jump the shark

When a television show jumps the shark it has reached a tipping point and will steadily decline ever after. Jumping the shark is the defining moment when you know your favorite TV show will never be the same again.

The phrase is a reference to the 1970s television show Happy Days. On 20 September 1977, the show aired an episode where the character Fonzie jumps a shark tank on water skis. A two-part cliffhanger episode, many fans of the show consider this episode to be the moment when they realized the show had become shameless in its self-promotion.

The phrase jump the shark, however, appears some two decades later. On 24 December 1997 the website www.jumptheshark.com went up on the net. It listed TV shows and the episodes where they jumped the shark. The site gives credit for the phrase to a Sean J. Connelly, who allegedly coined it in 1985. Connelly was the college roommate of site’s creator, Jon Hein.

From the New York Times, 12 December 1999:

Jon Hein, 32, of Woodbury calls that instant a television show peaks “jumping the shark.” “In my opinion, there is a definitive moment in every show when that happens, when it goes downhill,” Mr. Hein said. After that the program will never be the same again.

And from 20 May 2002:

Billy’s blond hair was the series’ “jump the shark moment,” an increasingly common phrase that signals the point at which a series begins its descent.

(Source: jumptheshark.com; Proquest Historical Newspapers)

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