Jumping the shark

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Fonzie on water skis, in a scene from the 1977 Happy Days episode "Hollywood, Part 3", after jumping over a shark

Jumping the shark is an idiom used to describe the moment of a misguided attempt at generating new publicity for something once, but no longer, widely popular; the attempt serves instead to highlight the irrelevance of what it intends to promote. This is especially applicable to television series or other entertainment outlets.[1] The phrase derives from a 1977 episode of the sitcom Happy Days (1974–1984), in which the character Fonzie jumps over a shark while on water-skis.[2][3][4] This gimmick strayed absurdly outside the original storyline of the sitcom.

The idiom "jumping the shark" is pejorative, most commonly used in reference to unsuccessful gimmicks for promoting something. It is similar to "past its peak", but it more specifically suggests an unwillingness to acknowledge the fact. 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. Moments labeled as "jumping the shark" are considered indications that writers have exhausted their focus, that the show has strayed irretrievably from an older and better formula, or that the series as a whole is declining in quality.

The usage of "jump the shark" has subsequently 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.


The phrase jump the shark is based on a scene in the fifth season premiere episode of the 1970s American TV series Happy Days titled "Hollywood: Part 3", written by Fred Fox, Jr.,[5] 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 waterskiing skills.[6]

For a show that in its early seasons depicted universally relatable adolescent and family experiences against a backdrop of 1950s nostalgia, this incident marked a tonal change. The lionization of an increasingly superhuman Fonzie, who was initially a supporting character in the series, became the focus of Happy Days. The series continued for seven years after Fonzie's shark-jumping stunt,[7] with a number of changes in cast and situations.[8]

On Marc Maron's WTF podcast, Ron Howard talked about the first time the phrase was used, by Happy Days co-star Donny Most: "Donny's reading it and he kinda looks down, then says 'what do you think of the script?' and I shrugged and replied 'people like the show, it's hard to argue with being number one' and he looked up and said, 'he's jumping a shark now?'. That was the first time I saw that phrase bracketed, before it was even done, you've got to give props to Donny Most."[9]

The phrase "jumping the shark" was coined in 1985 by Sean Connolly, Jon Hein's roommate at the University of Michigan, when they were talking about favorite television shows that had gone downhill, and the two began identifying other shows in which a similar "jump the shark" moment had occurred.[10][11] Hein described the term as "A defining moment when you know from now on … it's all downhill … it will never be the same."[5] In 1997, Hein created a website to publish his current list of approximately 200 television shows and his opinions of the moments each "jumped the shark"; the site became popular and grew with additional user-contributed examples.[5] Hein subsequently wrote 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 not only to the success of that episode ("a huge hit" with over 30 million viewers), but also to the continued popularity of the series.[5]

Fonzie was not the first fictional character to encounter a shark on water skis. In the P.G. Wodehouse 1934 novel Right Ho, Jeeves, Bertie Wooster's cousin Angela does so while aquaplaning on the French Riviera.[12][13][a] Since 2017, The Guardian in the UK has published a humorous weekly column in its Saturday listings guide featuring TV programmes that – in the opinion of its journalists – have "jumped the shark".[14] Barry Zuckerkorn, a character portrayed by Winkler on the sitcom Arrested Development literally hopped over a shark in Season 2, a nod to the infamous stunt his character on Happy Days performed.

Broader usage[edit]

The idiom has been used to describe a wide variety of situations, such as the state of advertising in the digital video recorder era[15] and views on rural education policy,[16] the anomalous pursuit of a company acquisition,[17] and the decline of republics into degraded democracy and empire.[18]


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 March 2011, in a 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".[19]

Similar to the example above, automotive blog The Truth About Cars used the expression in a 2010 retrospective piece to describe the Cadillac Cimarron, a rebadged Chevrolet Cavalier the Cadillac luxury car division sold in the 1980s that ended up being a commercial failure that did major damage to the brand's image; "Yes, as if there was ever any doubt, GM truly jumped the shark with the Cimarron, and it led the way for what was GM's most disastrous decade ever, the eighties. Only GM could have such utterly outsized hubris to think it could get away with dressing up a Cavalier and pawning it off as a BMW-fighter, without even touching the engine, among other sins."[20]

