TV & Film

The most infamous times tv shows jumped the shark

Spoilers ahead!

There’s no worse feeling than being mid-series on a tv show you’ve been binge-watching and a shiny new character appears. Sure, you knew the show was teetering in quality, but is a mysterious new addition to the cast going to resurrect it? Well, most likely not. What’s even worse than a new character is a totally whacky, out-of-pocket storyline that canonically makes no sense.  If you’ve pinpointed a moment in your favourite show where things just start to go bonkers, then you’re witnessing it ‘jump the shark’. 

Ratings plummet, the stars of the show get restless, or sometimes a show simply just reaches its creative limits. Some showrunners know when to wrap up a show… and others just don’t.

Here’s 9 times beloved television shows jumped the shark.

Happy Days – The Fonz jumps the shark

The phrase ‘jumping the shark’ comes from the sitcom Happy Days. By the fifth season, ratings were dwindling and the showrunners weren’t entirely sure where to take the show. 

Fonzie’s effortlessly cool persona stood in total opposition to the more stiff and rigid Richie Cunningham. But, after five seasons this paradigm was wearing thin. So, Richie, Fonzie and the gang went to Los Angeles to spruik fresh and exciting new storylines. 

Midway through part three of the gang’s trip, in an uncharacteristically uncool fashion, Fonzie dons a pair of water skis and physically ‘jumps’ over a live shark – and thus the term ‘jump the shark’ was coined.

“Newspapers would mention jumping the shark … and they would show a picture of me in my leather jacket and swim shorts water-skiing. And at that time I had great legs. So I thought, ‘I don’t care.’ And we were No. 1 for the next four or five years,” Henry Winkler told The Wrap in 2018.

The Brady Bunch – Cousin Oliver

Not only did The Brady Bunch jump the shark, but they too, created their own television trope. There’s only so many seasons that you can bear to watch the Brady kids make a mistake, Mike and Carol to blow it all out of proportion and Alice to interject with a corny joke. 

By season five, the showrunners became acutely aware of this, so they brought in a shiny new character – Cousin Oliver. Cousin Oliver was accident prone and a self-proclaimed jinx. The character was so widely disliked that he was quickly shunted after just six episodes. 

Soon after, when television shows tried adding a new cast member to revive the show, it was cruelly dubbed ‘Cousin Oliver syndrome’.

The Simpsons – The Principal and the Pauper

It’s the longest-running American animated series, longest-running American sitcom, and the longest-running American scripted primetime television series. And whilst the newer seasons certainly have supporters, die-hard fans will tell you that The Simpsons jumped the shark a long time ago. 

Purists believe that The Simpsons jumped the shark in season nine. It was revealed that Principal Skinner was actually called Armin Tamzarian and had assumed the identity of Seymour Skinner after the Vietnam War. Fans found this plotline preposterous and argue that from there, the series goes downhill.

Meanwhile, Simpsons ‘purists’ won’t even watch season nine, dubbing seasons three to eight as the ‘golden era’. 

Fans who are more forgiving also argue that the episode ‘When You Dish Upon A Star’ in season ten where Homer meets Alec Baldwin, Kim Basinger and Ron Howard is truly when the show seems to jump the shark.

Gilmore Girls – April Nardini

For seven glorious seasons, we get to watch the unshakeable mother-daughter duo made up of Rory and Lorelei Gilmore. We watch Rory go from a Chilton pupil to a Yale alum to a full-blown journalist. Meanwhile, Lorelei goes from working at an inn to fulfilling her dream of running one – as well as that insatiable ‘will they won’t they’ storyline with Luke Danes. 

However, Gilmore Girls fell into the trap of ‘Cousin Oliver Syndrome’. On the precipice of their impending nuptials, Luke and Lorelei’s world comes crashing down when Luke finds out he unwittingly fathered a child – April Nardini – 12 years ago.

The revelation causes Luke and Lorelei to break up which made April extremely unpopular amongst die-hard fans of the series. Not only was the character unbearably smarmy, but fans criticised her very existence as a ‘lazy’ plot device to dramatise the last season and a half of the show. 

Friends – The Joey and Rachel plotline

Friends is one of the most popular sitcoms of all-time. For ten seasons the show managed to stay fairly watchable until season eight where we were introduced to the ‘Rachel and Joey’ plotline. 

Not only is this pairing hated by fans of the show, but everything that ensues from then on is just plain bonkers. Not only do we get entire episodes dedicated to Ross’ bad fake tan but the six friends became ‘Flanderised’.

Like ‘jump the shark’ and ‘Cousin Oliver syndrome’, ‘Flanderisation’ also earns its name from a show. The term refers to when television show characters devolve into rudimentary caricatures. In the early seasons, Ned Flanders was a left-handed, do-gooder neighbour who also happened to be a devout Christian. As time went on, Ned became reduced to really just being a dogmatic evangelical and nothing else. Many fans of Friends argue that this is what caused the show to go downhill in the end.

Roseanne – Winning the lottery

Unlike the ultra-refined and too-good-to-be-true family dynamic of the Bradys, the Conners were loud, smart-mouthed and sarcastic – which made them relatable. 

Featuring the comedic stylings of Roseanne Barr and John Goodman, we followed the Conners through many trials and tribulations. However, all good things must come to an end. 

Fans are pretty divided on when Roseanne jumped the shark. Some think it’s as early as season seven when Roseanne Barr fell pregnant in real life – which saw the pregnancy written into the show. 

Others think it’s in season nine when Roseanne and Jackie win the lottery. Whichever season it is, the one thing that fans can agree on is that from season seven onwards, the show lost its relatable touch. 

That ‘70s Show – Topher Grace’s departure

If there was ever a sign that a show will jump the shark… it might be when the lead character quits the show. By season seven, Topher Grace (who played Eric Forman) wanted out of That ’70s Show. 

In response to this, his character was sent to Africa to pursue teaching. During that time, Eric dumps Donna, Hyde finds out he has a second father, Kelso gets his girlfriend Brooke pregnant and the series favourite couple, Jackie and Hyde, split. 

Losing your main character is a serious enough blow to any show, but in an attempt to squeeze out one final season, the That ‘70s Show creators opted for not just one ‘jumping the shark’ moment, but several.

The Office – Jim and Pam’s wedding

The US adaptation of The Office has a cult following – and it’s easy to see why. The show is littered with iconic one-liners, great characters and hilarious moments. However, like That 70’s Show, when its main character – Michael Scott – left the show, it became practically unwatchable.

Though some cite Steve Carrell’s departure as the moment the show jumped the shark, others argue it happened long before that. Some fans say that it was actually Jim and Pam’s wedding that marks the series’ downfall. 

Much like Nanny Fine and Mr. Sheffield, or Niles Crane and Daphne, that insatiable ‘will they won’t they’ trope can be the lifeline of a show. The mutual attraction between Pam and Jim and all the drama that came along with that promptly ended after the wedding episode.

Dallas – Season ten opener

In its prime, the soap opera Dallas was well revered. The iconic cliff-hanger of ‘Who shot JR?’ was not only hailed as one of the best cliff-hangers of all-time, but it inspired one of the most beloved Simpsons episodes – Who Shot Mr Burns?.

However, in its later seasons, the Dallas showrunners struggled to replicate the enormous success of ‘Who shot JR?’ Leaving season nine on a cliff-hanger, when the show returned, it was revealed that the entire previous season was merely just a dream. 

This preposterous plot device is one way to jump the shark, and it’s exactly where Dallas lovers say the show became unwatchable.

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