Jumping the Shark
Jumping the Shark is the moment when an established show changes in a significant manner in an attempt to stay fresh. Ironically, that moment makes the viewers realize that the show has finally run out of ideas. It has reached its peak, it will never be the same again, and from now on it's all downhill.
Some examples of clues which may indicate that a show's made the "jump":
- A popular character is removed from the show, or even Killed Off for Real. Especially true if the method of removal is unsatisfying or mean-spirited.
- The writers pen a replacement character who isn't as compelling as the one who left.
- A new character is introduced who earns the hatred of the fandom for whatever reason.
- In cases where Real Life Writes the Plot, when the actor playing a character core to the show's success dies and a decision is made to also kill off the actor's character. This will often force hasty, if not awkward changes to a program that gets, at best, lukewarm acceptance from the audience.
- The Scrappy is given more spotlight and screentime, which sometimes exonerates him through character development, but more often turns him into a Creator's Pet.
- An existing character evolves in a way that flattens rather than enriches him, or which contradicts prior depictions of the character. This can have the effect of alienating fans.
- The Official Couple resolves their UST too early and shippers start to lose interest in the show.
- The show's premise is radically altered, such as having the characters change careers or move to a new location.
- Conversely, the show (which is supposedly based on a coherent story arc rather than a series of episodic events) drags on too long without any sort of progress or resolution. May be the result of too much Filler or overreliance on Failure Is the Only Option. If the plot is based on a Myth Arc, dragging it out too long or piling plot thread upon plot thread without resolution may lead to fans getting the impression that the writers are just making it up as they go along and subsequently tuning out.
- Sometimes Fleeting Demographic Rule allows the writers to get away with reusing the old plots indefinitely - but this depends on the show.
- The show experiences Mood Whiplash in an unbelievable manner - typically a result of Executive Meddling wanting to make the show Darker and Edgier or Lighter and Softer.
- A jarring rise in the Sliding Scale of Villain Threat, unless it is written well and\or used for comedic purposes. For example, a Big Bad trying to take over the local 7-11 is usurped by one bent on destroying the galaxy.
- One of the writers puts too much of himself into the show, to its detriment. He may use it as a pulpit to preach his personal beliefs in a heavy-handed manner, or to display personal kinks which Squick the audience out. Common results include Author Filibuster, drastically increased sightings of Strawman Politicals, and Going Cosmic.
- A baby is added to an otherwise-adult show where ill-suited addition of childish themes and endless babytalk from characters who were once-intelligent speaking adults fatally alters the character dynamic.
- The plot is resolved with one too many plot twists which are inconsistent with the overall narrative, poorly executed, or are just plain stupid, turning the audience away.
- A show's Crowning Moment of Awesome—in the sense that the show never lives up to said moment again, despite trying.
- The show starts relying too much on "special guest stars" (especially if they're celebrities playing themselves) which wreck the verisimilitude of the show.
- Graphical gimmicks such as 3D are used to shore up failing character development. If the plot is shaky, distract the viewer with more and flashier special effects.
- This solution was dubbed "nuking the fridge" after Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull did exactly that. However, in retrospect it seems to be a part of the Signature Style of George Lucas all along and merely became more and more blatant; much the same happened to Star Wars. This demonstrates that jumping a whole school of small fish can be done safely, but as the size of sharks increases, even the viewers who accepted this earlier will eventually start to complain.
- The Movie of the series is released, after which the creativity level of the actual show starts to wane.
- A major plot point is apparently resolved only to be immediately unresolved—over and over again.
- The show moves the existing cast to a new setting.
- For games, a Scrappy Mechanic is introduced that changes the balance that made the older games fun.
- A particular gimmick or recurring joke that becomes endearing or otherwise perceived to be core to the show's appeal is dropped, either with or without explanation.
- The show keeps saying how awesome something is, but doesn't actually let you know why. Example: The characters are promoted to a higher rank, only to get less gadgets and fight even weaker villains.
Too many shark-jumping moments in a row can spell Seasonal Rot.
This expression was coined after the episode of Happy Days in which Fonzie, dressed in his trademark leather jacket, literally jumps over a shark on water-skis during an episode shot on location.
Gary Marshall tirelessly reminds us that Happy Days went on for a number of years after the original shark-jump, misunderstanding a phrase that judges suckiness, not success. Henry Winkler has elsewhere commented that he's happy with the popularity of the phrase, as its usage in a magazine is often accompanied by a photo of him during a time in his life when he had great legs. The writer of Happy Days episode has also written in the moment's defense. (Interestingly, the majority of the examples/criteria listed above involving some sort of ongoing/permanent change to a series outnumber those related to a single moment, such as Fonzie's shark jump.)
