“Making Heads or Tails of Idioms” Newsletter. Volume 1. Issue 7. Part 3 of 3.
Original Release: 3/2/2011
*** Special AQUATIC Theme ***
What was said? Don’t jump the shark!
Did someone really say that? Someone said it to Jenn C. and she didn’t know what it meant… and naturally neither did I.
What does it mean? Don’t change a good thing
Origin: To reach the point in a TV series that denotes it is irretrievably past its best by introducing some ridiculous or otherwise unbelievable plot device or characterization in order to boost ratings. The phrase derives from a scene in the three-part ‘Hollywood’ episode of the American TV series Happy Days, broadcast in September 1977. The scene has ‘The Fonz’ (Henry Winkler), water skiing – unaccountably still wearing his trademark leather jacket – and jumping over a shark.
The episode, which came at a time when the long-running series was already considered past its best, was seen as the a virtual admission by the program’s makers that the series had run its course and that they were deficient of ideas. The phrase has been adopted in the USA – although it is rarely heard elsewhere – and has become a stock item in TV critic’s reviews whenever a show loses its way.
Popular and long-running series are particularly susceptible to accusations of running out of ideas and ‘jumping the shark’. Show’s writers appear to be well aware of this and have made numerous knowing references to it, including parody scene of Homer Simpson water-skiing over a shark.
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