In September 2011, after Republican presidential candidate for the United States 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."[21]

In August 2014, the city manager of Black Rock City, Nevada described Burning Man, an annual event at nearby Black Rock Desert, as having "jumped the shark", when the 2014 event — which had been previously noted for core values of radical self-expression and self-reliance — featured incongruously posh VIP lounges, cell phone towers, private jets, and "glamping".[22] The implication that Burning Man has "jumped the shark" (or is a fallen utopia) is questioned by cultural anthropologist Graham St John, who argues that Burning Man was never a utopia in the first place.[23]

In January 2018, journalist Keith Olbermann criticized the inclusion of esports players on the sports journalism website The Players' Tribune, saying that they "have jumped the shark by publishing pieces by snotty random kids playing children's games" in response to an article by Doublelift, a League of Legends player.[24]

In May 2021, CNBC News Anchor Carl Quintanilla proposed that Elon Musk had jumped the shark with his erratic and high profile Twitter obsession with cryptocurrencies instead of focusing on Tesla, Inc as it began to lose market share and its stock price began to plunge.[25]

Related idioms[edit]

Nuke the fridge[edit]

In 2008, TIME identified a term modeled after "jump the shark": "nuke the fridge." Specifically applicable to film, the magazine defined the term: "to exhaust a Hollywood franchise with disappointing sequels."[26]

The phrase derives from a scene in the fourth Indiana Jones film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, in which Indiana Jones survives an atomic bomb detonation by fitting himself into a lead-lined refrigerator to shield himself from the radiation. The explosion annihilates its surroundings but sends the refrigerator flying sufficiently distant for the protagonist to escape unhurt.[27] The scene was criticized as being scientifically implausible.[28]

Within two days of the film's premiere, the phrase "nuke the fridge" had gone viral, describing film scenes that similarly stretched credulity.[29] Director Steven Spielberg later said the scene was "my silly idea" and was glad to have been part of the pop-culture phrase,[30] while the film's executive producer George Lucas took similar credit believing that Jones would have had an even chance of surviving the blast.[27]

Marrying Irving[edit]

Marrying Irving is a metaphor coined by a participant in Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten's weekly online chat "Chatological Humor" on February 8, 2005.[31] The term specifically references the comic strip Cathy by Cathy Guisewite. On Valentine's Day, February 14, 2004 Irving, Cathy's long-time love-interest proposed marriage. They were married almost a year later on February 5, 2005; the strip, which had been in print since 1976, ended October 3, 2010.

This term indicates the specific strip or storyline in which a cartoonist uses a plot tactic or stunt that seems to run completely counter to the long-standing vision for the comic (in the case of Cathy, the strip for most of its existence had centered on the title character's struggles as a single, early-middle-age, slightly overweight woman). As such, fans and long-time readers may notice a decline in quality for subsequent comics. Quality may remain adequate (or on-par with prior work) but the overall vision for the comic may be too drastically altered for it to retain its original attraction.

Marrying Irving moments in comics may be seen as desperate attempts to retain readers and newspaper distribution by completely breaking with tradition and/or creating a news-worthy event. They may be seen as "it's about time" events in a comic strip's course where an event, long-time avoided, is finally allowed to occur.

Growing the beard[edit]

"Growing the beard" refers to the opposite of jumping the shark; i.e. when a show dramatically improves in quality. The term derives from the Star Trek: The Next Generation character William Riker, who was clean-shaven for the first season but grew a beard before the second, which often is considered to be better in terms of storytelling.[32][33]


  1. ^ In Chapter 7 of Right-Ho, Jeeves, Angela was not jumping a shark. She had been aquaplaning and was regaining "her board after taking a toss, when a great beastly shark came along and cannoned into it, flinging her into the salty once more."


