Jumped the shark

Jumping the shark

Jumping the shark is a colloquialism used by TV critics and fans to denote that point in a TV show or movie series' history where the plot veers off into absurd story lines or out-of-the-ordinary characterizations, undergoing too many changes to retain the original appeal of the series. Shows that have "jumped the shark" are typically deemed to have passed their peak as after this point critical fans can point to a noticeable decline in the show's overall quality.


The phrase refers to a scene in a three-part episode of the American TV series, Happy Days, first broadcast on September 20, 1977. In the "Hollywood" episode, Fonzie (Henry Winkler), wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, jumps over a penned-in shark while water skiing.

Even before "jumping the shark" was employed as a pop culture term, the episode in question was cited many times as an example of what can happen to otherwise high-quality shows when they stay on the air too long in the face of waning interest. The infamous scene was seen by many as betraying the Happy Days' 1950s setting by cashing in on the 1970s fads of Evel Knievel and Jaws. Producer Garry Marshall later admitted that he knew the show had lost something as the crew prepared to shoot the scene. As Marshall pointed out in the reunion special that aired on February 3, 2005, however, Happy Days went on to produce approximately 100 more episodes after the "jumping the shark" episode. During the same special, in response to an audience member's question, Marshall introduced the notorious clip and noted how the show had inspired the term.

The first public use of the phrase as a direct metaphor is reported to have been on December 24, 1997, when the jumptheshark.com website was launched by Jon Hein. According to the site, the phrase was first coined by Hein's college roommate, Sean J. Connolly, in 1985. The term first appeared in print in the April 9, 1998, Los Angeles Times Calendar Weekend section.

The phrase has been used more recently outside the realm of popular culture, representing anything that has reached its peak and has turned mediocre. If one thinks a stock or a sports team or a subcultural phenomenon has reached its peak, for example, one can say that it has "jumped the shark."

Common methods of jumping the shark

The "Jump the Shark" web site lists 18 categories fans may use to tag shows, signifying the moment at which the show jumped. The categories include:

  • Same Character, Different Actor, generally caused by the departure of an unsatisfied actor
  • Death and Exit … stage left, in which a character either dies or leaves the show, generally prompted by the departure of an unsatisfied actor rather than for creative purposes
  • They did it, in which two main characters have sex, particularly if their sexual tension was deemed part of the show's appeal (such as in the TV series Remington Steele).
  • Moving the main characters from their familiar surroundings to a new setting, such as a new home or even a new town.
  • Special guest star
  • A very special …: the very special episode, describing a situation comedy episode that either deals with a serious or controversial social issue or is unusually dramatic in some way.
  • New kid in town, or Cousin Oliver syndrome (in reference to the character on The Brady Bunch), when a new character (often, a young child) is added to the cast, in response to former child actors who have entered adolescence or adulthood, and/or to revive falling ratings.
  • Birth, when a new baby is added to a show's cast (and often unnaturally aged to a preschooler the season following the birth), sometimes to accommodate an actress's real-life pregnancy but usually for the same reasons a New kid in town might otherwise be brought in
  • (Character) gets canned, when a character popular with the audience is fired from the show, such as Suzanne Somers from Three's Company, or several of the Barker's Beauties from The Price is Right.
  • Another category, entitled simply Ted McGinley, usually includes any show that has featured McGinley in the cast. He has joined the casts of several shows in the middle of their respective runs (such as The West Wing, Married... with Children, and Happy Days), leading to the title as the "Patron Saint of Shark Jumping". Other shows, on which McGinley appeared from the start, have (in most instances) been critically panned and/or canceled quickly.
  • Another category known in Australia as "the werewolf" refers to the introduction of fantasy storylines into previously realistic scripts. When the ratings of the moderately successful soap opera E Street were flagging, one of its major characters, played by Logie winner Bruce Samazan incongruously became a werewolf, and started inexplicably baying at the moon and becoming more hirsute. Up until then, the scripts had been entirely realistic. This script development was seen as an act of desperation on the part of the show's writers aimed at reviving the show's ailing fortunes. However, it was unsuccessful and the show was axed soon after.

