Jumping the shark
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"Jumping the shark" is an idiom popularized 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, which is taken as a sign of desperation, and is seen by viewers to be the point at which the show strayed irretrievably from its original formula. 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.
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.
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., 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. However, the scene also was criticized as betraying Fonzie's character development, since in an earlier landmark-episode, Fonzie jumped his motorcycle over fourteen barrels in a televised stunt; the stunt left him seriously injured, and he confessed that he was stupid to have taken such a dangerous risk just to prove his courage.
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 "jumping the shark" was coined in 1985 by Jon Hein's roommate at the University of Michigan, Sean Connolly, when they were talking about favorite television shows that had gone downhill, and the two began identifying other shows where a similar "jump the shark" moment had occurred. Hein described the term as "A defining moment when you know from now on … it's all downhill … it will never be the same." 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. 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). Fans and contributors of the site, meanwhile, felt that Hein sold them out, since Gemstar deleted all fans' public contributions in order to censor the negative statements concerning television programs advertised in Gemstar's publication TV Guide; Gemstar jumped the shark when they censored the negative statements of fans. In their place, Gemstar's new site praised the programs.
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.
The idiom has been used to describe a wide variety of situations, such as the state of advertising in the digital video recorder era and views on rural education policy, the anomalous pursuit of a company acquisition, and the decline of republics into degraded democracy and empire.
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."
In July 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. 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." This is an example of mistakenly using "jumping the shark" in place of the idiom "jumping the gun."
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."
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."
In World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), there is a daily quest available at Anglers Wharf called "Jumping the Shark," in which the player's character must kill a "frenzied reef shark" with his or her bare hands.
Nuke the Fridge
In 2008, Time magazine 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."
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. The explosion annihilates its surroundings but sends the refrigerator flying sufficiently distant for the protagonist to escape unhurt. The scene was questioned on its scientific merit and critically panned.
Within two days of the film's premiere, the phrase "nuke the fridge" had gone viral, describing film scenes that similarly stretched credulity. Director Steven Spielberg later said the scene was "my silly idea" and was glad to have been part of the pop-culture phrase, while the film's executive producer George Lucas took similar credit believing that Jones would have had an even chance of surviving the blast.
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