Have you heard this expression before? Something or someone “jumped the shark“? I must have been hearing it for years without giving much thought to what it actually meant, and only recently discovered its literal origin. The phrase indicates when something, usually a TV show, has outlived its originality — essentially, that the writers have run out of new ideas and have resorted to increasingly outlandish plot devices to keep their viewers satisfied.
For many of you — specifically those of you who watched prime time TV in the late 1970s — the following will not be a revelation. For me, being the “Young Voice” that I am, it was a startling and satisfying discovery.
The phrase “jump the shark” initially referred specifically to an episode of the hit sitcom Happy Days that aired in 1977. In said episode, Fonzie, played by the hilarious Henry Winkler, waterski-jumped over a shark tank (while wearing his leather jacket, of course) to demonstrate his bravery. Although the show ran until 1984, the episode is seen by many as the point at which Happy Days started its decline.
According to a 2010 story in the LA Times by the episode’s writer, Fred Fox Jr. (who vehemently defends the episode’s merits, btw), the phrase was coined in 1987 by radio personality Jon Hein, who subsequently started jumptheshark.com, a depository for examples of shark-jumping elsewhere on TV.
In the same story, Hein describes the phenomenon as “A defining moment when you know from now on…it’s all downhill…it will never be the same.” Jumptheshark.com was bought by TV Guide in 2006 for a reportedly hefty sum, and you can now find the discussion on their Website.
Below is the clip that started it all. And won’t you tell me, what’s your favorite “jump the shark” moment?