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October 19, 2005

Going to Hawaii to Jump the Shark

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Michael really ought to be writing this because he's the Main Media Maven here at 2Blowhards. On the other hand, as I've been known to remark, what's the point of having ignorance if you don't give it the chance to shine?

Ever read/hear the phrase "jumped the shark"? I first came across it a couple years ago on National Review's Corner blog when Jonah Goldberg started using it. It refers to the point at which a television series demonstrates that it has passed its peak and is now on the skids. And it can be generalized to such points in the real world.

The phrase was inspired by an episode of the Happy Days sit-com where the Fonzie (Harry Winkler) character is water skiing and leaps over a shark.

The television aspect has its very own Web page which you can visit here.

For more background, check the Wikipedia entry here.

Wikipedia mentions that the phrase has been around since the 90s and provides examples of shows' changes in, among other things,

  • Premise
  • Setting
  • Cast/star
  • Main characters
  • Production

Also noted are the introduction of special, issue-oriented episodes, the appearance of celebrity guests who play themselves, and a miscellaneous category of changes.

I got burned out on television ages ago -- haven't regularly followed a series since the late-80s. But I do remember shark-jumping moments back before the term was coined.

Back then my tip-off that a series had been drained of its creative juices was when an episode was set in Hawaii. I think I saw this happen a couple times, but I can't remember what shows were involved.

Hawaii episodes embody the break-from-the-past shark-jumping characteristic because the physical setting is far removed from that of regular episodes. If a show has made use of running gags tied to a setting (as opposed to character traits), these are disrupted. Further, unless characters possess strong traits, the change in venue might leave characters characterless, if you get my drift.

The Hawaii episode, at its core, is a crutch for the writers. It offers a cliché-rich environment for the show's characters: have a beach scene, a hula scene, a surfing scene, a luau scene, a Don Ho type guest appearance, etc., etc.

And of course a Hawaii episode means a great junket for the cast and production staff.

The only loss is the future of the show. But then, everyone was probably suspecting that the jig was up anyway.



posted by Donald at October 19, 2005


Was that an insider's tip?

Posted by: Tatyana on October 19, 2005 8:05 PM

I guess this means no Hawaii junket for the Blowhards, eh? Dang.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 19, 2005 11:16 PM

Tatyana -- Huh???

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on October 20, 2005 12:16 AM

I thought this post corresponds nicely with that performance graph of 2blowhards' shares I linked to, no?

Posted by: Tatyana on October 20, 2005 8:28 AM

Does that mean Elvis jumped the shark with his Hawaii movie?

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on October 20, 2005 10:47 AM

I haven't followed a TV series since the early '70s ... Yikes, that's a long time ago. But I'm fond of the kinds of things that can arise when writers start to get desperate -- when the juice that was in the original premise has run out, but the ratings are keeping a show going anyway. Sometimes desperation can elicit bizarre inspirations.

I think that's partly why people love soap operas, isn't it? Broadcast daily and going on for years, they so outpace any actual inspiration that the narrative lines get to be downright surrealistic -- half-brothers murdering step-uncles who in turn stole the inheritance of their neice by marriage, who's pregnant by a millionaire who just might be ... Daddy! That kind of thing. Got to keep the characters in action somehow, after all.

The culture observer Gilbert Seldes wrote some interesting pieces about this phenomenon. The gist of what he had to say was that TV and radio create these conditions. Because they both have such an immense amount of airspace to fill up, all the pressure goes out of the work and they start running on desperation instead.

He saw this as awful, by and large. A movie is a finite container into which a lot of work and talent can be poured, and it's there for all of us to experience and think about. But radio and TV are wide-open, can never be filled or contained, and just sprawl endlessly. So what kind of chance is there for "shape," "expression," or cogency of any kind to take place?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 20, 2005 10:59 AM

If you want to pick up a TV habit, Arrested Development is the funniest show ever.

Michael: Maybe your in love.
Gob: damn it Michael, I know what an erection feels like.

Posted by: Rob on October 20, 2005 11:31 AM contains a treasure trove of insightful and hilarious readers comments on old shows (A-Z list). Particularly entertaining are the reminiscences of the great golden era of Quinn Martin produced detective shows like Cannon, Banyon, Mannix, Barnaby Jones, Streets of San Fransisco, and Dan August.

I have a hunch a lot of these anonymous comments were written by TV writers themselves.

Posted by: Bill on October 20, 2005 12:49 PM

I consider Nip/Tuck to be the sort of show that'll burn itself out before too long. Almost every episode has featured utterly bizaare events, shark-jumping in other words. It's not going to be easy for the writers to keep coming up with ideas.

Posted by: Peter on October 20, 2005 1:12 PM

I think the dim memory of Hawaii episodes you're having involves:

"The Brady Bunch"
"I Dream of Jeannie"
"Green Acres"
and perhaps even the "Flintstones"

Posted by: Yahmdallah on October 20, 2005 1:17 PM

I knew Miami Vice was beginning to flame out when all the characters got a wardrobe make-over at the beginning of one season. Blue was the new Coral/Pistachio/White.

Posted by: Rick Darby on October 21, 2005 11:31 AM

Yeah---I remember specifically "The Brady Bunch" going to Hawaii. It reminded me of Gidget going to Hawaii---with whoever it was who was playing Gidget by then. But they don't just go to Hawaii. It's always, "...and then Peter gets involved with a wierd private eye who is tracking down a heroine dealer and Alice is roller skating and knocks the bad guy down by accident and somehow the Bradys get their whole vacation paid for and Marcia gets to kiss Davy Jones." While everyone wears Hawaiin shirts.

The "West Wing" hasn't jumped the shark yet.

Posted by: annette on October 21, 2005 12:08 PM

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