The moment when an established TV show changes in a significant manner in an attempt to stay fresh. Ironically, that moment makes the viewers realize that the show's finally run out of ideas. It's reached its peak, it'll never be the same again, and from now on it's all downhill.
This expression originates from the episode of Happy Days in which Fonzie, dressed in his trademark leather jacket, literally jumps over a shark on water-skis during an episode shot on location.
Some examples of clues which may (although by no means necessarily) indicate that a show's made the "jump":
The show starts relying too much on "special guest stars" (especially if they're celebrities playing themselves) which wreck the verisimilitude of the show.
Graphical gimmicks such as 3D are used to shore up failing character development.
The Movie of the series is released, after which the creativity level of the actual show starts to wane. Smart executives will tend to watch a show/franchises's level of popularity, and the release of the movie is usually timed to coincide with said franchise's peak. As a result, it will tend to be a sign that it's all down hill from there.
A show attempts to become more hip or lose focus by trying to be too many things to too many people. For example, franchises originally associated with a hardcore cult/geek fandom attempt to attract mass mainstream appeal.
Behind the Scenes
One of the cast members gets into an embarrassing real life scandal. This frequently becomes more interesting than the show itself.
If your show has been relocated to a family timeslot, that means that now you must now censor yourself.
The creator of the show gets Kicked Upstairs or simply "sells out". This means that he can't micromanage his creation anymore. More the better for others to insert their own vision.
The main cast member becomes either the executive producer or co-executive producer. This often becomes "his show" to the detriment of his resentful co-stars. It often shows on screen.
A show's producers (usually a cult show produced or co-produced in Europe, the UK, and sometimes Japan) decide that it's time to go for an international audience. (e.g., Americanization.). These shows are typically already known to an international audience hence their cult status. It is often agreed that these shows have a charm due to their distinct non-American style and lose something when the overseas producers either decide to internationalize or get Americans involved in production.
Generally caused by Executive Meddling and/or being Screwed by the Network. Too many shark-jumping moments in a row can spell Seasonal Rot. The specific form of Executive Meddling which causes this, will often be a non-fatal form of The Firefly Effect. This is when the show continues for some length of time, but the executives will get rid of the initial premise in an attempt to increase the show's appeal, and the attempt to do so backfires.
Garry Marshall has tirelessly reminded us that Happy Days went on for a number of years after the original shark jump, misunderstanding a phrase that judges suckiness, not success. Henry Winkler has elsewhere commented that he's happy with the popularity of the phrase, as its usage in a magazine is often accompanied by a photo of him during a time in his life when he had great legs. The writer of the Happy Days episode has also written in the moment's defense. (interestingly, the majority of the examples/criteria listed above involving some sort of ongoing/permanent change to a series outnumber those related to a single moment, such as Fonzie's shark jump).
Contrast Growing the Beard, Win The Crowd. For a related phenomenon, see Franchise Original Sin. When it's whole networks instead of just shows, see Network Decay; for print magazines, see Magazine Decay.
When the people start claiming something's a shark jumping moment immediately after it happens, see Ruined FOREVER.
JumpTheShark.com used to be run by writer Jon Hein (who now works as part of The Howard Stern Show), who coined the term with his friends in the mid-1980s. Maintained an ongoing list of series killing moments (granted, you could vote for every cause, and shows commonly had "Day One" as an option). The website listed actor Ted Mc Ginley as their "patron saint", as he has the most television roles in which the series slowly died off after his first appearance (one of them, appropriately enough, being Happy Days). The longest-lasting show with McGinley in a starring role was Married... with Children, where he went for seven seasons after replacing David Garrison (Steve Rhoades). Ironically, the site itself jumped the shark in January 2009, when it was merged into the TV Guide website, had its content removed along with the voting system, and became a blog by writer Erin Fox - now it's nothing but a redirect to TV Guide.com (BoneTheFish.com is one website that bills itself as a successor to the "old" JumpTheShark.com).
There is some evidence that jumping the shark has no real effect on a show's success. This depends on one's definition; a strict shark-jump by definition sets the tone that eventually causes viewers to stop watching, whereas the softer definition used in the article walks the line between this trope and Ruined Forever. Take the Trope Namer, Happy Days: the moment happened in Season 5, viewers stuck around for one more season, then got sick of the show's new tone (which, in hindsight, started with Fonzie jumping the shark) and left. In the original case, the moment was less "Ruined FOREVER" and more "I hope they don't do more of that" (which they did).
