“Jumping the shark” is the moment when a significant change occurs in an established long-running TV series. This can range from something as small as a new gimmick to something that totally changes the show, like a shift in the genre itself. This usually happens because the writers feel that the show must be updated in order to stay fresh. But it usually has the opposite effect — the viewers realize that the show has finally run out of ideas. It’s reached its peak, it’ll never be the same again, and it’s all downhill from here.
This pejorative phrase derives from a 1977 episode of the sitcom Happy Days, in which the character Fonzie jumps over a shark while on water-skis. This betrayed Fonzie’s character development; in an earlier episode, Fonzie is seriously injured while jumping his motorcycle over fourteen barrels in a televised stunt, and he admits that it was stupid of him to do something so dangerous just to prove his courage. So, by jumping the shark, Fonzie has forgotten an important lesson, and the show is now repeating itself.
Originally, the phrase was used to describe an episode of a television comedy with a gimmick or unlikely occurrence desperately attempting to keep viewers’ interest. But the use has broadened beyond television, indicating the moment when a brand, design, franchise, or creative effort’s evolution declines, or when it changes notably in style into something unwelcome.
Long-running US TV shows can be exceedingly lucrative and those who benefit naturally don’t want them to end. But those that have not “jumped the shark” are few and far between.
In 1997, Jon Hein created a website to publish his current list of approximately 200 television shows and his opinions of the moments each “jumped the shark.” Hein subsequently wrote Jump the Shark: When Good Things Go Bad.
Since 2017, The Guardian newspaper in the UK has published a humorous weekly column in its Saturday listings guide featuring TV programs that, in the opinion of its journalists, have “jumped the shark.”
No, I’m not going to start repeating internet jokes just to keep the blog “fresh.” There are enough crazy words and phrases in the English language to keep it going for some time.