Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein that is used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery. The phrase is also used to refer to a particular scene, episode or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of “gimmick” in a desperate attempt to keep viewers’ interest.
The phrase jump the shark comes from a scene in the fifth season premiere episode of the American TV series Happy Days titled “Hollywood: Part 3,” written by Fred Fox, Jr., and aired on September 20, 1977. In the episode, the central characters visit Los Angeles, where a water-skiing Fonzie (Henry Winkler), wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, jumps over a confined shark, answering a challenge to demonstrate his bravery. For a show that in its early seasons depicted universally relatable experiences against a backdrop of 1950s nostalgia, this marked an audacious, cartoonish turn towards attention-seeking gimmickry and continued the faddish lionization of an increasingly superhuman Fonzie. The series continued for nearly five years after that, with a number of changes in cast and situations. However, it is commonly believed that the show, out of ideas and even trapped in its own success (largely due to the disproportionate popularity of the “Fonzie” character and the show’s (executives’) intense desire to continue “milking” that), began a downhill slide, becoming a caricature of itself often filled with little more than its popular catch phrases and character mannerisms.
The idiom has been used to describe a wide range of situations, ranging from the state of advertising in the digital video recorder era, views on rural education policy, the anomalous pursuit of a company acquisition and Facebook’s efforts to “modernize its home page … with empty bells and whistles — take, timeline and subscribers, for example” before an anticipated 2012 IPO.
Or perhaps it could be used to describe trying too hard to make something perfect–fretting over some tiny little detail like a couple of stray paint specs in a mural that no one else but you would notice, scratching them off the wall, leaving two giant scratch marks in the wall, trying to fix what you should have left well enough alone, and then having to come up with yet another element in an already full mural to cover up your nit pickiness.
I thought the shark I had painted which still needed to be fixed to my satisfaction would be the element which would cause me to jump the shark–which would have made the title to this post more fitting, but despite my original disdain for the shark I painted,
fixing it wasn’t nearly the headache I thought it would be.
Ironically, the element which was surprisingly one of the quickest and easiest to paint, the turtle, was what gave me fits towards the end of the job. Actually, not so much the turtle, but two tiny specs of yellow paint I had dripped when painting the yellow angel fish above him.
Here’s the turtle with the yellow specs above him, which, for the life of me, I can’t see in this picture.
But just like the pearls on the mermaid that probably would have been okay if I had left them as they were, I could see them up close. Unlike the pearls on the mermaid, my attempt to make things better only made things much, much worse…
Several attempts to glaze over the spots just made a mess of things, which is why I decided that the turtle needed to be blowing some bubbles.
Even though I was able to fix what I should have left alone in the first place, when I look at that wall, my eye is immediately drawn to that place on the wall where the water is just a little bit darker because of my feudal attempts to fix my mistake. A constant reminder that fussing over tiny details instead of looking at the big picture can often lead to jumping the shark.