Jumping the shark

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"Jump the shark" redirects here. For the TV series episodes, see Jump the Shark (The X-Files) and Jump the Shark (Supernatural).
Fonzie on water skis, in a scene from the Happy Days episode "Hollywood, Part Three of Three", after jumping over a shark

Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein that was used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality, signaled by a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of "gimmick" in an attempt to keep viewers' interest. The phrase is based on a scene from a fifth-season episode of the sitcom Happy Days when the character Fonzie jumps over a shark while on water-skis.[1][2][3]

The usage of "jump the shark" has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment when a brand, design, or creative effort's evolution declines.

History[edit]

The phrase jump the shark is based on a scene in the fifth season premiere episode of the American TV series Happy Days titled "Hollywood: Part 3," written by Fred Fox, Jr.,[4] which aired on September 20, 1977. In the episode, the central characters visit Los Angeles, where a water-skiing Fonzie (Henry Winkler) answers a challenge to his bravery by wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, and jumping over a confined shark. The stunt was created as a way to showcase Winkler's real-life water ski skills.[5]

For a show that in its early seasons depicted universally relatable adolescent and family experiences against a backdrop of 1950s nostalgia, this incident marked an audacious turn. Initially a supporting character, the lionization of an increasingly superhuman Fonzie became the focus of Happy Days. The series continued for seven years after Fonzie's shark-jumping stunt, with a number of changes in cast and situations. The phrase implies a belief that the show began a creative decline in this era, as writers ran out of ideas, and Happy Days became a caricature of itself. As a nod to the episode, Henry Winkler's character jumps over a dead shark in the 2003 show Arrested Development.

In 1997, Hein created a website to publish his list of approximately 200 television shows and his opinions of the moments each "jumped the shark". The site soon became an Internet phenomenon, and as the phrase quickly spread throughout pop culture, the site grew exponentially in users and renown. Hein subsequently authored two "Jump The Shark" books and later became a regular on The Howard Stern Show around the time he sold his website to Gemstar (owners of TV Guide).

In a 2010 Los Angeles Times article, former Happy Days writer Fred Fox, Jr., who wrote the episode that later spawned the phrase, said, "Was the [shark jump] episode of Happy Days deserving of its fate? No, it wasn't. All successful shows eventually start to decline, but this was not Happy Days' time." Fox also points to not only the success of that episode ("a huge hit" with over 30 million viewers), but also to the continued popularity of the series.[4]

Broader usage[edit]

The idiom has been used to describe a wide range of situations, ranging from the state of advertising in the digital video recorder era[6] to views on rural education policy,[7] the anomalous pursuit of a company acquisition,[8] and the decline of republics into degraded democracy and empire.[9]

Examples[edit]

Automotive journalist Dan Neil used the expression to describe the Mini Countryman, a much larger evolution of the previously small cars marketed by Mini. In a March 2011 review titled "What Part of 'Mini' Did You Not Grasp, BMW?" Neil said the bigger car abandoned the company's design ethos and that "with the Countryman, tiny sharks have been jumped."[10]

In 2008 during the Obama presidential campaign, at a meeting of Democratic governors in Chicago, each governor was identified with a name plate while Senator Obama had a large seal – that looked official but was not.[11] The New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Rich wrote, "For me, Mr. Obama showed signs of jumping the shark two weeks back, when he appeared at a podium affixed with his own pompous faux-presidential seal."[12]

In September 2011, after Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann repeated an anecdote shared with her claiming that the HPV vaccine causes "intellectual disability," radio commentator Rush Limbaugh said, "Michele Bachmann, she might have blown it today. Well, not blown it – she might have jumped the shark today."[13]

Nuking the fridge[edit]

In 2008, Time magazine identified a term modeled after "jumping the shark": "nuking the fridge." Specifically applicable to film, the magazine defined the term: "to exhaust a Hollywood franchise with disappointing sequels."[14]

The phrase derives from a scene in the fourth Indiana Jones film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, in which the hero survives an atomic bomb detonation by fitting himself into a lead-lined refrigerator. The explosion annihilates its surroundings but sends the refrigerator flying sufficiently distant for the protagonist to escape unhurt.[15] The scene was questioned on its scientific merit and critically panned.[16]

Within two days of the film's premiere, the phrase "nuking the fridge" had gone viral, describing film scenes that similarly stretched credulity.[17] Co-producer Steven Spielberg later said the scene was "my silly idea" and was glad to have been part of the pop-culture phrase,[18] while the other co-producer George Lucas took similar credit believing that Jones would have had an even chance of surviving the blast.[15]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hornaday, Ann (July 25, 2003). "A Few Pixels Short of a Personality". Washington Post. Retrieved April 12, 2013. 
  2. ^ Hollows, Joanne; Moseley, Rachel (2006). Feminism in Popular Culture. Berg Publishers. ISBN 1845202236. 
  3. ^ McFedries, Paul (2008). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weird Word Origins. Alpha Books. ISBN 1592577814. 
  4. ^ a b Fox, Jr., Fred (September 3, 2010). "First Person: In defense of 'Happy Days' 'Jump the Shark' episode". Los Angeles Times. 
  5. ^ Stanhope, Kate (September 3, 2010). "Happy Days Writer Defends 'Jump the Shark' Moment". TV Guide. 
  6. ^ Lenderman, Max (2009). Experience the Message. Basic Books. p. 275. 
  7. ^ Arnold, Michael L. (2005). "Market Indicators: The Best-Kept Secret to More Effective Trading and Investing". Journal of Research in Rural Education (Center on Rural Education and Communities) 20 (20). 
  8. ^ Sipley, Richard (2010). Market Indicators: The Best-Kept Secret to More Effective Trading and Investing. John Wiley & Sons. p. 142. 
  9. ^ "Live at Wiseacres: America Has Jumped the Shark Videotaped Performance By Doug Stanhope". 
  10. ^ Neil, Dan (March 4, 2011). "What Part of 'Mini' Did You Not Grasp, BMW?". The Wall Street Journal. 
  11. ^ Broder, John M. (June 20, 2008). "The Great Seal of Obamaland?". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ Rich, Frank (July 6, 2008). "Wall-E for President". The New York Times. 
  13. ^ Adams, Richard (September 14, 2011). "Michele Bachmann, the HPV vaccine and the Republican landscape". The Guardian. 
  14. ^ Cloud, John (November 3, 2008). "Top 10 Buzzwords - The Top 10 Everything of 2008". Time. Retrieved November 6, 2013. 
  15. ^ a b Curtis, Bryan (January 22, 2012). "George Lucas Is Ready to Roll the Credits". New York Times. Retrieved November 6, 2013. 
  16. ^ Locker, Melissa (November 28, 2012). "Indiana Jones‘ ‘Nuke the Fridge’ Plot Is, Shockingly, Scientifically Impossible". Time. Retrieved November 6, 2013. 
  17. ^ ""Jump the Shark," Meet "Nuke the Fridge"". Newsweek. June 28, 2008. Archived from the original on September 4, 2012. 
  18. ^ O'Hara, Helen (October 26, 2011). "Spielberg: More Indy & Jurassic Park?". Empire. Retrieved November 6, 2013.