"Jumping the shark" references

Sitcom or dramatic series references

  • Arrested Development character Barry Zuckercorn, played by Henry Winkler, who played the Fonz in Happy Days, literally jumps a shark in the episode "Motherboy XXX", while conversing with other characters on a dock, remarks, "I missed breakfast, so I’m on my way to Burger King," and then hops over a shark that's in his path.
  • That '70s Show had an episode in which Fez imagines jumping over a shark, thinking how cool it would be to be the Fonz. Hyde comments that not only is it the worst idea ever, but that it also was the worst moment in television history. Fez then says he never really watched the show after that episode. In another episode, Eric asks Pastor Dave how cool Jesus is compared to Fonzie, and asks if he can jump over a shark.
  • Mad TV reenacted a skit in which the infamous "jump the shark" episode was partially redone in mock Spanish, featuring dialogue such as Laverne saying "Aww, Shirl, Fonzie es jumpo el sharko!"
  • The Canadian black comedy Made in Canada (titled The Industry elsewhere) had an episode entitled "Beaver Creek Jumps the Shark", where it becomes obvious to the characters that the lead show that they produce (Beaver Creek) has jumped the shark, and several of the main characters reminisce about how their own lives did the same. It would be the fifth-to-last episode of the series to air.
  • In the 200th episode of Stargate SG-1, after receiving an idea to shoot a movie entirely with puppets, Martin Lloyd (the director of the movie) says "That'll work, a whole movie made with puppets… Maybe we can have puppet O'Neill jump over a puppet shark on a 1/3-scale motorcycle." O'Neill was played by Richard Dean Anderson, who starred in MacGyver, which was produced by Henry Winkler.
  • A sketch at the beginning of Reno 911!'s fifth season premiere features Lt. Jim Dangle attempting to jump over a small leopard shark. In the background, a banner can be seen which reads "Jumping the shark for autism" However, Dangle fails to actually jump the shark and instead crashes face-first into the aquarium, insinuating that the show has not yet jumped the shark despite having a (gay) marriage and a child birth as cliffhangers in the previous season's finale. The insinuation was backed up when both were effectively resolved in the fifth season's first episode when the gay marriage was deemed illegal and the baby was sold to a yuppie couple from Lake Tahoe.
  • The CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode Two And a Half Deaths contains a scene in which Det. Captain Jim Brass tries to explain to Gil Grissom the meaning of the phrase jump the shark. Gil Grissom appears not to understand who Fonzie is and Brass gives up on the explanation.This episode was written by the creators of Two and a Half Men, Chuck Lorre and Lee Aronsohn in the style of a sitcom rather than a police procedural drama. It featured a number of bizarre plot twists and comic elements. Several people have commented that this show may itself have been jumping the shark. In explicitly mentioning jumping the shark they appear to have "gone meta".
  • "The X-Files" aired an episode in 2002 entitled "Jump the Shark" during its ninth and final season. It resolved the storyline regarding "The Lone Gunmen" (three recurring conspiracy theorists) when all three sacrificed their lives to save the country from a bioterrorist.
  • In the TV comedy Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Johnny is said to have died by jumping over a shark in Hawaii. Fittingly, many fans feel Johnny's death is the moment the show went downhill or 'jumped the shark.'

Cartoon references

  • In the Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends episode "Sweet Stench of Success", Bloo gets a job as "Deo", a spokesperson for deodorant, which leads to a job on a sitcom titled What's The Big Deo?, and at the end of the pilot episode of this show within a show, there is an announcement saying "Tune in next week when Deo jumps a shark."
  • In the beginning of the Kim Possible episode "Ill Suited", Ron Stoppable calls Kim, waking her up to ask her if they were really dating after he had a nightmare involving their first kiss (from the end of the animated TV-movie So The Drama, which was at the time the series finale until the series' popularity brought forth one more (the fourth) season). Later in the end credit scene, Ron calls Kim (and wakes her up) again and mentions several different dreams he had, including one of Kim ski-jumping over sharks.
  • In one episode of Sealab 2021 Sharko jumps over a pool of Fonzies during a montage.
  • In What's New, Scooby-Doo?, Scooby and Shaggy are on a remote-controlled motorcycle and jump over a tank of sharks, after which Velma says, "I never thought Scooby-Doo would jump the shark."
  • The Fairly OddParents had a music video on the DVD movie Channel Chasers called "If I Lived In TV" which featured Timmy Turner waterskiing with Fonzie, in which they eventually jump over a shark.
  • The South Park episode Probably begins with a "Previously on South Park" segment, in which interspliced with actual clips are cartoonized scenes of Fonzie about to jump over a shark. In the South Park version of events, Fonz doesn't make it. The South Park episode City on the Edge of Forever, which also spoofs the ubiquitous clip show by showing clips from earlier episodes but altering them such that each one ends happily with the children receiving ice cream, includes a clip of Fonzie jumping over a bus on his motorcycle, crashing into Kenny, then handing out ice cream.
  • The episode 257–494 which began Season 4 of Teen Titans had Robin jump a shark while on skis.
  • An episode of Drawn Together entitled A Very Special Drawn Together Afterschool Special parodies very special episodes. At one point, silhouetted figures inside a bar can be seen while a shark hovers overhead, implying that shows which do very special episodes jump the shark.
  • The Simpsons clip show Gump Roast (DABF12) ends with many jumping-the-shark allusions, including a shot of Homer water skiing over a shark. It includes a song in which Matt Groening and his staff answer to fans worried over comments he made that he was running out of ideas, saying "Have no fears, we got stories for years." They then give examples of supposedly upcoming episode premises such as Marge becoming a robot, Bart owning a bear, Moe getting a cell phone, and "a crazy wedding where something happens".
  • A couch gag on The Simpsons has the Simpsons jumping over a group of sharks on to their couch - with only partial success, as the sharks are shown chewing on body parts which are missing from the Simpson family members.

