Jumping the Shark: When Good Television Goes Bad- Shark Week

Many television shows that grace our screens do not make it very far. Disastrous programs like That 80’s Show and Cavemen usually make it onto the airwaves in the summer for a test run so the networks can see if they can hold the viewer’s attention. They are terrible from the start and nobody takes notice when they disappear. However, once networks do get a bite and a show becomes a hit, they appear invincible. The program rides the coattails of success by receiving millions of viewers every week and the NBCs and ABCs of the country rack in the cash. But, alas, nothing in the world is everlasting and many great shows overstay their welcome. At this point, all these television flops join the ever-growing list of programs that “jump the shark,” never to live down the day when this occurs.

It all started with Henry Winkler as he portrayed everyone’s favorite cool guy, The Fonz, on Happy Days. For four seasons televisions across the country tuned into a quirky sitcom that depicted the life of a group of individuals in the mid ‘50s. Things seemed great for the cast and show until the premier of the fifth season, when the gang travels from their hometown of Milwaukee to Los Angeles. In an attempt to prove his bravery, Arthur Fonzarelli waterskis over a ramp and flies through the air over a confined shark, an action that ultimately transformed what was once a funny show relative to every day life into a cartoon. Many claim that this was the point when the show went downhill and never fully recovered.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Since then, the term “jumping the shark” has gone on to refer to any point in a show when it becomes apparent that the plot has lost its way. It could be argued that every show has had this moment, but here are a few personal favorites.

Warning: The following includes spoilers that cross a variety of programs. Some of them are almost 20 years old, so hopefully the expiration date of caring has passed by now.

Drew Carey marries his boss, Nigel Wick.

The Drew Carey Show was a comedy that followed a born loser as he tried to make his way up in a dead-end job at a department store. Viewers across the country enjoyed watching Carey’s endless rivalry with co-worker Mimi while he threw out little tidbits of Cleveland, Ohio hometown pride, putting the pre-Lebron city on the map. Everyone loved the simple Midwest humor and it looked like Carey could have been the next big comedian.

However, in the sixth season the moon over Parma soon turned dark. There were many threats of a shark-jumping incident occurring as the love-affair and soon engagement of Carey and his best friend Kate played out, Carey’s cross-dressing brother married Mimi, and the continuous failures in his life began to bore audiences. But our hero really strapped on the water-skis and paved his way to the bottom of a Plinko stand as soon as he agreed to marry his boss, Nigel Wick, in an effort for Wick to get his green card. This was one of too many times that Carey ran into a situation where he was forced to be unhappy with life’s turn-of-events. Viewers soon grew tired of watching a person failing at everything and the show grew into obscurity. Even though the show went on for three more seasons, people began to forget it existed and it ended in season nine without many people knowing or caring.

Dr. House drives his car through Cuddy’s… House

The show House put a new perspective on medical dramas. Every episode presented a new patient with a bizarre disorder for Dr. Gregory House and his team to diagnose in a Sherlock Holmes-like manner. The medical mysteries were always fascinating and watching House’s self-destructing habits while he belittled everyone around him made him one of television’s best anti-heroes.

Unfortunately, throughout the seasons, the episodes grew slightly repetitive. There were only so many times the team could be presented with a new medical mystery that made the diagnosis process appear original. The entertainment factor was still there, though. House continued to be a Vicodin-popping smart-ass, chasing after his boss/love of his life, Lisa Cuddy. The dark humor always kept its bite. However, season seven’s finale finally pushed the envelope too far.

After the demise of House and Cuddy’s relationship, our anti-hero became enraged by the fact that she started a new relationship. Instead of moving on to his next mystery, House decided to drive his car through Cuddy’s house and into her living room while she and her family were preparing dinner in the next room. Thus ending any hope of reconciliation between the show’s “Ross and Rachel” relationship and landing the doctor in prison. It was after this point that the downward spiral of his life became less interesting.

Sex and the City 2

Maybe a movie does not belong in the realm of traditional “jump the shark” moments. However this is a special circumstance due to the fact that the movie is based off a television show and it was basically a two hour and 27 minute visual depiction of entertainment that has a bad case of diarrhea.

Starting in 1998, people throughout the world fell in love with Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City as she explained her relationships in New York City with the continued use of creative puns and double-entendres. Her lessons in life were taught throughout her failed sexual relationships and the situations her three best friends, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte, encountered. Sex and the City was light, funny, sexy, and entertaining. The series finale concluded the show well and the follow-up movie brought the storyline to an adequate close as she married her longtime beau, Mr. Big.

Not wanting to lose out of the cash cow that was SATC, HBO decided to make another movie with our four favorite women. An aging cast was brought back in front of the camera again and the adventure endured. The movie starts off with the main characters unsure about where they are in their respective lives and relationships, so they all decide to join Samantha on a trip to Abu Dhabi. In the Middle East, they find themselves in all sorts of new situations as they try to adapt to a different culture. The only thing missing from the scenario was the Harlem Globetrotters coming in to help the girls. The entire movie was a letdown and the tit shots were as off-putting as Madonna’s arms.

The Seinfeld Series Finale

Arguably one of the best shows of all time, Jerry Seinfeld and co-creator/writer Larry David produced a program that was brilliant as it was hilarious. Dubbed “a show about nothing,” Seinfeld focused on the everyday lives of himself and his three friends, George, Elaine, and Kramer. Each season grew in hilarity while the four heroes interacted with the shows many side characters. The stories of everyone involved in each plot would always intersect in the end, leaving viewers blown away as they laughed their asses off.

The flame burning in the show’s popularity never went out and as the final episode approached in the ninth season, everyone wondered how the show could possibly be wrapped up. In a possible attempt to bring back all of the marginal characters from the past, Seinfeld and David wrote an episode that placed the four characters in court for violating a small town’s Good Samaritan law. The prosecuting attorneys aimed to make an example out of the four “criminals” and dug up their histories to see whom else they had wronged throughout the years. Since the gang was not the most caring individuals throughout their adventures, this brought many people out of the woodwork. The trial ended in a guilty verdict and a sentencing of a year in prison. In the last scene of one of the greatest shows of all time, Seinfeld wears an orange jumpsuit while he gives a standup routine in prison.

The entire show up until this point was heralded as unwavering pure genius by die-hard fans, but the nine seasons seem to be a marathon of brilliant comedy that trips right before the finish line.

Why do so many shows “jump the shark?” It could be due to the capitalistic nature impounded in the brains of American entertainment. As long as something is making money, why stop? Many writers may have known long before a show’s demise that they have nothing left to do with the characters they developed, but they continue anyway because a man’s gotta eat. It also could just be a natural progression in storylines that happens organically. Whatever the reason, as long shows continue to be broadcast across the airwaves, a shark will always be waiting to be jumped.

I know I missed plenty of great “jump the shark” episodes. What are some of your favorites? Feel free to leave a message in the comments section below.