Contrast Growing the Beard, Win the Crowd. For a related phenomenon, see Franchise Original Sin. When it's whole networks instead of just shows, see Network Decay, and Magazine Decay for print magazines.
When the people start claiming something is a shark jumping moment immediately after it happens, see Ruined FOREVER.
JumpTheShark.com used to be run by writer Jon Hein (who now works as part of The Howard Stern Show), who coined the term with his friends in the mid-1980's. Maintained an ongoing list of series killing moments (granted, you could vote for every cause, and shows commonly had "Day One" as an option). The website lists actor Ted McGinley as their "patron saint", for he has the most television roles in which series slowly died off after his first appearance. The longest-lasting show with Ted in a starring role was Married... with Children, where he went for seven seasons after replacing David Garrison (Steve Rhoades). Ironically, the site itself jumped the shark in January 2009, when it was merged into the TV Guide website, had its content removed along with the voting system, and became a blog by writer Erin Fox. BoneTheFish.com is one website that billed itself as a successor to the "old" JumpTheShark.com, but it didn't last long, either.
There is some evidence that jumping the shark has no real effect on a show's success. This depends on one's definition: a strict shark-jump by definition sets the tone that eventually causes viewers to stop watching, or the softer definition used in the article walks the line between this trope and Ruined FOREVER. Take the Trope Namer, Happy Days: the moment happened in season 5, viewers stuck around for one more season, then got sick of the show's new tone (which, in hindsight, started with Fonzie jumping the shark) and left. In the original case, the moment was less "Ruined FOREVER" and more "I hope they don't do more of that" (which they did).
There are really too many to list here, and it is probably the most subjective article we have, so we are not listing any examples, i.e. making our own shark-jump assertions. It is guaranteed that any show of sufficient length (more than two or three seasons) will vary in quality and thus all it does is start arguments. This page lists overt lampshades of the phrase instead, preferably self-deprecating ones. (TLDR: No Real Life Examples, Please, only references)
No real life examples, please; Real Life is not scripted.
- Knights of the Dinner Table #151 is titled "Jump The Shark". It features Gary Jackson coming Back from the Dead. On their back page jokes section many issues back, normally consisting of fan submitted jokes, they themselves put together a list of examples of what would be jumping the shark for their comic and the above example was included on the list of possibilities. According to the writers though, the plans to bring Gary Jackson back were in the works before this list was published, making this a Take That Me. Now we'll have to see if the UST between Brian and Sara is resolved (if it's even a two way street).
- Ultimate Spider-Man issue 67 is titled "Jump The Shark", as it's the second half of the Body Swap storyline between Spidey and Wolverine.
- In Light and Dark - The Adventures of Dark Yagami, this is referenced and lampshaded during a boat chase. "They did a bunch of jumps over a wall and a cruise boat but missed some sharks and didn't jump them (ITS AN INTERNET THINGY)".
- In the Arrested Development episode "Motherboy XXX", Barry Zuckercorn (played by Henry Winkler, Fonzie himself) visits Buster on a dock, where his hand has been eaten by a seal. On his way to make a Product Placement for Burger King, he is forced to physically jump over the shark.
- Stargate SG-1: In the self-referential 200th episode, Marty responds to the suggestion of doing the Wormhole X-Treme! movie with Thunderbirds-style puppets by sarcastically suggesting that they have Puppet O'Neill jump over a puppet shark on a scale motorcycle.
- 30 Rock: in the episode "The One With the Cast of Night Court", Jenna Maroney was blamed by Harry Anderson, Markie Post, and Charles Johnson for making Night Court "jump the shark" for her three part episode as werewolf lawyer Sparky Monroe.
Harry: You made us jump the shark! You're the reason we didn't have a tenth season!
- The fifth-season premiere of Reno911, entitled "Jumping the Shark", featured Lt. Dangle actually attempting to jump over a normal fish tank containing a small shark. Naturally, he doesn't quite make it over, and Hilarity Ensues. Incidentally, it was the first new episode to be aired after the release of The Movie, which can also be a major shark-jumping point for some shows.
- An episode of That '70s Show in which Fez, imagining how cool it would be to be the Fonzie, has a daydream of himself performing the original jump. Hyde comments that this was the worst moment in television history, and Fez confesses that he stopped watching the show after that. It's interesting, because this is more of a modern perspective rather than one commonly held at the time it aired... like pretty much everything on That '70s Show.
- In the last episode of Boston Legal after Alan accepts Denny's proposal of marriage Denny says "It'll be great! Like jumping a shark!"
