Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Episode 142: Jump the Shark Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 142: Jump the Shark

Record Date: January 24, 2022

Air Date: January 26, 2022



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Shauna Harrison


And I’m Dan Pugh

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

This week we are passing our peak. We’ve run out of ideas. We’re on the other side of that hill. 142 episodes and we are officially “jumping the shark”.


Shauna, have you heard the phrase, “jump the shark” used in relation to a TV show?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Jump the Shark means:


to begin a period of inexorable decline in quality or popularity, esp. as marked by a particular event

End Quote 

To give us some more background, I’ll reference an article from called Jumping the Shark:


Jumping the Shark is the moment when an established Long Runner series changes in a significant manner. This can range from something relatively small, like the introduction of a new gimmick, to something that totally changes the show, like a Genre Shift. The point is that the show feels like it has to update in order to stay fresh. But it usually has the opposite effect — the viewers can see through it and realize that the show has finally run out of ideas. It's reached its peak, it'll never be the same again, and it's all downhill from here.

End Quote

And a few lines later they note:


The term "jumping the shark" was also rather nebulously defined because it could either mean the point at which the show started sliding… or the point of the show's final collapse.

End Quote

Table from about Jumping the Shark

The phrase originated with Jon Hein in 1985 when he and his roommate were watching reruns of the popular 1970s and 80s TV show, Happy Days. You may recognize Jon Hein’s name as the author of Fast Food Maniac: From Arby’s to White Castle, One Man’s Supersized Obsession with American Fastfood. Or perhaps from his work on the Howard Stern Show or the spinoff shows on SiriusXM, some of which he still hosts as of the time of recording.

It’s so rare that we get to know exactly when a phrase originated, how, and why. But in this case, we get all three. And it was an episode of Happy Days that spurred this. Specifically in Season 5, the third episode titled “Hollywood: Part 3”. 

This episode first aired September 20, 1977. Here’s the synopsis from


Richie must choose either a 5-year Hollywood contract or college in Milwaukee while the Fonz accepts the California Kid's challenge to perform a dangerous water ski jump...over a shark!

End Quote

The Fonz jumps, on water skis, over an actual shark - in shorts and his trademark leather jacket. I remember catching reruns in the mid 80s of this show, but I’d never actually watched the scene where this happens. I caught it on Youtube. It’s… not a great scene. The suspense seems to be drawn out too long. Like that one scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Lancelot is running up to the castle for what seems like forever, or that gif where the large truck is running towards the bollard to crash into it and it keeps looping but the truck never actually hits it. Anyway, Fonzie does actually jump over the shark in the scene. Henry Winkler actually did the stunt, and Ron Howard got a sunburn on his foot from being in the boat for so long. 

I will link to a FoundationINTERVIEWS youtube video with Ron Howard, who played Richie Cunningham. In the interview he said several of the staff thought the stunt was ludicrous, but he wasn’t as worried. Even after the episode aired, things were going well.


The show went on to be a massive success for years. It’s a fun expression and I get a kick out of that episode. Granted, maybe it was pushing things a little too far. But I think a lot of good work was still done after that show. And audiences really seemed to respond to it forever. 

End Quote

Henry Winkler, who played Fonzie, did an episode of Square Off on the TV Guide Channel where he was asked about that Happy Days Episode and if he had a sense at the time that the show might have been grasping for ideas.


“No. Not at that point, I didn’t…. We were #1 for 6 years after we jumped the shark.” 

End Quote 

So we know who created the phrase, when they did it, and why they did it. But according to Ron Howard and Henry Winkler, it’s not very accurate. They both seemed good sports about it and enjoy the phrase, but they also point to how well the show did for 6 more years after that scene. So it serves as more of a metaphor than as a true-to-life phrase. 

But before we see how the phrase is being used today, let’s say a quick thank you to our sponsors. 

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon.