Has nothing to do with the Discovery Channel's Shark Week Air Jaws specials, or tales of peopleactually riding them.
There are too many real life examples to list here, and it is probably the most subjective article we have, so we are not listing any. It is guaranteed that any show of sufficient length (more than two or three seasons) will vary in quality and thus all it does is start arguments. This page lists overt lampshades of the phrase instead, preferably self-deprecating ones.
Knights of the Dinner Table #151 is titled "Jump the Shark". It features Gary Jackson coming Back from the Dead. On their back page jokes section many issues back, normally consisting of fan submitted jokes, they themselves put together a list of examples of what would be jumping the shark for their comic and the above example was included on the list of possibilities. According to the writers though, the plans to bring Gary Jackson back were in the works before this list was published, making this a Take That Me. Now we'll have to see if the UST between Brian and Sara is resolved (if it's even a two way street).
Ultimate Spider-Man issue 67 is titled "Jump The Shark", as it's the second half of the Body Swap storyline between Spidey and Wolverine, a two-part Breather Episode following the very bleak Carnage story. To boot, both issues opened with a mini-comic of Bendis apologizing to the reader and engaging in a lot of Self-Deprecation. "Even I couldn't milk three issues out of this..."
In Light and Dark The Adventures of Dark Yagami, this is referenced and lampshaded during a boat chase. "They did a bunch of jumps over a wall and a cruise boat but missed some sharks and didn't jump them (ITS AN INTERNET THINGY)".
In the Arrested Development episode "Motherboy XXX", Barry Zuckercorn (played by Henry Winkler, Fonzie himself) visits Buster on a dock, where his hand has been eaten by a seal. On his way to make a Product Placement for Burger King, he is forced to physically jump over the shark.
In the self-referential 200th episode of Stargate SG-1, Marty responds to the suggestion of doing the Wormhole X-Treme!movie with Thunderbirds-style puppets by sarcastically suggesting that they have Puppet O'Neill jump over a puppet shark on a scale motorcycle.
30 Rock: in the episode "The One With the Cast of Night Court", Jenna Maroney was blamed by Harry Anderson, Markie Post, and Charles Johnson for making Night Court "jump the shark" for her three part episode as werewolf lawyer Sparky Monroe.
Harry:You made us jump the shark! You're the reason we didn't have a tenth season! Markie: I had just bought my second home when they brought that idiot werewolf lawyer in! Jenna:(insulted) Uh, that "idiot werewolf" paid for my hand reduction surgery, okay?
The fifth-season premiere of Reno911, entitled "Jumping the Shark", featured Lt. Dangle actually attempting to jump over a normal fish tank containing a small shark. Naturally, he doesn't quite make it over, and Hilarity Ensues. Incidentally, it was the first new episode to be aired after the release of The Movie, which can also be a major shark-jumping point for some shows.
An episode featured a kid who is believed to be the third Winchester brother. The name of the episode? Jump the Shark. Oh yeah, and the diner where they meet the kid? Cousin Oliver's. Complete with a poster advertising "Fonzarelli's Water Skiing Event".
Referenced again at the end of the episode "The Real Ghostbusters".
One episode of House had House, bored out of his skull during clinic duty, constructing a racetrack from medical tape, tongue depressors, and cards. At the end of the track is a ramp, and under the ramp? A shark. Cuddy catches the car in midair, before it reaches the shark. Whew...
An episode in The X-Files is titled "Jump the Shark". In it, The Lone Gunmen—the quirky trio of conspiracy theorists that had lasted the show's entire run and gotten their own failed spin off—end up thwarting a terrorist's plot to use a neurotoxin made from sharks (somehow). Unfortunately, they died in the process.
Web Soup host Chris Hardwick used this phrase when a video in their Things You Can't Un-See segment was legitimately disgusting and nauseating. It was a gaping foot wound, which was crawling with live maggots.
Community Season Finale: Troy wants to move in with Abed, but genre savvy Abed says their friendship would jump the shark if they did. Troy responds saying when Fonzie literally jumped the shark, it was the best episode ever.
