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Jumping the Shark...And Keeping Your Dignity?
September 3, 2006 3:12 AM   Subscribe

Have there ever been any shows that used a "jumped the shark" technique to good effect?

A couple of recent MeFi posts relating to the "jumping the shark" phenomenon got me thinking: have there ever been any shows that have been able to do one of the things listed in the Jumping the Shark Database (or other such risky plot moves) and manage to stay good or even get better? In some cases, "stay good" may be the wrong choice of words, but at least managed to retain the same quality...
posted by Sangermaine to Media & Arts (52 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Seriously, Arrested Development did a jump the shark joke, where Henry Winkler literally jumped over a shark.

But it never "sold out" or "went mainstream" or any of those literal ideas of "jumping the shark." In my opinion.

And I'm just sad, because I'm watching season 3 and know none more will ever come. So flag as noise, I suppose.
posted by disillusioned at 3:33 AM on September 3, 2006


I don't really understand the question. The vast majority of things listed in the JTS database are very specific to the series in question. Things like "characters kiss", "season 4", "Emily pulls her hair back", "Bob Thragmeyer". Jumping the shark, according to the site, just means "the defining moment when you know that your show has hit the peak and it's all down-hill" (though it's also used to mean "the moment when it's come down so low from it's peak that you lose all hope that it's ever going to get better"). So most shows have probably done stuff in the JTS database without jumping, because the database isn't a list of things that make shows bad, but specific points in specific shows where the show has gone bad.
posted by Bugbread at 3:33 AM on September 3, 2006


On an episode of Arrested Development, the character played by Henry Winkler (aka "the Fonz") actually jumped over a shark that was lying on a dock. None of the characters commented; he just did it. That was also the episode where Buster got his hand bitten off, which arguably could've been a "jump the shark" moment on a lesser program. It was damn funny, anyway.
posted by web-goddess at 3:34 AM on September 3, 2006


Or do you mean the general frequent category list:
posted by Bugbread at 3:36 AM on September 3, 2006


Seinfeld. They did it. Clip shows. Special guest stars. Death. But for its entire run, it was a consistently funny show.
posted by knave at 3:54 AM on September 3, 2006


I think bugbread's right, the terms of the question render it invalid.

The moment when a specific show jumped the shark is the moment you knew that particular show was never going to be good again. It goes show by show. Fonzie did a movie-like stunt on "Happy Days", which was a desperate bid to regain an audience. But on the show "The Fall Guy" there were stunts every week, because it was about a stunt man.

So if they bring in a vampire plot on, say, ER, then ER will have jumped the shark. But Buffy's about vampires so it wouldn't apply.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:59 AM on September 3, 2006


Sorry, I guess I didn't take into account how my question might be interpreted. To answer bugbread, yes, I was thinking of the general category list. For instance, has a show ever pulled a "Cousin Oliver" and have it work, things like that.
posted by Sangermaine at 4:10 AM on September 3, 2006


AmbroseChapel,
I agree that "jumping the shark" can be taken show by show, but I would disagree that it's entirely show-dependant. Some things are just hard to do and get away with, in any show. Bringing a new character and having them become a useful, integral part of the show that works well with the existing cast and plot is hard. Having a main character die and successfully move on is hard, etc. That was sort of my line of thinking in asking this question, whether shows have been able to jump those hurdles.
posted by Sangermaine at 4:13 AM on September 3, 2006


Arrested Development did a jump the shark joke, where Henry Winkler literally jumped over a shark.

Less metaphorically, but no less humoursly, they also had a couple of obvious gimmicks, like a bit where the audience are told to "put on 3d glasses now!" and errr... a couple of similar things I can't remember now.
posted by ed\26h at 4:15 AM on September 3, 2006


Sorry for posting yet again, but your questions got me thinking. To be even more specific, I guess I'm asking more for shows that have taken really bold chances, and come off the better, moves like those which are usually stunts to save a dying show. So yes, I'm looking for something like vampires being introduced to ER and it somehow working, or Seinfeld moving to Ohio (thought probably not as dramatic, but you get the idea.)
posted by Sangermaine at 4:18 AM on September 3, 2006


Sangermaine, ah, got it. Cheers.
posted by Bugbread at 4:22 AM on September 3, 2006


I've always thought the JTS metaphor was pretty funny because as a kid my favorite episode of Happy Days by far was the one where Fonzi jumped over that shark. I just thought it was awesome.

So to answer your question, The Original worked for me.

But I also liked the introduction of Scrappy Doo to the Scooby Doo cartoons. And I also thought that Friends handled marriage and kids pretty well.
posted by visual mechanic at 4:54 AM on September 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


, I guess I'm asking more for shows that have taken really bold chances, and come off the better, moves like those which are usually stunts to save a dying show.

