Sunday, April 12, 2009
When Jump the Shark jumped the shark.
It's not often that a slang phrase that becomes part of the vocabulary can be traced back to a particular person, but according to Wikipedia, "jump the shark" was coined by Sean Connolly in 1985 and popularized by Jon Hein (pictured here) on the website jumptheshark.com. Connolly was Hein's college roommate. The phrase refers to the moment when a TV show starts its downward spiral, and comes specifically from an episode of Happy Days where Fonzie jumps over a shark while water skiing.
The original website jumptheshark.com was both funny and informative. It had categories of ways to jump the shark, like "Very Special Episodes" or "Recasting" or "Ted McGinley". Mr. McGinley is considered a jinxed actor by some, and his hiring is a sign the show is going down, though not immediately. There is a younger actress named Rena Sofer who is sometimes referred to as "the she-McGinley", the curse for a new century.
In any case, jumptheshark.com thrived from 1996 to 2006 with the spirit of a bulletin board, the standard way an internet site existed back in the early nineties. People could come onto the site, make comments on shows being discussed or add a topic of their own. Software kept track of comments and you could see what were the most popular opinions about when a show went downhill. It was also possible to vote for "never jumped" if you thought a show had stayed strong from beginning to end.
This weekend, I was flipping channels and saw a late episode of Ballykissangel, the British show about a small Irish town. It was very clear the production values had slipped, shot on video instead of film. I watched the early seasons of Ballykissangel on DVD and was of the opinion that the poker tournament episode was the moment the show jumped the shark, and wanted to see what other people thought. I went to Google and typed in "jump the shark".
The original site no longer exists. These things happen. Sadly, Jon Hein sold out to TV Guide, so people can still go to a site called jumptheshark or jumpedtheshark or jumpingtheshark, but it is a cruel hoax, a miserable piece of corporate crap that only has the same name as a formerly useful part of the internet.
Mr. Hein, enjoy your money. But know that your beautiful brain child is now a deformed zombie, and future internet generations will be left scratching their heads as to why anyone thought this was a cool idea in the first place.