jump the shark
v. In a television show, to include an over-the-top scene or plot twist that is indicative either of an irreversible decline in the show's quality or of a desperate bid to stem the show's declining ratings. Also: JTS.
jump-the-shark adj.
jumping the shark pp.

Example Citations:
On the day of its final episode, we ponder: Just when did "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" jump the shark?

A. When bad-boy lover vampire Angel left for his own series.

B. When sidekick Willow discovered she was a lesbian.

C. When Buffy got a kid sister.

D. When the show moved to UPN.

Maybe each of those was a nail in the coffin, along with the musical episode and Buffy having sex with former vampire nemesis Spike.
—Walt Belcher, "Fangs for the memories," Tampa Tribune, May 20, 2003

The phrase "jump the shark" has enjoyed such a vogue in recent months, I'm surprised it didn't turn up on the list of overused words and expressions put out by Lake Superior State University this month.

Yet, your friendly neighborhood TV critic feels compelled to point out that one of the reasons the term is used so much is it's just so useful. Coined by Jon Hein at the University of Michigan back in the '80s, it refers to the moment when something — particularly a TV series — peaks and begins to go downhill into self-parody and decay. It originally referred to the "Happy Days" episode in which Fonzie literally tried to jump a shark in a daredevil water-skiing stunt.

Me, I think "Happy Days" jumped the shark a lot earlier than that — like when Richie's older brother, Chuck, conveniently disappeared after the first season — but "lose the brother" would be even more difficult to explain than "jump the shark."

Anyway, it's obvious to see why the phrase is such a natural for critics. And the concept of if or when a certain series jumped the shark is such a natural source of debate, it has produced a cottage industry for Hein in the form of a trademarked Web site and now a companion book, "Jump the Shark: When Good Things Go Bad." (My favorite notation on the site is the Chicago viewer who suggested "Bozo's Circus" jumped the shark when Sandy the Tramp left to produce "The Banana Splits.")

So, it being a new year and all, now seems a good time to review the current prime-time programs and which have jumped the shark and when. The official jumptheshark.com Web site helps out with handy categories, such as "I Do" (see weddings, as on "I Dream of Jeannie"), "Exit ... Stage Left" (departures, like Suzanne Somers leaving "Three's Company"), "Same Character, Different Actor" (Dick Sargent replacing Dick York on "Bewitched") and "A Very Special..." as in "A very special 'Blossom'."
—Ted Cox, "Jumping the shark," Chicago Daily Herald, January 23, 2003

Earliest Citation:
There is a flip side to this, of course, at least in television, namely a moment when you realize that the series is going downhill, the standard has been lost and convention has taken over. It's called to "jump the shark".
—Jeff Abramowitz, "It's all down hill," Jerusalem Post, May 29, 1998

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