Thursday, June 22, 2006
A day or so ago I noticed the trades reported that the folks over at TV Guide have purchased the website Jump the Shark, which is all about those moments when TV shows go downhill. People are now joking that TV Guide has officially "jumped the shark" with this purchase. Fans of the website, though, are petrified that THIS move means that Jump the Shark will, inevitably, Jump the Shark. After all, TV Guide is big and corporate and more likely to wreck a good thing. Heck, we've seen plenty of websites get wrecked over the years after getting bought out by various companies.
Anyway, we'll see. TV Guide ought to keep this web site the way it is, it's great.
From what I gather, the term "Jump the Shark" was coined in reaction to a certain Happy Days episode in which Fonzie jumped over a shark while waterskiing. That moment signalled the total downfall of that show, from all accounts, because that episode was simply ridiculous. I remember seeing that show; man, that was bad. But lots of fans at the Jump the Shark website insist that Happy Days "jumped" long before that particular episode. In fact the level of vitriol over that whole series is HUGE over there. Maybe the actual jumping of the shark was not a "jump-the-shark" moment in the sense that the series went downhill afterwards. Rather, it was the moment this show hit rock bottom.
Fans say Happy Days started out as a truly great series about life in the 1950s, what with "Rock Around the Clock" as the theme song and the show originally filmed without a live studio audience. That was in the days when Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) was the main character of the show and Fonzie (Henry Winkler) was in a supporting role. Then the network execs at ABC decided to play up the Fonz, and he became a sensation and took over the entire show. The series started being filmed before a live studio audience, and at that point people said it all started to go downhill. The Fonz became a mainstream guy, and the dynamic of the show totally changed as the studio audiences went wild whenever he'd walk in and go "Aaaayyyy!!!".
That was just the start of the decline. Lots of shark-jumping moments come to mind: the episodes with Pinky Tuscadero, the burning of Arnold's, the arrival of Mork (Robin Williams) from outer space no less, the annoying Scott Baio as Chachi, any number of them. In the early episodes Richie had a brother, Chuck, and he mysteriously disappeared and was forgotten. Bizarre.
People like to say that Ted McGinley's appearance on any show is usually a sure sign of doom, a shark-jump moment all by itself. For me, Happy Days really went downhill after McGinley showed up; him and Cathy Silvers. It just sucked with them there. So for me, that's my shark-jumping moment, because up until then I could stand the show and thought it was still funny.
Then Ron Howard and Donny Most left, and they should have just finished off this series right then and there because this show was DONE. But they didn't. It just went on and on and on, long after Fonzie jumped over that stupid shark. They set a bunch of episodes in the boring 1960s and Mrs. C. had her new hairdo by then, which was hilarious. By the time this series was put out of its misery it was totally unwatchable. On the final episode, in fact, Howard Cunningham forgot to mention Chuck! He said he had two great kids, when in fact he had three! I guess Chuck was disowned by the family. Anyway, Happy Days is the ultimate Jump the Shark show.
Others may have their opinions about which moments constitute shark-jumping turning points for various series. Since TV Guide has bought the place, I'll take this opportunity to highlight what I think were the great "jump the shark" moments in TV history:
I Love Lucy: The Ricardos move to Connecticut.
The Flintstones: The Great Gazoo showed up.
Bewitched: Jumped when Dick York was replaced by Dick Sargent.
The Tonight Show: Night One of the Jay Leno regime.
The CBS Evening News: Day One of the Dan Rather regime. Hey, what happened to him?
Laverne and Shirley: they move to Hollywood.
Get Smart: 86 and 99 get married.
I Dream of Jeannie: Master and Jeannie get married.
Three's Company: Suzanne Somers walks.
Charlie's Angels: Farrah walks.
The Dukes of Hazzard: When the Dukes walked and got replaced by replacement Dukes, and then the original Dukes came back. Weird. Actually, though, that show was never good to begin with.
Dallas: Pam dreams up an entire season.
Dynasty: The time when that gang of assassins mowed down all the Carringtons, and all the usual people lived. Didn't care for the show after that moment.
Cheers: Diane goes.
Baywatch: Pam Anderson goes.
Law and Order: Jerry Orbach goes.
Nightline: Ted Koppel goes.
Monday Night Football: When Cosell left.
World News Tonight: Peter Jennings dies.
The West Wing: Aaron Sorkin walks.
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: The moment ABC went for overkill.
Survivor: All-star edition, and they give a Most Popular Survivor prize to Rupert.
The Apprentice: The overlong, boring Season 2 finale.
I could go on and on but I think maybe this column, somewhere, has jumped the shark.
Posted by John Cairns at 10:32 PM