- An episode featured a kid who is believed to be the third Winchester brother. The name of the episode? Jump the Shark. Oh yeah, and the diner where they meet the kid? Cousin Oliver's.
- Referenced again at the end of the episode "The Real Ghostbusters".
- There was also a poster for "Fonzarelli's Water Skiing Event" up on the wall at Cousin Oliver's diner.
- One episode of House had House, bored out of his skull during clinic duty, constructing a racetrack from medical tape, tongue depressors, and cards. At the end of the track is a ramp, and under the ramp? A shark. Cuddy catches the car in midair, before it reaches the shark. But maybe the writers are telling us something....
- The penultimate episode of The X-Files is titled "Jump the Shark". In it, The Lone Gunmen—the quirky trio of conspiracy theorists that had lasted the show's entire run and gotten their own failed spin off—end up thwarting a terrorist's plot to use a neurotoxin made from sharks (somehow). Unfortunately, they died in the process.
- Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide has an episode about making and taking dares that incorporates one character jumping a bicycle over a tank with a shark in it.
- In the Pushing Daisies (somewhat rushed) finale, the Victim of the Week was killed by accidentally leaping into the mouth of a shark. Lampshade Hanging? You decide!
- The Trailer Park Boys episode "Jump the Cheeseburger".
- Web Soup host Chris Hardwick used this phrase when their video in their Things You Can't Un-See segment was legitimately disgusting and nauseating. It was a gaping foot wound, which was crawling with live maggots.
- The upcoming second season premier of Disney's Zeke and Luther, "Zeke Jumps the Shark", promises to be Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
- Community Season Finale: Troy wants to move in with Abed, but genre savvy Abed says their friendship would jump the shark if they did. Troy responds saying when Fonzie literally jumped the shark, it was the best episode ever.
- Attack of the Show! did a parody of Discovery Channel's Shark Week with their own jump the shark week, where each day they would jump the shark in classic fashion. Methods included being attacked by a cougar a la 24, having a Dallas style murder mystery, having a Cousin Oliver show up, and having an evil twin a la Knight Rider.
- Wipeout couldn't resist mentioning the trope; an episode featured an elimination game called "Jump The Shark", where players had to, well, jump over a spinning shark.
- Maid RPG specifically lampshades this for one of its example games, which due to player twinkery went completely and irretrievably Off the Rails (which, of course, never happens in real sessions). After Yugami, Kamiya, and Hizumi manage to derail the game into something resembling Fist of the North Star:
Hizumi: See this? This is a shark. And here I am jumping over it. I'm jumping over a shark here. Shark? Jumping. Over.
- Kingdom of Loathing contains a certain item, equipped in the torso slot, which drops from a shark. As usual, the item description contains several "examples of what plot elements may cause or be symptomatic of jumping the shark."
- In Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, one of the missions involves feeding imbecelic oil rig worker Mega's pet shark, Fonzie. That involves jumping over him on your board for some reason. Keep in mind that Mega's the kind of guy to name a shark Fonzie unironically, completely unaware of it meaning anything deeper than "That guy on that show I watched when I was like five. He was cool. Ayyyyy!"
- In Hallrunner, a game on the Videlectrix website (a gaming website hosted by the creators of Homestar Runner), the object of the game is to make your way through various obstacles while running down a neverending hallway. Upon coming to each obstacle, the player has the option of talking to it, fighting it, or jumping it. If the player chooses "jump" when the obstacle is a shark, he gets the response "You jump the shark. Just like homestarrunner.com."
- In Skate 3, the player attempts to jump over a statue of a shark in the opening cinematic. He fails, which is a setup for you to use plastic surgery to create your character. You can jump it in the actual game.
- Jumpman Zero has a level called "Jump The Shark", which is basically a big underwater room with a shark in it.
- Lampshade Hanging on it in this strip of Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures
- In Bitmap World, the phrase is used to indicate its very silly and literal meaning. The creators insist that this does not mean their relatively new strip (at the time of publication) is headed in that direction.
- In Bruno the Bandit, the protagonist literally has to jump a shark, to be more successful getting readers.
- In Calamities of Nature a direct reference to Happy Days is made when jumping the shark.
- Schlock Mercenary uses a gag about a shark tank and a motorcycle ramp as a promise that even though the strip's invoking Time Travel as a Reset Button, it's just this once and that's not what it's going to be all about from now on.
- The 542nd strip of Order of the Stick is named "In Azure City, Shark Jumps You!". In addition to the obvious Russian Reversal, this is also an actual description of the strip's contents.
