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.

Published in: on March 9, 2010 at 20:15  Comments (4)  
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…so how was your year?

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 8th December 2009.

With 2009 drawing to a close, let’s ponder who or what might consider the year to be a positive one, and commiserate with those who have had an annus horriblis.

2009 was a good year for…

Free to air television. With the launch of new digital channels Go!, One, ABC 2 and 3 plus 7TWO to begin broadcasting in Orange soonish, there are now many choices for non-Austar viewers. Why watch the news when you can enjoy the Flintstones instead?

Vampires. Boy wizards are so last year. With the Twilight Saga, Vampire Diaries and my favourite, True Blood, the blood sucking undead have never been so prolific in popular culture. Vampire fiction aimed at the pre-pubescent and post-menopausal demographic has become so popular that it is now a section of its own in most book shops. A sure fire money maker, my self-penned fictional saga, Vampire TAFE, will be on shelves soon.

Britney. The greatest mime artist since Marcel Marceau practically sold out her Australian arena tour. Why doesn’t she ever do the glass box?

Car wash owners. The red dust from the sky soon turned to manna from heaven for local car wash owners. I finally got my car cleaned about a month after the dust storm.

Aspiring NSW Premiers. Please add your name to the waiting list and you will soon be called up for your turn. Previous experience as a performer in a marionette show is preferred.

Michael Jackson. With a record breaking series of fifty sold-out concerts in London, a million plus in record sales, a hit movie and a renewed interest in his career, 2009 was an amazing year for The King of Pop, with one major hiccup.

2009 was a bad year for…

Michael Jackson. No explanation required.

Carbon Trading. With K-Rudd’s emissions trading scheme likely to fail in Parliament, may I suggest that Scanlens introduce a set of Carbon Trading Cards? Soon to be the newest fad to hit the school playground, children can collect and swap these cards which come with a stick of bubble gum and feature a picture and profile of a politician. Keep an eye out for the extremely rare Malcolm Turnbull card which was deemed faulty after printing and cut from the collection.

Television series storyline logic. Why can’t I stop watching FlashForward? It makes no sense. Everyone collapses and sees a vision of themselves six months into the future. An elite FBI team begins to investigate. Why does no-one in their flash forward seem to behave as though they are familiar with what is happening? Why does no-one seem to questions whether the future is set in stone? Am I thinking too much?

DVD Retailers. It must be pretty hard to make a living when the local supermarket sells the latest dvd for a third of the cost price when customers buy $100 worth of groceries. The local video store may soon be collateral damage in the war between Coles and Woolworths.

Tiger Woods. After a glorious win at the Australian Masters, Tiger celebrated by crashing his car into a fire hydrant outside his Florida home. Perhaps he should concentrate on driving towards the green and avoiding the water hazards?