  1. ^ Lenderman, Max (January 5, 2010). Experience the Message: How Experiential Marketing Is Changing the Brand World. p. 267. ISBN 9781551991696.
    Lubans Jr., John (2010). "Leading from the Middle", and Other Contrarian Essays on Library Leadership. Libraries Unlimited. p. 76. ISBN 9781598845785.
    Perlow, Bob; Cummins, Richard John (2016). The Warmup Guy. Random House. p. 30.
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  5. ^ a b c d Fox, Jr., Fred (September 3, 2010). "First Person: In defense of 'Happy Days' 'Jump the Shark' episode". Los Angeles Times.
  6. ^ Stanhope, Kate (September 3, 2010). "Happy Days Writer Defends 'Jump the Shark' Moment". TV Guide.
  7. ^ Draba-Mann, Joel (September 21, 2017). "Jumping the shark: when Fonzie defined a TV show's decline on Happy Days". i. JPIMedia. Retrieved July 10, 2019.
  8. ^ TV Tropes: Jumping the Shark
  9. ^ "Episode 754 - Ron Howard". October 28, 2016.
  10. ^ "When TV Shows Go an Episode Too Far". Good Morning America. ABC News. June 18, 2014. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  11. ^ Hutchins, Chris (March 20, 2002). "When shows 'jumped the shark' they lost their bite". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  12. ^ Wodehouse, P.G. (2011). Right Ho, Jeeves (Reprint ed.). New York: W.W. Norton.
  13. ^ Wodehouse, P. G. (1989). Right Ho, Jeeves - excerpt. Google Books. ISBN 9781465540768. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  14. ^ "Jump the Shark". The Guardian. Retrieved December 17, 2020.
  15. ^ Lenderman, Max (2009). Experience the Message. Basic Books. p. 275. ISBN 9780786734856.
  16. ^ Arnold, Michael L. (2005). "Jump the Shark: A Rejoinder to Howley, Theobald, and Howley" (PDF). Journal of Research in Rural Education. Center on Rural Education and Communities. 20 (20).
  17. ^ Sipley, Richard (2010). Market Indicators: The Best-Kept Secret to More Effective Trading and Investing. John Wiley & Sons. p. 142. ISBN 9780470883433.
  18. ^ "'Live at Wiseacres: America Has Jumped the Shark' videotaped performance By Doug Stanhope". YouTube.com. July 31, 2008 [uploaded].
  19. ^ Neil, Dan (March 4, 2011). "What Part of 'Mini' Did You Not Grasp, BMW?". The Wall Street Journal.
  20. ^ Paul Niedermeyer. "Curbside Classic: GM's Deadly Sin #10 – Cadillac Cimarron – The Truth About Cars". The Truth About Cars.
  21. ^ Adams, Richard (September 14, 2011). "Michele Bachmann, the HPV vaccine and the Republican landscape". The Guardian.
  22. ^ Buhr, Sarah (August 28, 2014). "Burning Man Founders Admit The Festival Has Jumped The Shark But That's Okay". TechCrunch.
  23. ^ Graham St John, "Jumping the Shark? The Enigma of Burning Man", Beyond Burning Man, 22 April 2020
  24. ^ Olbermann, Keith [@KeithOlbermann] (January 9, 2018). "Three years in. That's awfully early to have jumped the shark by publishing pieces by snotty random kids playing children's games, @PlayersTribune" (Tweet). Retrieved January 11, 2018 – via Twitter.
  25. ^ {{cite tweet | https://twitter.com/carlquintanilla/status/1393145552238522375?s=20
  26. ^ Cloud, John (November 6, 2013). "Top 10 Buzzwords - The Top 10 Everything of 2008". TIME.
  27. ^ a b Curtis, Bryan (January 22, 2012). "George Lucas Is Ready to Roll the Credits". New York Times. Retrieved November 6, 2013.
  28. ^ Locker, Melissa (November 28, 2012). "Indiana Jones' 'Nuke the Fridge' Plot Is, Shockingly, Scientifically Impossible". Time. Retrieved November 6, 2013.
  29. ^ ""Jump the Shark", Meet "Nuke the Fridge"". Newsweek. June 28, 2008.
  30. ^ O'Hara, Helen (October 26, 2011). "Spielberg: More Indy & Jurassic Park?". Empire. Retrieved November 6, 2013.
  31. ^ Weingarten, Gene (February 8, 2005). "Chatological Humor* (Updated 2.11.05)". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on October 20, 2012.
  32. ^ "Growing the Beard". TV Tropes. Retrieved July 7, 2020.
  33. ^ ""Star Trek: TNG" Cast on Season 2 Blu-Ray". www.youtube.com. November 30, 2012. Retrieved July 7, 2020.

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