And speaking of our patreon, we’d love your support! Tiers start at $3 a month, which get you our polls and community only discussions, early access to the podcast, and the behind the scenes video for each episode so you can watch along as we make the show. At $10 you’ll also get original digital artwork from Shauna once a month featuring exclusive art about an idiom or other turn of phrase. At $15, you’ll also get personal on-air recognition like Pat Rowe does every episode. And this week we are proud to announce our one and only Dean of Learning, Mary Halsig-Lopez. Mary has been a long-time supporter of Bunny Trails, but this month she jumped to the top spot! Thank you so much to Mary and all of our patrons. 

Whatever your budget, you can help create Bunny Trails week after week to help continue this educational artform. 

We are bunnytrailspod on Patreon. That’s

Modern Uses

1997 website (through 2006)

In 1997, Jon Hein, the originator of the phrase, created the website, a website dedicated to tracking when TV shows jumped the shark. In 2006 the website and the company around it were bought by Gemstar-TV Guide International. As of the time of this recording, redirects to’s news section. 

A continual joke that circulated in the early 2000s was the shark jumping powers of Ted McGinley. Thanks to the Internet Archives Wayback Machine, I was able to view the page from dedicated to their Patron Saint, McGinley, who had appearances in numerous shows before their cancellation. These include Happy Days, Sports Night, Work With Me, The West Wing, The Practice, Life of the Party, My Adventures in Television, Married! With Children, Hope & Faith, and more. But a quick look says many of these shows enjoyed great success even after McGinely joined the cast. So he was really more of a token than an omen. 

Here are a few notable shows where I see people talking about a show jumping the shark…

Roseanne was a sitcom about a typical American working family. It ran from 1988 to 1997. In the final season, the Conner’s won the lottery and most seem to think it ruined the relatability of the show. This is one where they say it jumped the shark near the end. 

Two and a Half Men, another sitcom which ran from 2003 to 2015, may have jumped the shark after Charlie Sheen left, with bringing in Ashton Kutcher as a replacement. But ultimately the show got more far-fetched as after that. 

Game of Thrones, the HBO drama that ran from 2011 to 2019, has two places where some say it jumped the shark. First, some believe it jumped the shark when the TV show passed the source material, a book series that was still being written. Others say it was the last few episodes, which didn’t really wrap anything up. 

And finally the Brady Bunch, which ran from 1969 to 1974, may have jumped the shark before the phrase was even created in Season 5 when Cousin Oliver joined the show. The show was canceled at the end of that season. Since then, you may have heard of a “Cousin Oliver” as when a young character is brought in to save a show from cancellation - though it obviously didn’t work for the Brady Bunch.

We’d love to hear from you about other shows that you think jumped the shark, so let us know on Twitter where we are @bunnytrailspod!

2001 News article

Here a piece from the Sunday World out of Dublin, Ireland dated 06 May, 2001. 


Has the latest series of The Simpsons lost the plot? Has Ally McBeal just become silly? In American terms, these shows may have “jumped the shark”... soared to a peak and then plunged downwards, making a shape on the graph like a shark’s fin. Exactly when a top show “jumps the shark” is a subject of hot and heavy debate between fans. You can join in on

End Quote 

2002 Book

Here’s one more with Jon Hein and his book Jump the Shark: When Good Things Go Bad. It details not just TV shows, but tons of subjects. Here’s the synopsis from


From the creator of the immensely popular website that coined a catchphrase comes the book that is bound to be the pop-culture sensation of the season.

--Happy Days infamously jumped the shark when Fonzie literally jumped a shark on water skis.

--I Love Lucy jumped the shark when Lucy and Ricky moved to the suburbs.

--The Brady Bunch jumped the shark when Cousin Oliver moved in.

Get it? Not quite? Try these:

Michael Dukakis jumped the shark when he climbed into a tank and put on an oversized helmet. The rock band KISS jumped the shark when they took off the makeup. The Boston Red Sox jumped the shark when they traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees. And poor Kevin Costner jumped the shark, fittingly, with Waterworld.

