The term “jumped the shark” was invented by a guy named Sean Connolly, a student at the University of Michigan, in a conversation with his roommate, Jon Hein, who is now a regular on the Howard Stern Show. They were talking about how their favorite TV shows like Happy Days and other long-lived TV shows, as well as other media, have that moment where the viewer or listener knows the show will never be as good, and that the people who make the show also know it and, in their desperation to keep the cash cow flowing, try some stunt or other surprise trick to hold viewers’ interest. That’s the best definition I can come up with, without stealing one from Wikipedia.
As my peers will undoubtedly recall, at least those who embraced the 70’s, the term comes from the episode where the all-knowing and cool to the nth degree Fonzi, played by the talented and very nice Henry Winkler, literally jumps a shark while water-skiing. The JTS model says that this happens when the story line or character arc goes way outside the original concept of the series. (As a side-note, in college Hein started a Jump the Shark website where he listed the moment where about 200 TV shows “jumped the shark.” Stupid website you say? He sold the site to TV Guide. He works on the Stern Show for fun. We should all be so stupid.)
This all started for me the other night I saw part of a documentary about Robin Williams, not the depressing end, but all the other good stuff like how he came out of nowhere and was so freakin’ funny and then was catapulted to fame as… an alien on Happy Days. Incidentally (or maybe not), this was the same season as the “jumping the shark” episode.
Where was I? Oh, yes, digressing. Anyway, the documentary showed the scene where Mork meets Richie Cunningham, and where he meets Fonzi, and I thought, an alien on a sitcom about the 50’s? We had “My Favorite Martian,” which jumped the shark when it was first thought of, but was saved by the great work of Ray Walston and the ubiquitous Eddie’s Father. But that WAS the show. And Alien gets stuck on Earth. Here, we’re adding an alien to the 7th season of a show about a family in the 50’s. Why, then, was THAT not enough to jump the shark?
This of course begs the question: what would “jumping the shark” be if it happened when Mork arrived? Would the expression be the show “got Morked,” then? Discuss amongst yourselves.
Here’s my theory, which is mine, and I made up, and will now tell you: Happy Days didn’t jump the shark when Mork showed up ONLY BECAUSE MORK WAS PLAYED BY THE COMIC GENIUS ROBIN WILLIAMS. The show’s creators realized very quickly that Mork didn’t belong, but he was so popular, they gave him his own show and themselves a job for a few more years.
Which brings me to The Flintstones. You’re welcome. i LOVED The Flintstones growing up, but even then, as a child, I knew that the early episodes were much better then the later ones. It was always great when they aired an old episode. And they did stuff like switch Barney’s voice to another actor. Not sure what happened to the first one. Death? Leaving Scientology? I’m sure you can look it up on Wikipedia. I don’t have time right now.
I thought of The Flintstones because why? Anyone, Bueller? Some of you might be ahead of me on this one. It’s because that show also added an alien late in the series to get some ratings, presumably. I refer, of course, to the Great Gazoo.
There are reams and volumes written about the Great Gazoo, no joke. Please feel free to Google him, but the best thing I learned from my scant research on this is that the Great Gazoo was voiced by the even greater Harvey Korman, of Carol Burnett Show and Blazing Saddles fame (and more). “That’s Hedley.” Isn’t that cool? Made my day.
Even as a child, I knew that the appearance of the Great Gazoo was not consistent with the show’s prime directive, to borrow a phrase from a show with aliens that actually belong in the show. Gazoo was being punished by banishment to Earth, pre-historic Earth (where they have woolly mammoth dishwashers and bird-beak turntables) because he invented a device: a button that if pressed would destroy the entire universe with an explosive ZAM! This is the real logline from the actual cartoon show.
In order to get back home, Gazoo had to make amends by serving whichever human he sees first, which happens when Fred and Barney find his crashed flying saucer. So even though he is a way superior being to them, and refers to them as “Dum-dum,” Gazoo has to do whatever Fred and Barney ask.
Imagine what they would ask for if this was not a family cartoon. Also keep in mind that Wilma and Betty can’t see or hear Gazoo. Only Fred and Barney. Oh and animals, the pet saber-toothed tiger, Dino. The mammoth dishwasher, presumably. Oh yes, and Pebbles and Bam-bam can also see Gazoo. Just not adult women. Ralph and Norton never had it so good. Alice would never have fallen for this.
I digress again. Sorry.
Quick and superficial research indicates that my instincts were spot on: the Great Gazoo’s saucer crash is widely considered to be the moment The Flintstones jumped the shark.
The other thing that occurred to me while doing the mental calisthenics necessary to come up with a stupid, original and with any luck humorous blog post, is that The Flintstones and Happy Days are the same damn show, only in the former, the show centers around the adults, Fred, Wilma, Betty, Barney, where as in Happy Days, the show focuses on the kids. The teens, Richie and Joanie, Ralph Malph, and the other guy, Potsie? Larry or Wally or Lumpy, or whatever, there are so many shows and characters and they’re all pretty much the same. And of course, the Fonz. And yes, The Flintstones was an animated, caveman version of The Honeymooners.
Basically a show about a family, could be the 50’s early 60’s, lots of music and pop culture references. Same damn show. If you think about it, there are probably about 4 kinds of shows. I have some other work to do, so I will let you figure that out yourself, but take my word for it. I have to end these somewhere.
So, what have we learned today? Adding an alien to a show, or book, or movie, when the character is not organic to the show’s premise will result in a “jump the shark” moment, unless the actor who plays the character is a complete genius, so people forgive the stupid idea that started it all in the first place.
Caveat: if The Flintstones were a live-action show and Gazoo was still played by Harvey Korman, we might not have noticed the shark-jumping, as Korman was a comic dynamo.
Back to my next novel, An Honorable Death, which requires a heck of a lot of research so it doesn’t seem stupid upon reading. You know, it’s 1861 and all, so we want some authenticity. But it’s really coming along. Exciting. As for “Smoking in Bed,” as soon as I can find the time to set up the WordPress site properly, I will be offering signed original editions to you, the reader. I’ll keep you posed.
Thanks as always for reading my words. That was 1,267. Words, that is. Okay 1,272. You’re well on your way to your daily goal of 20,000. Now 1,285. Have a great week. 1,290.