoned the show before its eventual demise.

Complicated storylines which confuse viewers also tend to result in a drop in ratings, particularly when it becomes clear that a resolution may not be on the cards immediately. Whilst there may not be an actual jump the shark moment, TV shows with convoluted plots which move at a snail’s pace such as Flashforward, Heroes, The X-Files and Lost were certainly shining up their skis pretty early on for the majority of viewers.

Keep an eye out for these signs and you’ll be sure to know that your favourite show has jumped the shark and it’s time to change the channel.

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Published in: on March 9, 2010 at 20:15  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi, I enjoyed reading your column, but wanted to offer a correction. After Valerie Harper left the show “Valerie”, the ratings actually went up and the show ran three and a half more years with Sandy Duncan. This is not to knock Valerie, who is a talented lady. As is the lovely Sandy Duncan. Valerie appears in the first 32 episodes, the show ultimately had over 100 episodes. (I was a writer & producer on the show from Episode 2 – Episode 98, but was not on its final season on CBS.)

    • Thanks for your correction.

  2. Hey Dad was a hugely underrated show and that it is still not on television, whilst Neighbours is celebrating 25 years, is one of the greatest crimes in Australian Television History!

    Picture That!

    • I used to see the original Jenny Kelly (Sarah Monaghan) ice skating at Macquarie ice rink whenever we went there for Scout excursions. I thought she was pretty hot at the time. Despite this, Hey Dad! sucked. My proof…it always ended with a freeze frame.


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