Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Jump the Shark

Here's a neat website, if you're a big TV buff. Jumptheshark.com gets its name from an episode of Happy Days (broadcast date: September 20,1977,) in which The Fonz jumps a shark on a pair of water skis. I had originally thought that the expression meant the penultimate peak of a TV show's greatness, after which everything else sucked. I was wrong. Allow me to cut and paste the Wikipedia entry:
Jump-the-shark moments may be scenes like the one described above that finally convince viewers that the show has fundamentally and permanently strayed from its original premise. In those cases they are viewed as a desperate and futile attempt to keep a series fresh in the face of declining ratings. In other cases the departure or replacement of a main cast member or character or a significant change in setting changes a critical dynamic of the show. These changes are often attempts to attract their fans' waning attention with over-the-top statements or increasingly overt appeals to sex or violence.
So its basically THE EXACT OPPOSITE of what I thought it was. I just remember watching that episode of Happy Days as a kid and thinking that it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. That's a six-year old's point of view talking, I guess.
One of the most popular ways to do this back in the eighties and nineties was to introduce a new character, usually a child. The Cosby Show, Married with Children, Growing Pains (twice guilty: Leo DiCaprio and the new kid, "Krissy.") Who's the Boss and Family Matters were all guilty of this, among many others. That was the point at which I stopped watching most of these shows. I remember the point at which I actually recognized this as a plot device was when the character of "Seven" was introduced on Married with Children. I thought,"This is completely ridiculous, why would they do this?"
Then it dawned on me.
And every other show that had done this ran through my mind and I recognized this tactic for what it really was: an act of desperation. Ever since then I have looked upon the introduction of a new child character in any TV show as its death knell. In a way, the act itself of bringing a new child character in kills the show's ratings. Maybe that's why it doesn't happen anymore.
This website is all about the voting. Diehard fans of certain TV shows like Lost vote that their fave show has never Jumped the Shark." To me this is rubbish. Every show Jumps the Shark at some point or another. I believe that it unfair to even look at a show for this phenomenon until it has finished its run and one can look at the entire series as a whole.
One show that many say never Jumped the Shark is Seinfeld. I will certainly agree that Seinfeld went out on a high note (my favorite all-time episode is the one where they're stuck in the Puerto Rican Day parade, second-last episode.) I would argue that Seinfeld jumped the shark in it's very last episode. Many shows do this. They complete the series with a total Cleveland Steamer of a show in an effort to make all of the fans "happy" and still leave open the possibility of a spin-off or movie,. Most of them suck. In my mind this is the worst way to jump the shark, as a crappy series finale leaves a bad taste in one's mouth for the whole series.
What do you all think? Has your favorite show Jumped the Shark? Can you think of examples I've missed? I await your thoughts.
Stick a fork in me, I'm done.
D.

1 comment:

The Shaftesbury Review said...

If you ask me, Lost hasn't jumped the shark. Yet. It came awfully close in season three, not due to any particular stunt, but rather because the story was stalled while they were in negotiations with ABC, so they just kind of spun their wheels. I've heard people argue that the switch to "flash-forwards" is a shark-jumping event of note, but I disagree. I get the feeling that the writers always meant to make that switch.

Also, it's worthy of noting that some shows manage to replace major cast members seemlessly, and even improve upon the show. I'm of the opinion that Night Court actually got better when Marsha Warfield (Roz) came on the show to replace Selma Diamond (Selma) who died in 1985. (Thank you, Wikipedia). Of course, that's still a rarity, I agree.

As for stuff you missed, I stopped watching ER shortly after Clooney left; not because I'm so big a fan (although I am. He's so dreamy...) but because it was right about then that the soap opera aspects of the show were becoming more appararent, and it began to feel like the writers felt that the stories about who was shagging whom were more imortant than the patients in the hospital. Considering I started watching the show because it focused on the patients and the valiant efforts medical staff were going through to save their lives, that switch felt like I was suddenly watching a different show. Like, say, General Hospital.

And, of course, you can't mention shark jumping these days without mentioning the new variant of the term, being used for when movie franchises start to get desperate: Nuking the Fridge. This, of course, comes from that god-awful scene in the god-awful new Indiana Jones movie where Indy uses hiding in an effing fridge to escape a full on nuclear blast. Grr. Don't ge me started. However, there are other examples of Nuking the Fridge that come to mind. The inclusion of bat-nipples and Alicia Silverstone in the Batman franchise come floating to the top of my mind like so much fecal matter, for instance.

I've rambled on long enough, though. (Now you know why my MySpace URL is "Randomdigression", eh?). Great post, Dan!

Mike