Attack of the Show! did a parody of Discovery Channel's Shark Week with their own jump the shark week, where each day they would jump the shark in classic fashion. Methods included being attacked by a cougar a la 24, having a Dallas style murder mystery, having a Cousin Oliver show up, and having an evil twin a la Knight Rider.
Wipeout couldn't resist mentioning the trope; an episode featured an elimination game called "Jump The Shark", where players had to, well, jump over a spinning shark.
In the Angel episode Smile Time, the owner of the titular puppet show made a deal with demons to keep his show on the air when it was losing ratings. Unfortunately, he neglected to read the fine print. While the term "jump the shark" is never actually used, Gunn's research reveals that the demons have tried this before - "You see the last few seasons of Happy Days?"
The episode "Two and a Half Deaths" from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation features a scene where Brass mentions the term Jumping The Shark to Grissom. Unfamiliar with what this means, Grissom asks and Brass is about to explain what it means when a scream switches the focus onto something else.
In the last series of Made In Canada, the trope is discussed by the main characters in the episode "Beaver Creek Jumps the Shark", both regarding the Show Within a ShowBeaver Creek (they differ on when the series jumped the shark, but several of the usual candidates - a Cousin Oliver (actually named Oliver), supernatural elements, Shipping Bed Death, a musical episode, a live episode, a real time episode, a guest appearance by Ted McGinley - are mentioned) and their own lives. In the latter case, their lives all seem to have begun their downward slides courtesy of some moment involving their Pointy-Haired Boss Alan Roy.
Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps once had lead character Jonny attempt (off-screen), to exactly emulate Fonzie's stunt. Given that he died in the attempt and it was a live episode, the producers were no doubt Lampshading these facts. At one point Janet even does a Fonzie impression.
Hizumi: See this? This is a shark. And here I am jumping over it. I'm jumping over a shark here. Shark? Jumping. Over.
Kingdom of Loathing contains a certain item, equipped in the torso slot, which drops from a shark. As usual, the item description contains several "examples of what plot elements may cause or be symptomatic of jumping the shark."
In Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, one of the missions involves feeding imbecelic oil rig worker Mega's pet shark, Fonzie. That involves jumping over him on your board for some reason. Keep in mind that Mega's the kind of guy to name a shark Fonzie unironically, completely unaware of it meaning anything deeper than "That guy on that show I watched when I was like five. He was cool. Ayyyyy!"
In Hallrunner, a game on the Videlectrix website (a gaming website hosted by the creators of Homestar Runner), the object of the game is to make your way through various obstacles while running down a neverending hallway. Upon coming to each obstacle, the player has the option of talking to it, fighting it, or jumping it. If the player chooses "jump" when the obstacle is a shark, he gets the response "You jump the shark. Just like homestarrunner.com."
In Skate 3, the player attempts to jump over a statue of a shark in the opening cinematic. He fails, which is a setup for you to use plastic surgery to create your character. You can jump it in the actual game.
Jump Man Zero has a level called "Jump The Shark", which is basically a big underwater room with a shark in it.
World of Warcraft has a daily quest in Krasarang Wilds called Jumping the Shark. In which your character, with his or her bare hands, jumps on a shark and beats the daylights out of it. This is far from the most outlandish thing most characters have done by this point.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon features a scene where Rex launches a car over a shark...well, a Sharktopus, to be more exact. HUD even describes the objective as simply "Jump the shark".
In Saints Row IV, the final mission is called "Punch the shark"(even though no actual sharks are involved). "Jumping" it just doesn't quite cut it anymore.
In Bitmap World, the phrase is used to indicate its very silly and literal meaning. The creators insist that this does not mean their relatively new strip (at the time of publication) is headed in that direction.
Melonpool, after a decade of time-travel history-changing shenanigans, had gotten so convoluted that the author decided on a massive retcon, whose fuzzy science rationale actually had the acronym Jump the S.H.A.R.K..
Mentioned twice in the Independence Day review, although he didn't think the movie was good in the first place, so he was likely confusing the term for a Wall Banger.
