Jumping the Shark: Television Shows that Lived Too Long

Source

Where Did Jumping the Shark Come From?

Over the past thirty five years, there has been a common phrase used to describe over the hill television programs that remained on the air longer than they should have. But what does the phrase mean and where did it come from?

Jumping the Shark is a phrase coined from an infamous episode of Happy Days. "Hollywood Part 3" was part of the fifth season premiere of the long running show where The Fonz on a dare- literally jumps over a shark in his trademark leather jacket and jet-skis. It is at this point in the series that many viewers and critics noticed a decline in the quality of the series even though it went on for six more seasons.

Through the years, this phrase has been applied to several other shows that lost their momentum for one reason or another. The phrase caught on in the mid-1980s thanks to writer Jon Hein and became a pop culture phenomenon.

This hub takes a look at some qualities of shows that have jumped the shark as well as the actual shows themselves.

Common Jumping the Shark Qualities

While this is not true for every show on television, some series present key characteristics that indicate the writers and producers are still looking to keep the show original and fresh. Some are obvious and others not so much. The types of changes include a twist in plot development, cast changes, a twist in character development, and gimmicks. Here is a sampling of some of the noted changes:

  • A Baby Out of Nowhere: This is something that is typically symptomatic of sitcoms. Mostly family sitcoms where the kids are getting older and less cute in the eyes of viewers. It can also be sitcoms with adults as the focus but in need of a fresh storyline. Examples include: Family Ties, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Friends and so on.
  • Main Character Exits: Many shows go through cast changes and survive, even thriving to a certain extent (see NCIS) but there are several others that barely survive after a beloved or influential character leaves. Examples include: Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Three's Company, House and etc.
  • Romantic Tension is Resolved: This is also known as the Moonlighting curse. Many shows wait several seasons to resolve it and once it is- viewers lose interest. Here are some shows that exhibit this: House, Bones, Cheers and Who's the Boss.
  • Too Many New Characters: This usually is common with ensemble dramas that focus on the operations of a town, community, or organization (school, hospital, etc.) Examples include: ER, House, Dallas, and so on.
  • Same Character, Different Actor: Also known as the Other Darrin (after Bewitched), it is one of the most common and repetitive ways to tell a show has jumped the shark. Many shows want to maintain continuity and viewers and find it easy by replacing the actor but keeping the character. Shows that have done this are: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Roseanne, Lois and Clark: the New Adventures of Superman, My Wife and Kids, and many more.

This is just a sampling of how a show can jump the shark. Now, on to some prime time offenders.

Source

Law and Order

Series Lifespan: 1990-2010

Key Characters: Detective Lenny Briscoe and Assistant District Attorney, later Head District Attorney Jack McCoy

Distinct Features: The theme song; title card transitions; the series exists around two arenas of the law: the police and the district attorney's office.

When the Show Jumped: Det. Lenny Briscoe, arguably the heart and soul of the series met an untimely death after he was transferred to another branch of the police department. His last partner, Det. Ed Green is left with a series of new partners that essentially do not have the same rapport with him as Briscoe. In real life, Jerry Orbach had succumbed to prostate cancer while working on the spinoff show Law and Order: Trial by Jury. Law and Order lived an additional five seasons, while Trial by Jury was DOA before the end of its first season.

What Should Have Happened: There should have been one additional season that eventually centers on Ed Green trying to adjust to a new partner.

Source

The Cosby Show

Series Lifespan: 1984-1992

Key Characters: Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable and Clair Huxtable, Exq., All Huxtable Children (Sondra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa, Rudy)

When the Show Jumped: Season six, when Bill Cosby decided to give us a cousin Oliver with then 3 year old Raven-Symone. Instead of being cute and precocious like Rudy, she came off as an irritating, noisy toddler. The following season, Cosby added Cousin Pam who really was another Vanessa in disguise.

What Should Have Happened: Maybe if it could have ended with Vanessa's departure to college and Rudy's foray into middle school. Less is more.

ER

Series Lifespan: 1994-2009

Key Characters: Nurse Carol Hathaway, Dr. Mark Greene, Dr. Doug Ross, Dr. Peter Benton, and Dr. John Carter.

When the Show Jumped: At the end of season eight when Dr. Mark Greene passed away due to a brain tumor and when Dr. Peter Benton left county general. It was among the last of key departures of the show's core cast. While the show was intended as ensemble cast, fans soon had a hard time when a revolving door of doctors, nurses, and administrators instead of a show focused on the grueling life of ER staff.

What Should Have Happened: The eight season should have been a final farewell and it should have ended as a cliffhanger. Not all shows have to be neatly tied up for the viewer. Mark Greene's death would have been a great point for the show to make fans wonder what would happen now that County General lost its heart.

