For those of you that haven’t heard of the phrase “Jump The Shark,” it is used to “describe the moment when a television show or similar episodic medium is in retrospect judged to have passed its ‘peak’ and shows a noticeable decline in quality.” The phrase specifically refers to the Happy Days episode Hollywood in which “Fonzie — wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket — jumps over a tank containing a shark while on water skis.”
The site Jump The Shark is a comprehensive collection of user-submitted opinions on when different shows “jumped the shark,” and is chock-full of TV trivia. For example, although the great majority of people voting on the entry for The Simpsons feel that the show “never jumped,” I tend to think that it started to go downhill when Conan O’Brien left the show as one of its writers. There have been glimmers of former glory in the years since, but it’s been some time since I can call any episode a classic.
In any case, what got me to making this post in the first place was an interview of Henry Winkler in which he commented on the term and revealed the origin of his waterskiing stint:
Winkler doesn’t want to be associated with any “showkiller” labels either.
“You forget one thing, when we jumped the shark, we went on for six years to be No. 1,” Winkler points out. “And at that time I had great legs. So don’t put me in that category.
He’s correct, of course – about his show’s longevity if not the quality of his gams. The Fonz jumped the shark three episodes into the fifth season of "Happy Days,” not even halfway through its run. Not only that, but Winkler is willing to explain the whole bizarre plot line in plausible terms.
“My parents were from Germany and I was a water ski instructor as a counselor in camp, and they would say to me, ‘Tell zem you water ski. Zis were be good for The Fonz,’” Winkler says. “And I did.”
Call it what you will, I still remember that episode and remember wondering, “What the Hell are they thinking?” 🙂