When a TV show is popular and has been running on prime time television for a number of years, it runs the risk of overstaying its welcome. In the case of some shows, that risk is taken and shows itself in more obvious ways than others. With that in mind, this list will be counting down the 10 most surprising ways in which TV shows have jumped the shark in the eyes of both critics and fans.
For the sake of challenging ourselves a bit, we’ve left off the episode of Happy Days where Fonzie literally jumps over a shark on water-skis; the instance that birthed the term “jumping the shark” to begin with. Moreover, this list is compiled as a mix of both classic shows that your parents may have an easier time remembering (Dallas, The Brady Bunch) as well as more contemporary shows (House, Grey’s Anatomy) that have either been cancelled or ended since their shark-jumping moment, or are still on the air. Either way, certain things each of these shows have added to their storylines reek of desperation in terms of their attempts to regain viewers they’d lost before then, and it’s obvious in these 10 examples.
While many of these shows are still beloved by diehard fans and casual viewers alike, it’s still unsettling to see them try and regain the spark they once had in a way that is not particularly natural. To have to resort to showing an episode where a new character joins the group of main characters, or an episode with a particularly big plot twist, or an episode showing the main character winning the lottery is not exactly indicative of a show that doesn’t need to go to desperate measures to attract fans again. Here are 10 of the biggest shark-jumping shows.
10. The X-Files
In a way, the fact that this show named one of their episodes “Jump the Shark” says it all. If you have to name an episode of your show that, it’s a pretty big example of self-realization. You could use several episodes as examples as to how The X-Files tried desperately to regain the lustre it once had, but the most obvious ones are probably through their first movie in 1998, or the episode where Mulder leaves following the seventh season. To break up one of the most distinctive pairings on TV is a bold move, and one that didn’t exactly pay off the way The X-Files’ producers had hoped.
Once a much-loved show when it first came onto our screens, House has also been arguably guilty of pulling a Fonzie at times; in particular, the episode in season seven where Dr. Gregory House is adversely affected by an experimental drug he was using, and therefore goes to try and operate on his own leg in his bathroom. Arguably, you could also say House jumped the shark after season three when House fired a number of his teammates and brought on a new team, and the writers put more of an emphasis on the romance between House and Lisa Cuddy – or in couple name terms, “Huddy”.
Another show that was popular in its initial run (peaking at 11.57 million viewers during its sixth season), Bones began to really lose its lustre as soon as the titular character (played by Emily Deschanel) and boyfriend Booth (played by David Boreanaz) stopped bickering with each other for a while and started procreating instead. As soon as the two had a baby in season seven, the show itself started suffering, particularly in terms of declining ratings. Though it’s highly likely that the storyline of them having a baby may have been to coincide with Deschanel’s real-life pregnancy at the time, it was still a turn-off for a number of fans.
7. The O.C.
One of the most popular shows for the teenage crowd during its run in the mid-aughts, The O.C. had its biggest shark-jumping moment during its third season. Sadly, the show went to tragic measures to try and regain any of the mojo it had lost, after killing off Marissa – one of the show’s main characters – when she dies in a car accident. After that, the show focused largely on the grief surrounding Marissa’s death and saw a steady decline in ratings, and despite a massive petition to keep the show on the air (with 700,000 signatures), it was cancelled in 2007.
Heroes got off to such a rocking start. It was unique, it was suspenseful, it was entertaining – and everything in between. Sadly, the show could only keep that up for their debut season. After that, it was all downhill from there: season two in particular, with unnecessary new characters and plot twists, to the point where you could make a whole separate list about how many times the show has jumped the shark (Sylar and Maya going to Mexico, Hiro going back in time to travel to Japan, etc.) The show ended in 2010, although a new miniseries titled Heroes: Reborn is expected to debut next year.
5. The Brady Bunch
The saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a very true statement in many cases, but perhaps not in the minds of the producers of The Brady Bunch. During the fifth season, Cousin Oliver was brought in as a member of the family. It was seen as such a big shark-jumping moment that it even caused a new term to be coined. “Cousin Oliver Syndrome” is known as what happens when a show brings in a new character to re-attract fans, and the gimmick didn’t pay off: after just six episodes, Cousin Oliver was removed from the show.
4. Grey’s Anatomy
One major difference between Grey’s Anatomy and most other shows on this list is that this show is still on the air and going relatively strong – for now. However, there are several moments in which you could argue they jumped the shark before their hand was even forced: in particular, the episode “Song Beneath the Song” from season seven, where the show suddenly turns into a musical. This particular episode shows them singing songs previously featured on the show – the Fray’s “How to Save a Life” and Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” – that were made famous through the show, and its execution and poor timing following the death of one of its characters just reeked of desperation.
Pinpointing the moment where Dallas pulled a Fonzie is probably one of the more debatable ones on this list: JR and Sue Ellen’s remarriage and re-divorce; Pamela discovering that Barnes isn’t actually her last name, etc. However, one particular moment that really struck some fans as shark-jumping was in the season 10 premiere, where Pamela has a bad dream in which it turns out that, when she wakes up, all of the previous season never actually happened and was just part of her dream. Moreover, she wakes up and finds Bobby Ewing – who had been killed off in the previous season – as confirmation that it was all just a figment of her imagination.
It’s hard to talk about shark-jumping moments in TV history without talking about this at least once. When the ninth and final season of Roseanne premiered in 1996, it’s quite possible that the producers knew deep down that the show had run its course, and the season began with Roseanne’s working class family suddenly seeing their fortunes flipped upside down by winning $108 million in the lottery. With her lottery win came plenty of weird and unnecessary ideas and plot twists – as if her winning the lottery wasn’t enough of one already – and the ninth season was indeed the show’s last.
Although many shows like the ones behind it on this list make for good competition, Lost takes the top spot not only for its shark-jumping tendencies, but for the fact that it had almost as many distracting plot twists as an M. Night Shyamalan movie. However, one of its biggest signs of jumping the shark came in season three, where the character Mr. Eko is killed off after being murdered by the “Smoke Monster” or “Man in Black,” who turns out to be just some random middle-aged guy as we find out in season five. However, this is just one example of many unnecessary plot twists in this show, which ended in 2010 after six seasons.