When a favorite TV show has finally milked its ideas for all they're worth, it's time for that show to retire to make room for new and interesting drama or comedy. When "Happy Days" finally crossed that line, there was a famous episode in which Fonzie ski-jumped over a shark. Even though the show continued for several years after that, everyone knew after that point that it was over. Ever since then, "jumping the shark" has been a term used to describe when a television show has passed its peak. Network executives are often oblivious to the signs that a TV show has outlived its usefulness, and the fact that Happy Days continued for so long despite the ink well running dry just goes to prove that point. Today's television shows aren't nearly so prone to such banalities as the latter Happy Days -- or ARE they? Indeed, they are, and even more so! So, for their benefit, and your entertainment pleasure I present the top ten signs your favorite TV show has "jumped the shark."
1. Major cast member gets pregnant.
2. Major cast member gets married. Double the shark if the marriage is with another major cast member. Triple the shark if the pregnancy precedes the marriage.
3. Primary protagonist turns evil.
4. Major cast member is suddenly replaced by another actor playing a similar role.
5. Guest appearance by a highly recognizable, yet totally washed-up elderly actor is headlined.
6. Major characters transition to new location; the high school soap opera characters go to college, for example.
7. Major cast member is shot as part of a season-ending cliffhanger.
8. Romantic tension between two major cast members gets permanently resolved.
9. Sidekick gets killed.
10. Anniversary episode gets billing on NFL Sunday.
So what's got me ranting about this? Basically, as I go down this self-made list, I notice that just about everything on this list applies to everything on TV! Are the network executives asleep at the wheel? Wait, strike that, of course they are. I meant to say: are the network executives' toadies asleep at the wheel? It was no accident I placed the first two qualifiers at the top regarding marriage and pregnancy. As soon as you throw wedding bells and diapers into the mix, it's all over. Seriously! And the really strange thing about this time-proven axiom is how brutally it's ignored. Hell, we even have entire series which have jumped the shark before the show has even begun. Raising Hope is about a bunch of misfits trying to raise a baby. Two and a half men is about bachelors raising a kid. Is the general idea to start a series at the end, and pretend it already has an established audience? Elder washed up actors are a staple of sweeps, but when one builds an entire series on one, such as William Shatner in "Sh** My Dad Says," then somebody's not even screening the items on the producers desk!
There are exceptions to each. For example, it's pretty clear when a change of venue fails, as in Weeds leaving the burned-out city of Agrestic. But moving Law & Order to L.A. was nothing short of genius!
Still, it would be nice if there were actually something on once in a while.