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'Jump the shark' has lost its bite

February 22, 2004|Christine N. Ziemba

Fans of "The Brady Bunch" sensed something was amiss when cousin Oliver came to visit. Likewise, viewers thought it a little odd when a new John Boy returned to Walton's Mountain and nobody noticed. These are classic "jump the shark" moments -- usually Hail Mary passes thrown by TV writers and producers to spike flat-lining Nielsen's.

The expression traces its lineage to Jon Hein's, a website launched in 1997 to chronicle the downward spiral of television shows. Adopting its moniker from the "Happy Days" episode where Fonzie literally jumps over a shark while on water skis, the site has grown exponentially with each TV season and now boasts more than 2,000 shows in its database of shark sightings.

But it seems that its once-hip namesake phrase -- before employed only by an elite group of TV and Internet junkies -- has been usurped by the mainstream. Ample evidence suggests that the idiom is being circled by a certain sharp-toothed fish with a fear-inducing dorsal fin.

In addition to making cameos in episodes of "Ed" and "That '70s Show," "jump the shark" references have made it into the daily news lexicon, which certainly tolls the knell for any faddy expression. In a recent CNN piece, Jonah Goldberg, editor of National Review Online, noted, " ... Howard Dean's 'jump-the-shark' moment really wasn't that scream, it was when Al Gore endorsed him, because ever since then, it turned out to be the kiss of death."

"Frasier's" final season is also attracting numerous shark references: "Today" host Katie Couric uttered the phrase when interviewing Kelsey Grammer; and a BBC News reporter wrote, "No cast wants to end up performing ludicrous stunts in place of good story lines, what Americans call 'jumping the shark.' "

Time to cue taps, or the theme from "Jaws."

-- Christine N. Ziemba

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