Jumping the shark in legal academia

  • The 2007 supplement to Modern Criminal Procedure 11th ed. by Kamisar, LaFave, Israel, and King (a leading law school casebook) refers to "jumping the shark" in the context of the Supreme Court's increasing willingness to permit suspicionless searches. In a 2006 case, the Court held that parolees inherently have fewer expectations of privacy as a condition of their release, so police officers may stop and search parolees without any prior justification. Samson v. California, 126 S. Ct. ). In a note following Samson in the 2007 supplement, the casebook authors quote an Internet blog hypothesizing that state legislatures might attempt to apply Samson to convicted sex offenders as well:

"Given the ongoing sex offender mania and its premise of permanent recidivism as the basis for lifetime registries and prohibitions on residence and occupation and such, one wonders whether some activist legislature will now jump the shark and propose extending Samson to a lifetime forfeiture of Fourth Amendment protection for convicted sex offenders, even after the terms of the parole has ended." 2007 supplement to Modern Criminal Procedure 11th ed. (quoting ).

Term used in other contexts

and King of Queens jumped the shark the first minute.
I can't believe Richard Simmons ain't in it!

  • "Obama's unity act has jumped the shark", [column headline by David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times, column appearing in the Arizona Daily Star July 28, 2008]. Brooks asserts that during U.S. Presidential candidate Barack Obama's tour of Europe his recurrent theme that difficult problems can be solved by people coming together and simply willing them to change is naive. Used in the text, the phrase appears in this sentence: "He has grown accustomed to putting on this sort of show for the rock concert masses, and in Berlin his act jumped the shark."

"Nuking the fridge"

Nuking the fridge is a colloquialism/meme created by bloggers and has a meaning similar to jumping the shark. It is used to denote the point in a movie or movie series (usually one with a pre-established tone of only semi-seriousness) at which the characters or plot veer into an over-the-top level of the ridiculous or incredible, thus leaving one feeling alienated from the film or series, due to the breaking of suspension of disbelief. A series that "nukes the fridge" is typically deemed to have passed its peak, changing the tone of the series so far that viewers see it as having fundamentally and permanently strayed from its original premise. After this point in the filmmakers' attempt to keep the story fresh, critical fans often sense a noticeable decline in quality.

The term is an allusion to a scene in the film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull of the Indiana Jones franchise, first released worldwide on May 22, 2008. In this scene, the title character is literally hit by the blast of a nuclear weapon while hiding inside a lead-lined refrigerator in a desperate attempt at survival. The fridge is hurled a great distance through the sky, while the remaining structures surrounding it are obliterated, and tumbles hard to the ground, whereupon an uninjured Jones emerges to witness the mushroom cloud miles away. Some fans of the series and film critics found the absurdity of this event disappointing and, in their perspective, reflective of the decreasing quality of the series, and adopted the term "nuke the fridge".

The first public use of "nuking the fridge" as a direct metaphor is reported to have been on May 24, 2008 on Internet Movie Database boards (although the page on which it was alleged to have appeared has since been deleted). The phrase was adopted by others on the board during that same weekend as a wide number of users began referencing the refrigerator scene in a derogatory way, before eventually emerging elsewhere on the Internet.

Media notice of the phrase includes articles in Newsweek Magazine, the Toronto Sun, the New York Times, a tongue in cheek reference in Entertainment Weekly, and a discussion on WJXT-TV. The phrase was also Urban Dictionary's "Word of the Day" for June 3, 2008 and MSN's A-List Searches' Hot Topic of the Day on July 6, 2008, and has been used on countless other blogs and websites. On Monday, July 7, 2008, CNBC ran a story entitled "Have Media Stocks Nuked the Fridge?"

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