The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Doctor Who. When William Hartnell, the original Doctor, left the series (some say due to his advanced age, some say because of disagreements with the production team) the show had to think of a way to substitute someone in his place as the title character. Instead of getting a look-alike, they just got a completely new-looking guy (Patrick Troughton) and came up with a sci-fi explanation called regeneration (at the time they called it renewal).

Any other show and that would have been the end of it. But for Doctor Who that all of a sudden extended its life indefinitely, and at the same time enhanced the storyline by adding a whole new interesting element to this alien being that the audience didn't know a whole lot about.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:00 AM on September 3, 2006


Well, I never really watched the show regularly, but Alias started out as a sort of "Felicity with spies" but mutated gradually into an X-Files-esque sci-fi espionage show. There wasn't (I don't think) a single moment that defined the switch, and I'm not sure if fans agree that is was for the best, but it is a show that made some bold changes mid-stream.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:22 AM on September 3, 2006


Also, on The Official Lost Podcast, producers Damon Lindelof and Carton Cuse have often told us that Season 7 of Lost is going to be "the Zombie season", so we'll see how that works out in about 5 years.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:26 AM on September 3, 2006


Buffy did a lot of the things on that category list. Some of them (new character, graduation, engagement) fared better than others (very special episode, singing), but none of them were a "jump the shark" moment for the show, IMO.
posted by brett at 5:47 AM on September 3, 2006


The anime series 'Trigun' does a 180 degree shift in tone several episodes in. However, as it was an animated series, this was obviously pre-scripted and planned as it does actually work.

I personally think jumping the shark only applies to long-running series where they do things to improve ratings, so series like Babylon 5 would hardly count (as the general arc of story/character was planned ahead). Same goes for the mention of Buffy above.
posted by slimepuppy at 6:01 AM on September 3, 2006


Yes, Buffy is probably the most obvious successful repeat shark-jumper. Largely because a lot of the time, they were deliberately playing around with idea - most obviously in the case of Dawn, where they let the audience go for several episodes thinking that the writers really had just introduced a new, younger sister for the main character who was supposed to have always been around, just we'd never seen her before...

Other key Buffy shark jumpings: Main character dies (end of seasons 1 and 5), musical episode (season six), graduation (end of season three), sudden lesbianism...
posted by flashboy at 6:09 AM on September 3, 2006


MASH got a lot better when BJ replaced Trapper and Colonol Potter replaced Henry.

Olivia (!) in the Cosby Show didn't kill it.

24 has a bunch of cast shake-ups between seasons.

I think the West Wing might have been able to pull off an administration shift without completely losing it, although the show was clearly in decline already.
posted by callmejay at 6:27 AM on September 3, 2006


The musical episode is the only one of post-death Buffy that's any good. Granted, it's almost good enough on its own to make up for the other 43 episodes, but still.

Angel was unwatchable before they killed off Doyle in episode 9, who up until that point was a main character.
posted by cillit bang at 6:30 AM on September 3, 2006


One example I can think of is "The Practice." Facing low ratings, David E. Kelley cut out many of the recurring characters and just went nuts with increasingly bizarre storylines. It worked-- and the spinoff "Boston Legal" was born.
posted by Gable Oak at 7:21 AM on September 3, 2006


Bewitch'd had two births, a Darren change, tons of character switches, etc.

Then again, I'd call going from B&W to color the ultimate shark jump
posted by Gucky at 7:44 AM on September 3, 2006


So yes, I'm looking for something like vampires being introduced to ER and it somehow working

Well, it's a movie, not a tv series, but the best example of this is surely From Dusk Til Dawn, which morphs seamlessly from a heist movie to a vampire movie in the space of at most 30 seconds.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:07 AM on September 3, 2006


To be even more specific, I guess I'm asking more for shows that have taken really bold chances, and come off the better, moves like those which are usually stunts to save a dying show.

Deadwood has:

- killed major characters
- introduced major characters mid-stream
- had one actor play who played a character who died in season one come back and play a diff character in season 2
- hell, one might even argue that John Langreesh (sp?) is a Cousin Oliver. (we don't know yet, but he has a relationship with an existing character and didn't arrive till season 3).
- had a character that was meant to die but they liked the actor so much they instead strengthened her part and made her a major character. (The creators recognized that, organically, the character was worth more to the show alive than dead--the creators are willing to let their creation take on a life of its own.)

Anyway, I don't agree with you that any one thing is hard in fiction (filmed or written). (ie, I don't agree that "Some things are just hard to do and get away with, in any show. Bringing a new character and having them become a useful, integral part of the show that works well with the existing cast and plot is hard. Having a main character die and successfully move on is hard, etc.")

The difference between doing something 'hard' successfully and not is the skill set of the people creating the show. Happy Days didn't jump the shark when the Fonze jumped the shark. Happy Days was shit from the git-go. It just became unbearably shit when he jumped the shark.