Family Ties

Lifespan: 1982-1989

Key Characters: The Keaton Family (Elyse, Stephen, Alex, Mallory, Jennifer, and Andrew)

When the Show Jumped: The start of season five saw the age advancement of baby Andrew to four year old toddler status. While the other Keaton children had their issues, they were at least the same age.

What Should Have Happened: The show really could have ended with the birth of Andrew and the possibility of a new future for the Keatons. Turning a baby into a four year old version of Alex was just too much.

Current Offenders

Here are some shows that are still on the air that many fans have given up on.

How I Met Your Mother: As hard as it is to admit, it should not have taken this long for world to find out who the mother is. Not to mention all of the back and forth relationships between Barney and Robin and Robin and Ted.

Bones: Another victim of the Moonlighting curse, the show lost all credibility with Bones and Booth getting together.

Two and a Half Men: It started off as somewhat clever and funny but devolved into a series of crude sex and bathroom jokes. The final straw was the acrimonious departure of Charlie Sheen.

Grey's Anatomy: It's fair to say that the musical episode was one of the many reasons why this show does not need to be on the air much longer.

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Comments 48 comments

Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

I love Law and Order marathons! A guilty pleasure. As a diehard Law and Order SVU fanatic I don't care how many times they change the characters that is one awesome show!

Two and a Half Men is done. We know that. I didn't like where House was going with the love interest, that just seemed weird! Excellent hub Alecia!!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Sunshine,

I agree it's hard to let go of shows like L&O. I've been surprised at how much I've enjoyed SVU without Elliot.

But 2.5 Men is dunzo. And I stopped watching House when they let the main three consulting docs go, only to replace them with House's version of Survivor.

Thanks as always :)!


justateacher profile image

justateacher 4 years ago from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz...

I agree that Two and a Half Men just needs to retire...no Charlie and no Jake half the time...Allen is wonderful but can't carry on the show alone...How I Met Your Mother -saw a cartoon the other day about this one - Ted is talking to the kids in 2023 and he says something to the effect of "Yeah, and I went to a new bar last night and that's How I Met Your Mother"...that kinda tells people how that show is going!


mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

I watch so little TV. I did enjoy "Mr. Monk" but he is gone now.

"House" got too ridiculous!

Good Hub. I voted it UP


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi justateacher,

I agree Allen is good but he's not enough to carry the show and nobody cares for Ashton's character. I'm still watching HIMYM, just so I can finally find out how it ends. Thanks so much for coming by and commenting!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Mary,

I agree House got to be a comedy of errors. Thanks for coming by :)!


stillwaters707 profile image

stillwaters707 4 years ago from Texas

Yes, Two and a Half Men did have some crude issues. Recently, they seem to redeem themselves with some funny women: Missy and now Rose (returns). I still miss Charlie, too. Good hub.


Janine Huldie profile image

Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

I totally agree with you on all you mentioned and loved the inclusion of Fonzie jumping the shark video too. Have of course voted and shared all over!!


jenbeach21 profile image

jenbeach21 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

I completely agree with Two and a Half Men. The crude jokes are old and the character of Alan is so pathetic it is painful to watch. I am still a big fan of How I Met Your Mother but maybe they should have just changed the title so that wasn't the basis of the whole show. I have a feeling it won't be on much longer.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

Alecia,

You're such a great observer of pop culture and analyzing music and television trends! Thanks for all the work you did in researching and organizing the material for this article.


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 4 years ago from Baltimore, MD

What a great hub on a great topic. I've always heard once Ted McGinley starts on a show, it is the beginning of the end. That poor guy is a jump the shark symbol. I am surprised he can still find work. Fun hub and voted up!


Thundermama profile image

Thundermama 4 years ago from Canada

Loved this hub and couldn't agree more. I'd also add Friends to the list. The season that Joey and Rachel kind of got together was the beginning of the end for me.


Amy Gillie profile image

Amy Gillie 4 years ago from Indiana

I had no idea where the phrase "jump the shark" came from! You are so right about all of these. Great hub!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi stillwaters707,

Thanks as always :)!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Janine,

I'm glad you enjoyed reading this. Thanks as always :)!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi jenbeach21,

I still watch HIMYM but I agree they should've figured a more clever way to title the show. And I'm seriously hoping this season is the last. It's getting hard to watch. Thanks for coming by!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Daisy,

Thanks so much for reading and for your support!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Jeannie,

I heard about the McGinley curse as well. But it is pretty funny that he has a career that thrives on ending a successful show. I know he was on The Love Boat, Happy Days, and Married With Children. Thanks for coming by!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Thundermama,

I agree Friends is definitely a Jump the Shark contender but at least Ross and Rachel got together at the end! Thanks for coming by!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Amy Gillie,

Thanks so much for reading!


trusouldj profile image

trusouldj 4 years ago from Indiana

Shame on you Alecia, "Olivia" was definitely a lot more entertaining than "Oliver".


