Fred Fox Jr., the writer of the infamous episode of Happy Days where Fonzie waterskis over a shark, wrote an op-ed in yesterday’s LA Times about the episode that inspired the term “jump the shark.” The gist? Fox finds the popularity of the phrase perplexing:
“[W]hen I first heard the phrase and found out what it meant, I was incredulous. Then my incredulity turned into amazement. I started thinking about the thousands of television shows that had been on the air since the medium began. And out of all of those, the Happy Days episode in which Fonzie jumps over a shark is the one to be singled out? This made no sense.”
Like it or not, the phrase has stuck around for a reason — because it’s the perfect visual for ridiculous writing. It’s not about you, Fox. Click through as we celebrate the top 10 cases of TV shows “jumping the shark” after the jump.
1. The Brady Bunch (1969-1974)
When Cousin Oliver was introduced to The Brady Bunch during the fifth season of the show, fans might have gotten the feeling it would be the last. In fact, the move inspired the phrase “Cousin Oliver Syndrome,” where a show introduces a new, young character to give the show a new spark. (Just like when The Cosby Show brought in Olivia.) Why was Cousin Oliver coming to join the clan? Carol’s brother Jack and his wife Paula were going on a archaeological dig in South America that heir son couldn’t join them on. Oliver only appeared in six episodes before the end of the season and the show.
2. Dallas (1979 – 1991)
The show that brought us the first “cliffhanger” (Who shot J.R.?) also hit their jump the shark episode in Season 9, when a very dead character, Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) appears in a shower. Dallas continued for four more seasons, but many longtime fans argued that this was when their problems with the series began.
3. Roseanne (1988-1997)
Audiences gathered to watch the loud-mouthed Roseanne Barr and on-screen husband Dan (John Goodman) struggle through middle class life parenting three children. So when the Connnors won the lottery at the beginning of the show’s 9th season, most fans cried foul. The season turned out to be Roseanne‘s last, and was filled with similar ill-received stunts, most notably the big reveal at the end that what we’ve been watching is Roseanne Connor’s fictionalized version of her life. In reality, Dan is dead, Jackie is a lesbian, and no one won the lottery after all.
4. Smallville (2001- )
The 100th episode of the Superman-as-teenager show got a little out of hand. Granted WB had hyped the episode as one featuring a death of a character close to Clark. Fans suspected Lana Lang (his love interest) or Jonathan Kent (his adoptive father). Turns out it was Lana, who dies in a car crash just after learning Clark’s secret identity and accepting his proposal of marriage. Clark goes to the Fortress of Solitude to ask his biological father, Jor-El, to bring Lana back. Clark gets his wish and goes back via a crystal and finds himself shortly before the crash. Deciding not telling Lana his secret apparently saves her from the the car crash, but strains their rocky relationship. From there things get even wackier, suffice it to say the writers were attempting the sensational.
5. The O.C. (2003-2007)
Perhaps the most blatant and iconic shark jumping of modern television, Marissa murdering Trey — set to Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” — has been the source of numerous parodies including an SNL Digital Short called “Dear Sister,” which has been taken off the Internet due to copyright claims.
6. Lost (2004-2010)
Lost may have the most candidates for shark jumping, so for simplicity, we’ll pick an early one. In Season 3 we saw “the black smoke” inexplicably (at the time at least) rise up and kill Mr. Eko.
7. Weeds (2005- )
Usually a show jumps the shark when it finds itself in a rut and needs to kick-start the series. That’s most likely what the writers of Showtime’s Weeds had in mind when they had the fictional towns of Agrestic and Majestic burned to the ground in the final episode of Season 3. The trouble starts when heroine Nancy Botwin has secured the protection of trigger-happy gangster Guillermo, who is a bit too thorough in an act of arson. Oh, and did we mention that in the final scene she’s riding away on a Segway?
8. The Hills (2006-2010)
Lauren Conrad led a cast of young, spoiled, and attractive 20-somethings all over Los Angeles, and nothing was more thrilling than watching her and Spencer battle it out over the soul of Heidi. So when Spencer and Heidi got hitched in season five, first drunkenly in Mexico, and then again in LA, it was obvious who had won the war. Cut to Lauren leaving the series and being inexplicably replaced by her old high school rival Kristin Cavallari. The sixth season was the show’s last, the final scene of which produced quite an uproar when cameras pulled back, revealing a sound stage and how staged it had all been.
9. Gossip Girl (2007- )
Many shows (24, M*A*S*H) are set to naturally end at a certain point, but often producers extend a show if it’s a hit in the face of logic. When Serena, Blair, Chuck, Dan and the rest of the gang graduated high school, it would have been a natural stopping point. However producers — which in this case included O.C. creator Josh Schwartz — pushed on into a third season, attempting to maintain the same roster of permanent characters in to various colleges. But if we had to pick one shark-jumping scene it would have to be Chuck getting shot in the finale of Season 3. In other words, it’s all downhill from here…
10. Skins (2007-2010)
British TV show skins gave the audience quite a jolt when lead character Tony gets hit by a bus at the end of Season 1. What’s even more surreal is we cut directly toward Sid’s rendition of “Wild World.” The third season of the show would open with an almost completely new cast.