The Brady Bunch brought in Cousin Oliver to save the show, not because he was integral to the characters/plot/world. Any time a creator/artist does something that doesn't stem from the root of the show and come organically, they're taking a chance. 99 percent of the time it's gonna fail. That doesn't make it hard. It makes it a mistake.
posted by dobbs at 8:09 AM on September 3, 2006


The Drew Carey show went from straight sitcom to complete lunacy, and I think the show was better for it. Breaking the fourth wall, live episodes, entirely improv episodes, etc.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:27 AM on September 3, 2006


Not quite the same thing, but the BBC series Spooks (US title: MI-5) messed with viewer expectations in its first episode. The programme was originally trailed with heavy emphasis on a character played by the moderately well-known Lisa Faulkner. In the second episode the character has her face pushed into a deep-fat fryer and is then shot. Woke people right up, made it clear this was a show where anyone could die at any point, and attracted more viewer complaints than any other UK TV moment in 2002.

The injection of Candice Bergen into Boston Legal halfway through the first series radically changed the dynamic of the show in a very interesting way, but like the Spooks moment had almost certainly been planned from the programme's first inception.
posted by Hogshead at 8:41 AM on September 3, 2006


Fresh Prince was successful with the "same character, different actor" rule. Also, there was a birth and a marriage. Hence: great show.
posted by travosaurus at 9:16 AM on September 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


Oh, and Roseanne replaced Becky and re-replaced her with the original actress and did it almost seamlessly. But, of course, there was the scene where the original actress comes back and Darlene says something to the tune of "where have you been?" That was great.
posted by travosaurus at 9:19 AM on September 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think Deep Space Nine reverse-Jumped the Shark. They introduced the whole Dominion War/Founders/Shapeshifters arc sometime in the middle of the series, and it got a whole lot better. I mean that giant story line pretty much made it watchable. The first couple of seasons were just terrible (IMHO), and then it got better and better.
posted by ruwan at 9:20 AM on September 3, 2006


There are those who say that the new Battlestar Galactica has jumped the shark, if not in the middle of the second season then certainly at the very end. There are also those who, against all logic, insist that it hasn't.

I concede that there is a chance (a very slim one, but still) that the latter bunch might be right, in which case the show would already have survived a shark-jumping or two.
posted by kindall at 9:27 AM on September 3, 2006


There are also those who, against all logic, insist that it hasn't.

There's no logic to claim that it has jumped the shark. The radical change in the show's plot direction was not meant to boost sagging ratings, which is an essential facet of shark-jumping.
posted by solid-one-love at 9:38 AM on September 3, 2006


That's debatable, as the "official" definition says nothing about boosting sagging ratings. But if you accept that definition, then the next deus ex machina Galactica pulls out of its hat will be the shark-jumping moment, because its ratings are sure to be sagging now.
posted by kindall at 9:58 AM on September 3, 2006


The Simpsons has also spoofed the shark-jumping cliche. Off hand, i'm thinking of the episode where Homer is the voice of Poochy, the dog introduced on Itchy and Scratchy. There's a scene where Lisa and Bart are talking about how the writers are desperately trying to spice things up by introducing a new character, then some (cousin? neighbor? can't remember) walks in to their kitchen and sits down like he's been a regular character all along. I'm sure there are other examples of the show doing this kind of thing, but I'm drawing a blank.
posted by jessicak at 10:05 AM on September 3, 2006 [2 favorites]


As far as I can tell, Lost is constructed almost entirely out of what would often be considered shark-jump type situations, and it's still fantastic (Although my patience is wearing a little thin..)
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:06 AM on September 3, 2006


There's no "official" definition of anything. But there has to be a reason for shark-jumping moments, and it's always due to declining ratings. They don't do it "just 'cuz'".

And I suspect that you're wrong, and that ratings this season will be higher than ever, despite the new direction (and I suspect that, from the subtext of your posts, that we agree that it's not a good direction).
posted by solid-one-love at 10:08 AM on September 3, 2006


Roy
posted by I Foody at 10:12 AM on September 3, 2006


I Foody's got it:

posted by O9scar at 11:02 AM on September 3, 2006


News Radio had the "News Radio in Space" and "News Radio on the Titanic" episodes. Those (especially Titanic) turned out to be some of the best in a all round excellent series.
posted by Riemann at 11:33 AM on September 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


The Sopranos killed off a number of major characters, including Big Pussy, and the show stayed strong.

In I Love Lucy they changed the entire setting from an apartment in Manhattan to a country home in Connecticut and it was still good.

The Odd Couple changed the entire look of the set (it looks like a completely different apartment) and the show was still great.