Mentioned with a whole rant about how much the shark is abused in the review of The Neverending Story III, when the Rock Biter rode a bike, singing "Born to be Wild". Although since he made it clear the series went downhill with the second movie, this again was misusing the term. Then again, there is no accurate fan speak term for that moment popular enough for him to rant that way about it, so it slides by with Rule of Funny.
Bonus Stage: Joel exclaims "Come quick! We're about to travel over Shark World! I don't know why we haven't done this already." In another episode, Joel states that there are "some sharks [he] refuses to jump".
The title card at the end of the first episode of Madd Man reads "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: Jumped The Shark On The First Episode"
Two Best Friends Play. After making two episodes independently, they were picked up by the Machinima Youtube channel. They referenced this "selling out" in their next video, Donkey Kong Country Returns, by having Kong physically jump over a shark enemy.
Matt: Jump the shark! Jump the shark! Pat: I don't wanna jump the shark! ...Aw, we jumped it.
"Sweet Stench of Success", when Bloo becomes an advertising icon who gets his own sitcom spinoff. The preview after the very first episode is "tune in next week when Deo jumps a shark!"
In the final episode, "Goodbye to Bloo", Bloo thinks Mac is moving away forever, and tries to come up with something big they can do for their last day together. After Mac shoots down several of his suggestions as things they have already done before (they are in fact references to the plots of previous episodes), Bloo decides that the only thing left to do is to Jump the Shark. Unable to find a shark in time, he settles for walking over a fish with a paper fin on a bowl.
Kim Possible addresses thoughts on jumping the shark, by hanging up on Ron when he brings it up. This Fanfiction takes the idea a bit further, parodying Happy Days and then revealing it all as just a dream.
Also a Show Within a Show example, is where they lean on the fourth wall about a couple on the show, claiming if they got together the show would practically end. A reference to the soon pairing of Kim and Ron.
One episode of Squidbillies shown Rusty watching a TV show in a dramatic way, showing a Mailman delivering mail into a mailbox. What is worth a mention in this article is Early commenting on the show with the trope name.
One "Previously On" for a two-part episode of South Park had scenes of Fonzie about to jump a shark cut in. Then when he makes the jump, he gets eaten, seeming to say "Not yet, viewers".
My Life as a Teenage Robot "In-Des-Tuck-Able" serves as the final episode where Tuck is performing a series of dangerous stunts including riding a motorcycle over a Shark Pool. Brad provides the lampshading. "Once you jump the shark, the show is over."
The Simpsons Lampooned this trope by showing an episode where Bart buys a race horse (Lisa already did that), Lisa notices Marge's gambling problem (we already know that) and adds an improbable twist that horse jockeys are elves in disguise (complete with schlocky musical number). Lampshaded by Comic Book Guy when he is seen wearing a "Worst Episode Ever" shirt.
Troy McClure: That's it for our spinoff showcase. But what about the show that started it all? How do you keep "The Simpsons" fresh and funny after eight long years? Well, here's what's on tap for season nine: Magic powers! Wedding after wedding after wedding. And did someone say, "long-lost triplets?" So join America's favorite TV family, and a tiny green space alien named Ozmodiar that only Homer can see, on FOX this fall. It'll be out of this world! Right, Ozmodiar?
Also in the later episode that introduces Wanda's twin sister Blonda, the B-plot of the episode consists of Timmy doing various "EXTREEEEEME!!" stunts. The very first stunt was him rocketskating over a shark tank.
In The Venture Bros. the Monarch references this trope regarding henchmen. You say "jump" they say "what shark".
The series finale of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Bat-Mite, tired of the show's formula, conspires to get it cancelled by inflicting several classic shark jumps. The list includes giving Batman a love interest and sickeningly cute daughter, inserting obvious toy tie-ins, changing Aquaman's voice actor (to Ted McGinley, no less), giving Ace the Bat-Hound a very familiar nephew, moving the show to Malibu, and finally making Batman use guns. Ambush Bug (voiced by Henry Winkler) tries to stop him by telling Batman that they're in a TV show and if they don't get back to normal fast, declining viewership will destroy their world. They fix everything, but by then the show's already been canceled. The series ends with a giant wrap party where Batman tells the viewers that he'll always be around to fight evil, but for now this is goodbye.
Team Umizoomi has an unusual variation where a shark jumps with the Team.
Mentioned in the Regular Show episode The Heart of a Stuntman.