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi trusouldj,

I see your point :). Thanks for coming by and commenting!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Alecia, I don't know how you find your material, but you are truly a gifted writer on a variety of subjects. I enjoyed this and learned a new phrase today. I agree that Cosby should have ended earlier. It lost is appeal when little Raven came on board. Voted up.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Teaches12345,

Thank you very much for the compliment. And I appreciate you coming by and commenting as well.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I'm glad you offered the explanation of 'jumped the shark." I had quit watching that show much earlier and did not know what people were talking about with that term. The same goes for many of the other shows, although some I never watched at all.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thanks so much dahoglund for coming by and commenting!


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

I remember all these shows and when they jumped the shark. I used to be a big fan of the original Law and Order until Briscoe died. The interesting thing is, I discovered SVU after that, and have been watching that ever since. Voting this Up and Interesting.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi alocsin,

I think a lot of people lost interest in the original Law and Order after Lenny died but at least we had SVU to fall back on. Thanks so much for coming by and commenting!


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

You've done a really great job with this one Alecia and made some really good points. If they need to keep actors employed when a show 'jumps the shark' they should start a new show! I voted this up, useful and interesting.


Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 4 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

I thought Two and a Half Men jumped the shark the last season Charlie Sheen was in it.

I hate to say it but I think CSI Vegas jumped the shark when Grissom left. And I agree about Law and Order, it was never the same after Jerry Orbach.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi tillsontitan,

I agree. Just start a new show and stop torturing us! Thanks so much for coming by and commenting :).


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Uninvited Writer,

I agree with all of your points. As much as CSI started off as a unique show-they should've thought long and hard when Grissom left. Thanks for coming by and sharing your thoughts!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

I have not ever heard this expression Alecia, it's a new one on me. I agree with you about Happy Days and The Cosby Show. I have only seen a few Family Ties but I quite liked some of the later series of ER after Mark had died and Benton had left. What drives me nuts is when the change the personality of the characters to make the storylines go in a different way - why? People rarely change that much! It's very annoying.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Jools,

I definitely agree that changing the personality of someone so drastically without a reason is frustrating. To me that's probably the biggest downfall of a show, aside from crazy storylines. Thanks so much for coming by and commenting!


midget38 profile image

midget38 4 years ago from Singapore

A new expression to learn, Alecia. And you are really a keen observer of entertainment trends. This was detailed and well researched...and useful too, we need to know when shows jump the shark so that we can discern if we should continue watching them or not. Thanks for sharing!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thanks so much for coming by and commenting, Michelle!


Kaili Bisson profile image

Kaili Bisson 4 years ago from Canada

I couldn't agree more about Bones, and I love your suggested endings for many of these shows. I think you got all the "worst offenders". Voted up!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Kalli Bisson,

I 've tried to watch Bones but it's not the same. Hopefully Fox will put it out of its misery soon. Thanks so much for coming by and commenting!


ChristyWrites profile image

ChristyWrites 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

I hadn't heard of the phrase jumping the shark but now I know! Good examples you give. Now I'm having flashbacks to watching Olivia on The Cosby Show :) Vote up and sharing here too.


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

I can agree with you on most of these shows, but not Bones. I have been waiting forever for them to get together! I think the show still has some additional seasons left to it. I had never heard of the term "jumping the shark". That was interesting how it started. I am surprised I was not aware of this term. I learned something new today! Voting up and interesting! :)


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi sgbrown,

I think some people like Bones and Booth getting together but to me the it's not just them getting together, it's the cases. They seem a little preposterous and I really don't like how they don't have a permanent replacement for Zach either. It's been more than 3 or 4 years now. Thanks so much for coming by and commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed this hub!


GDRshop profile image

GDRshop 4 years ago

Bones, i love that show!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thanks GDRshop!


Shaddie profile image

Shaddie 3 years ago from Washington state

For me, The Office suffered greatly from what you call the "moonlighting curse." Once Jim and Pam had that baby, and became a family instead of an adorable couple that flirted and occasionally had conflicts, my interest in the show greatly deteriorated.

Of course this could also be because I hate babies. I can't be sure.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 3 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Shaddie,

I see where you're coming from. I only have seen episodes were they were still dating/engaged with the exception of the wedding episode. I agree- something about the couple getting together that removes the interest level. But I don't always think babies ruin a show. But I like babies :). Thanks so much for coming by and commenting!


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

Hi, I had never heard of that saying before, but it does make sense. I know all the programs but never really watched them but I am surprised how long they hung on for. We have a few over here that need to go off into the sunset and retire! lol! interesting hub and I learned something new! lol!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 3 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Nell,

I like that- go off into the sunset and retire- makes complete sense. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub! Thanks you as always!


Robert Sacchi profile image

Robert Sacchi 10 months ago

Yes, many successful shows hang on long after they are past their peak quality wise. The thing is why should a network drop a show that has good or respectable ratings and a following to replace it with a new show that has a good chance of bombing?

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