- Melonpool, after a decade of time-travel history-changing shenanigans, had gotten so convoluted that the author decided on a massive retcon, whose fuzzy science rationale actually had the acronym Jump the S.H.A.R.K..
- Irregular Webcomic addressed Jumping the Shark (both literally and figuratively) in the arc starting here - MythBusters did it to see if the series starts to go downhill.
- Clip-art web comic Partially Clips lampshades its own potential shark-jumping here.
- A Freefall strip features a shark tank, with the sign that says "No Jumping".
- In Absurd Notions, several years in, the characters buy an aquarium and get a pet Bala shark. They decide that, given that they introduced the shark as a new character to breathe new life into their lives, which had gotten boring, the only honest name to give the shark was "Jump".
- In this Something*Positive strip this trope and the Cousin Oliver are referenced as the writers for Monette's show discuss future plots.
- Gordito in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja literally jumped over a winged, flying shark. The alt-text defended the move with "Look, it was the only way he could dodge it". Of course, by Dr. McNinja standards this isn't that unusual an event.
- Heywood in Mynarski Forest replicated the Fonz's jump, in the strip's background, in mocking recognition that the comic had just had two stories in a row turn out to be All Just a Dream.
- xkcd has this comic's Alt Text of "Dinosaurs totally jumped the ichthyosaur when they got rid of the brontosaurus."
- Bob the Angry Flower ramps a shark on a motorcycle. Into space.
- In Unwinder's Tall Comics, Unwinder laments the decline of his former favorite webcomic:
Unwinder: Nutflix? Oh goll, Mildred, that comic basically jumped the whale shark. THE LARGEST SHARK ON EARTH.
- Inverted, but taken literally in Sandra and Woo.
- In the end-of-chapter commentary strips by two minor characters of Errant Story, one of them carries waterski's and announces she'll try to jump a great white, prompting the other to note that the writer just did that. The immediate followup was an amusing subversion of JTS, too.
- Commissioned officially announced it jumped the zombie on November 18, 2009.
- Among the mezzacotta taglines is "The webcomic that started on the other side of the shark."
- The Zero Punctuation review for "LEGO Indiana Jones" was the first to feature a new opening video and hardcore metal theme song, as opposed to the (copyrighted) Suspiciously Apropos Music of previous shorts. In his sign-off bit of snark, Yahtzee predicts oodles of e-mails predicting this as "his shark jumping moment".
- In a similar fashion, episode 15 of Yu-Gi-Oh the Abridged Series had this exchange at the end:
- As the entire thing is a Shout-Out to Happy Days, This Oxhorn WoW Machinima has a character literally jump a shark... and shoot it in the same motion.
- The Nostalgia Critic refers to it on occasion:
- In the Rocky IV review, where a completely ridiculous robot that drives in is introduced as the Shark-Jumper 5000, and the introduction of Game Boy in the commentary for the Captain N review.
- Mentioned twice in the Independence Day review, although he didn't think the movie was good in the first place, so he was likely confusing the term for a Wall Banger.
- Mentioned with a whole rant about how much the shark is abused in the review of The Neverending Story III, when the Rock Biter rode a bike, singing "Born to be Wild". Although since he made it clear the series went downhill with the second movie, this again was misusing the term. Then again, there is no accurate fan speak term for that moment popular enough for him to rant that way about it, so it slides by with Rule of Funny.
- Bonus Stage: Joel exclaims "Come quick! We're about to travel over Shark World! I don't know why we haven't done this already." In another episode, Joel states that there are "some sharks [he] refuses to jump".
- The title card at the end of the first episode of Madd Man reads "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: Jumped The Shark On The First Episode"
- Two Best Friends Play. After making two episodes independently, they were picked up by the Machinima Youtube channel. They referenced this "selling out" in their next video, Donkey Kong Country Returns, by having Kong physically jump over a shark enemy.
Matt: Jump the shark! Jump the shark!
- Invoked and Parodied in the episode Trollin' of the Annoying Orange
- This post in the fan-made Just a Useless Bunny Touhou Ask Blog parodies the common changes done by Executive Meddling that often lead to this, complete with a final panel of Reisen water skiing over a shark.
- From RedLetterMedia:
Mr. Plinkett: I don't jump sharks, I fuck them for breakfast.
- Sealab 2021: "Sharko's Machine": Sharko (A Cousin Oliver parody who is Marco's half-shark illegitimate son) is seen jumping over several Fonzies during an absurd Hard Work Montage.
- Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends:
- "Sweet Stench of Success", when Bloo becomes an advertising icon who gets his own sitcom spinoff. The preview after the very first episode is "tune in next week when Deo jumps a shark!"