Jump the Shark is a riotous compendium of the rises--and, more important, the falls--of our most famous contemporary pop icons. From music legends to sports heroes, from talk show hosts to politicians, Jump the Shark is an uproarious catalog of those priceless moments when the magic vanishes, the ratings go south, and the mighty become the fallen. But beware: These shark-infested pages will leave you in stitches and wondering where the insidious fin will pop up next.

End Quote 

Clearly Hein isn’t correct about all of these. As we already learned, Happy Days was a hit for years after the jumping the shark episode. The rock band KISS continued to put on amazing shows until COVID hit. Shauna and I saw them together in February of 2020. The Boston Red Sox have won the World Series 4 times since that book was written. Though he may have been right about Kevin Costner. 

2005 TV Show

Next up is a 2005 episode of Arrested Development. In Season 2, episode 13, which originally aired March 13, 2005, Barry Zuckerhorn, played by Henry Winkler of Fonzie fame, says, “And I’ve skipped breakfast so I’m headed over to Burger King”, then leaps over a dead shark on the pier and runs off screen. Another interesting note, the narrator is Ron Howard, who played Fonzie’s friend, Richie Cunningam on Happy Days. 

2010’s ish Band

Jump the Shark are a four piece alternative rock band from Wolverhampton who blend psychedelia with heavy riffs and bittersweet pop melodies.

Alternative Press said about the band


'The group’s 90s-inspired,wiry indie-punk act transcends their influences thanks to Jones’s steady backbeat and mysterious and occasionally banshee-like vocals'.

End Quote

And that was a positive review, I assume, as it is posted on the bands Facebook page. According to their bandcamp, their last album came out in 2017. 

2022 News Article 

That brings us to a piece by Matt Lewis published in the Daily Beast on January 16, 2022.

Trump’s Arizona Speech Proves His Shock Comic Act Has Jumped the Shark


TV sitcom showrunners sometimes react to declining ratings by introducing a “Cousin Oliver”—which, quite often, is a cute kid whose smart-alecky sass is meant to liven up a tired atmosphere. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s evidence a show has simply “jumped the shark.” But Trump’s never been an ensemble cast type of personality. He’s the whole show, and the surrounding players are as replaceable and ephemeral as Spinal Tap’s exploding drummers…

End quote  

One more, this one from Twitter. 

On January 22, 2022, Jason Dunlap quote tweeted a story from NBC News with the headline…

Wrap up...

The thing about jumping the shark is there usually isn’t any way to know it until well afterwards. I use the irony of Happy Days, which stayed quite popular after it jumped the literal shark. But if it jumped the figurative shark, I imagine it was in Season 8 when Richie left the show. But other shows, like Game of Thrones, clearly had a moment (or moments) that fans didn’t like. The phrase does have a negative meaning as it is talking about something that failed, but it can provide for fun conversation once the sting of the loss is gone. You may notice I didn’t mention X-Files, a show Shauna used to love, and how it probably jumped the shark when Mulder left. But still, it's a fun way to make some gentle jokes. And we need more ways to get humor into our lives. 



That’s about all the time we have for today. If you have any thoughts on the show, or pop culture references we should have included, reach out to us on social media where we are @bunnytrailspod, or comment on our website - Of course, the best way to make sure we see your comment is to post it on the Patreon page!


Poll time! 

In a recent poll, we asked Patrons, “If you could only wear one color of shirt/blouse for the rest of your life, what color would you pick?”

The overwhelming winner, with 60% of the vote, was black. 

Honorable mention goes to Jan’s suggestion of Hawaiian shirts. 


I’ve never seen someone in a Hawaiian shirt who looked stressed out.


If you want to join our polls, head over to where Patrons at all levels can participate in our weekly silly polls that mean absolutely nothing and aren’t even scientifically valid. But they are fun to talk about!


Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. And until then remember... 


Words belong to their users

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