Jumping the shark
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Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein that is used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery. The phrase is also used to refer to a particular scene, episode or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of "gimmick" in a desperate attempt to keep viewers' interest.
In its initial usage, it referred to the point in a television program's history when the program had outlived its freshness and viewers had begun to feel that the show's writers were out of new ideas, often after great effort was made to revive interest in the show by the writers, producers, or network.
The usage of "jump the shark" has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment in its evolution when a brand, design, or creative effort moves beyond the essential qualities that initially defined its success, beyond relevance or recovery.
The phrase jump the shark comes from a scene in the fifth season premiere episode of the American TV series Happy Days titled "Hollywood: Part 3", written by Fred Fox, Jr. and 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. 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, cartoonish turn towards attention-seeking gimmickry. Initially a supporting character, the faddish lionization of an increasingly superhuman Fonzie became the focus of Happy Days. The series continued for nearly five years after Fonzie's shark-jumping stunt, with a number of changes in cast and situations. However, it is commonly believed that the show began a creative decline in this era, as writers ran out of ideas and Happy Days became a caricature of itself.
In 1997, Hein published his list of approximately 200 television shows, and his opinions of the moments each "jumped the shark." The site soon became an internet phenomenon, and as the phrase quickly spread all throughout pop culture the site grew exponentially in users and renown. 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).
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 to not only the success of the episode itself ("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 range of situations, ranging from the state of advertising in the digital video recorder era, views on rural education policy, the anomalous pursuit of a company acquisition and Facebook's efforts to "modernize its home page ... with empty bells and whistles — take, timeline and subscribers, for example" before an anticipated 2012 IPO.
A print-specific version of the phrase is "Marrying Irving", coined by Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten.
A recent (2008) variation is "nuking the fridge", meaning that a particular scene is so outrageous as to discourage the audience from maintaining its suspension of disbelief; as it happens on a much shorter time-scale than jumping the shark, it is usually specific to films. The phrase refers to a scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skullwhen Jones hides inside a lead-lined refrigerator to survive a nuclear blast, which throws the refrigerator all the way to safety. The scene was notable in that although the events of the Indiana Jones series were never intended to be realistic, the absurdity of the scene (lead can shield gamma radiation but not neutron radiation, but given the proximity to the blast either would have delivered a several-thousand-times lethal dose, not unlike a neutron bomb, and the subsequent violent tossing of the refrigerator would have given Jones numerous lethal blunt force trauma injuries; not to mention, the intense heat would have most likely boiled him alive, cold fridge or not) was considered by many to be ridiculous even by its own standards of implausibility, and it was difficult for the rest of the film to maintain the sense of peril required for an action movie.