When TV Shows Go an Episode Too Far

ByABC News via logo

N E W   Y O R K, June 18, 2001 -- Remember when Maddie and David hooked up on Moonlighting? When little cousin Oliver joined The Brady Bunch? When Scrappy Doo joined the Scooby snack feeding frenzy?

If so, you can appreciate the creation of the term "jumping the shark." Translation: the defining moment when your favorite TV show has reached its peak. Webmaster Jon Hein started a Web site, www.jumptheshark.com, devoted to the chronicling and discussion of those turning point episodes.

"Some call it the climax. We call it 'Jumping the Shark.' From that moment on, the program will simply never be the same," Hein told Good Morning America. Click here to tell us when your favorite show jumped the shark.

Fonzie First Shark Jumper

The "jumping the shark" phrase was coined by Hein's college roommate Sean Connolly in 1985. It was inspired by the Happy Days episode in which Fonzie actually water-skied over a shark tank, while wearing his leather jacket, during a three-part Happy Days trip to Hollywood.

But Hein says the phrase could apply to anything: TV, music, films, even life. Hein started the Web site simply to give other TV fans a forum to vent, but a Los Angeles Times story helped pluck it from online obscurity.

The "New Kid in Town," category is a "jumping the shark" category that was added by the site's fans.

"The second you see a kid added to any show, you know it has happened — the death knell: Oliver on The Brady Bunch, Vicky on Love Boat, little Stephanie on Archie Bunker's Place. It means that the other kids aren't old enough to draw in the viewers, so they import a new one, usually with the most ridiculous story lines," Hein said. "Even Leonardo DiCaprio couldn't save Growing Pains."

The M*A*S*H Debate

Puberty is also devastating to a show, Hein said, pointing out Fred Savage on the The Wonder Years and Soleil Moon Frye on Punky Brewster as examples of aging youngsters who lost their appeal. Similarly, birth was the "kiss of death" for Mad About You, he says.

"It was a show about a married couple in New York who were learning to live with each other, and who didn't want kids. The second they had the baby, the comedy stopped," Hein said.

Murphy Brown jumped the shark after she had a baby, Hein argues. The pregnancy and the birth of Avery was terrific, but the show still wasn't as good as it once was.

"There were some great episodes afterward, but it was never the same, because Murphy herself was never the same," he said. Some people think that I Love Lucy jumped when the Ricardos and Mertzes moved to Connecticut, but other people date it back to the birth of Little Ricky.

One of the most heatedly debated shark jumps on the site is the death of Henry Blake on M*A*S*H.

"Certainly the show changed, but there's a lot of disagreement about whether or not the show was as strong afterward," Hein said. "Some people say it jumped the shark when the show became the Alan Alda Morality Hour, others say when the Korean War lasted 11 years, or when Hot Lips became Margaret, or when Trapper became B.J., or when Frank became Winchester."

Seinfeld Got Ruthless?

One of the big "jump the shark" deaths was of Susan (George Costanza's fiancé) on Seinfeld. The show became a bit more ruthless, a bit meaner at that point, Hein said. And even though there were great episodes after that, the show itself was never the same.

Another category of "jumping the shark" occurs when sexual tension is removed. The classic examples: Maddie and David on Moonlighting, Sam and Diane on Cheers, Tony and Angela on Who's The Boss, and Joel and Maggie on Northern Exposure.

The last episode of The X Files ended with Scully and Mulder finally kissing, while cradling Scully's baby. Will it destroy the series? Hard to say, but it's not a good sign. And the love affair between Daphne and Niles may spell the end of Frasier, Hein said.

The big wedding example from this season is the Friends wedding, though some say that the show has already jumped the shark and keeps coming back up. Other examples: Jeannie and Tony getting married in I Dream of Jeannie; Max and 99 in Get Smart; Mork and Mindy, Lois and Clark, etc.

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