Taxi also lost one of the main characters (John) and gained a few new ones (Jim Ignatowski and Latka's wife Simka).
posted by gfrobe at 11:53 AM on September 3, 2006


Red Dwarf completely changed its look and tone between the second and third series, added a new character, changed another computer based character from a male to a female, and added a new opening sequence. The first episode also starts with a text crawl that jokingly ties up some loose ends from the second series in about 20 seconds. Arguably it worked as the show went on for six more series (which featured more of these kinds of changes, including a move from "video" to "film" and then back to "video"), though some of us still prefer the first two to anything that came after.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:00 PM on September 3, 2006


Some people will hate me for saying this, but I think that Cheers fits the bill here. I prefer the episodes after they replaced Coach with Woody and Diane with Rebecca.
posted by SassHat at 1:30 PM on September 3, 2006


Killing off one sister and reintroducing another one seemed to have worked well for Charmed.
posted by divabat at 1:34 PM on September 3, 2006


My personal definition of "Jump The Shark" is when a show betrays its original premise.

Happy Days jumped the shark because it went from being a heartfelt family sitcom to being !!Fonzie-Mania!! The famous shark jump episode was symptomatic of this shift.

That 70s Show has managed to use nearly every plot device listed in the "frequent categories list," but has managed to never jump the shark because, all along, it has remained the same - a jokey sitcom about midwestern teenagers and their parents in the 70s, one that doesn't treat pot and sex as completely taboo.

Red Dwarf jumped the shark in a most egregious way in their last series, in that it went from being "4 guys and their computer trapped in deep space" to being "an ensemble comedy where 4 guys live on a fully-populated ship." Before series 7, Red Dwarf, like That 70s Show, hit nearly every item on the frequent categories list, and everything was still okay. However, once it betrayed the original premise, it was all over.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:35 PM on September 3, 2006


On an episode of Arrested Development, the character played by Henry Winkler (aka "the Fonz") actually jumped over a shark that was lying on a dock.

As mentioned, that was part of an episode-length parody of the many ways that failing shows try to revive interest: 'very special', character dies, 3-D, 'live' episode, previously-unknown relative -- in essence, the major Jump The Shark categories. Winkler jumping over the shark was the most subtle in-joke on that theme.
posted by holgate at 1:50 PM on September 3, 2006


As mentioned, that was part of an episode-length parody of the many ways that failing shows try to revive interest: 'very special', character dies, 3-D, 'live' episode, previously-unknown relative -- in essence, the major Jump The Shark categories. Winkler jumping over the shark was the most subtle in-joke on that theme.

Actually, ummm, no. Henry Winkler's character on AD jumped over the shark in Episode 35, while the episode length parody of methods to revive interest was in a different episode altogether.

(I am hanging my head in shame that I actually know that.)
posted by crazyray at 2:38 PM on September 3, 2006


I love That 70s Show, but I think the Hyde-marries-a-stripper plot was a bit JTS (in the bad way). I thought the last season of Roseanne -- winning the lottery -- was interesting, and I can see why they wanted to do it, to try something different, but ultimately it sucked in the bad JTS way.

Good question, I'll keep thinking.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 4:43 PM on September 3, 2006


1. Was the poster who suggested the example of Scrappy Doo -- as an addition that worked -- joking?

2. Perhaps risking provoking the same response, I favored the post-Honor Avengers with Emma Peel (Diana Rigg).
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:46 PM on September 3, 2006


I believe that My Three Sons dropped a son and they adopted Ernie. The show went on for quite a while like that.
posted by jefftang at 7:39 PM on September 3, 2006


Since a couple of folks have mentioned "LOST," including the running "Zombie Season" thing, it's worth mentioning that, like "Arrested Development," there was indeed a literal jumping of a shark in Season 2 -- or so it's said. Still not sure if it was winking cleverness or if it was completely random.
posted by pzarquon at 11:07 PM on September 3, 2006


I know I'm in the minority, but Scappy always worked for me. I really liked him. I would seriously get just a little bit happier when he showed up in an episode.
posted by visual mechanic at 9:35 PM on September 9, 2006


The Prisoner's last episode broke the fourth wall, broke the subtext into the text, broke the show's reality, then broke my brain, but it still worked.

Ditto the last episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion, though some didn't like the pop psychology used.

The last episode of The Bob Newhart Show did the same thing, but in a winking, we-know-we're-jumping-the-shark kind of way. Made for a great little joke.

Not sure any qualify as "jumping the shark" attempts because none of them were risking the show's future in any way.
posted by maschnitz at 1:02 AM on September 10, 2006


My personal definition of "Jump The Shark" is when a show betrays its original premise.

What Afroblanco said!

A number of shows have been mentioned where they did a thing that would be a shark jump somewhere else, but it was OK, because it was a preplanned part of a long term story.

And I have a counter example. X-Files was a lot less fun to watch when I finally came to the conclusion that, if they ever did reveal the grand, overarching plot, there wouldn't be a double handful of episodes that contradicted the premise.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:15 PM on October 6, 2006


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