- In the final episode, "Goodbye to Bloo", Bloo thinks Mac is moving away forever, and tries to come up with something big they can do for their last day together. After Mac shoots down several of his suggestions as things they have already done before (they are in fact references to the plots of previous episodes), Bloo decides that the only thing left to do is to Jump the Shark. Unable to find a shark in time, he settles for walking over a fish with a paper fin on a bowl.
- Kim Possible addresses thoughts on jumping the shark, by hanging up on Ron when he brings it up. This Fanfiction takes the idea a bit further, parodying Happy Days and then revealing it all as just a dream.
- One episode of Dora the Explorer had Dora use Jump Star to "jump the shark".
- One episode of Squidbillies shown Rusty watching a TV show in a dramatic way, showing a Mailman delivering mail into a mailbox. What is worth a mention in this article is Early commenting on the show with the trope name.
- In an episode of "What's New, Scooby-Doo?" where the gang goes to the set of an action film, the director ends up modifying the script to have Scooby-Doo and Shaggy launch on a motorcycle over a tank of sharks. Velma remarks, "I never thought I'd see Scooby-Doo jump the shark."
- One "Previously On" for a two-part episode of South Park had scenes of Fonzie about to jump a shark cut in. Then when he makes the jump, he gets eaten, seeming to say "Not yet, viewers".
- My Life as a Teenage Robot "In-Des-Tuck-Able" serves as the final episode where Tuck is performing a series of dangerous stunts including riding a motorcycle over a Shark Pool. Brad provides the lampshading. "Once you jump the shark, the show is over."
- The Simpsons:
- Lampooned this trope by showing an episode where Bart buys a race horse (Lisa already did that), Lisa notices Marge's gambling problem (we already know that) and adds an improbable twist that horse jockeys are elves in disguise (complete with schlocky musical number). Lampshaded by Comic Book Guy when he is seen wearing a "Worst Episode Ever" shirt.
- Also made more direct references: One Couch Gag had the family do it to land on the couch, only for Homer to lose both legs. Additionally, one of the Clip Show episodes featured a song lampshading both clip shows and the sort of absurd plots that normally constitute a shark-jump, complete with a still image of Homer on waterskis.
Troy Mc Clure: That's it for our spinoff showcase. But what about the show that started it all? How do you keep "The Simpsons" fresh and funny after eight long years? Well, here's what's on tap for season nine: Magic powers! Wedding after wedding after wedding. And did someone say, "long-lost triplets?" So join America's favorite TV family, and a tiny green space alien named Ozmodiar that only Homer can see, on Fox this fall. It'll be out of this world! Right, Ozmodiar?
- In the second season, motorcycle daredevil Lance Murdoch literally jumped over a shark (and a few other animals besides).
- During the Teen Titans episode where the Titans chased Control Freak into TV land, Robin finds himself on some kind of action challenge show being forced by a suspiciously familiar looking host with a funny accent to waterski off a ramp, at which point a shark leaps out of the water underneath him.
- The Fairly OddParents:
- A Cut Song from The Movie Channel Chasers" had Timmy jumping a shark with a guy who looked a lot like The Fonz.
- Also in the later episode that introduces Wanda's twin sister Blonda, the B-plot of the episode consists of Timmy doing various "EXTREEEEEME!!" stunts. The very first stunt was him rocketskating over a shark tank.
- Fanboy and Chum Chum referenced jumping the shark during the episode Total Recall. One of the shows they liked had the title character, an octopus spy named Agent 8 jump a shark. They found the show got better after.
- Dante and Randal in the Clerks series reminisce about the iconic scene from Happy Days, except in their recollection, the shark came back and ate Samuel L. Jackson.
- In The Venture Brothers the Monarch references this trope regarding henchmen. You say "jump" they say "what shark".
- The series finale of Batman the Brave And The Bold is all about this trope. Bat-Mite, tired of BTBATB's formula, conspires to get it cancelled by inflicting several classic shark-jumps. The list includes giving Batman a love interest and sickeningly cute daughter, inserting obvious toy tie-ins, changing Aquaman's voice actor (to Ted McGinley, no less), giving Ace the Bat-Hound a very familiar nephew, moving the show to Malibu, and finally making Batman use guns. Ambush Bug (voiced by Henry Winkler) tries to stop him by telling Batman that they're in a TV show and if they don't get back to normal fast, declining viewership will destroy their world. They fix everything, but by then the show's already been cancelled. The series ends with a giant wrap party where Batman tells the viewers that he'll always be around to fight evil, but for now this is goodbye.