Jump the Shark:

Author Jon Hein didn’t actually come up with the term that became a Web site and then a handy catchphrase and is now the title of his book. That was the insight of his drinking buddy Sean Connolly, who—as he, Jon, and their college pals were sitting around discussing their favorite TV shows and how each one inevitably reaches a point after which it’s not worth watching anymore—observed that Happy Days had lost whatever credibility it ever had in the episode wherein tough guy Fonzie appeared on water skis and, yes, jumped a shark.

The essence of the shark-jumping metaphor comes directly from the desperation of actors, writers, producers, and network execs who find themselves with a hit on their hands and can’t bear to unclench their bejeweled fingers from the shiny brass ring, even after all possible and reasonable variations on their theme have been wrung through the wringer.

It’s understandable. It’s sad. And it’s why someone comes up with the bad idea of putting Henry Winkler on water skis. Or the main character quits and a sorta-look-alike is brought in as if nothing changed. Or a character is killed off. Or the cast moves to Vegas or L.A. Or they finally have sex and/or a baby. Or they simply grow up. Or, worst, the public is treated to “A Very Special Episode…” When you hear those words, head for shore—there’s blood in the water.

Hein has helpfully chronicled for the print-bound set these and a few other ways in which a show may jump the shark. He has also committed to paper the “Ted McGinley factor,” the undeniable fact that when the journeyman actor and “patron saint” of shark-jumping appears on a show, the end is surely near. And no less an authority than Happy Days producer Garry Marshall admits that Hein is “absolutely correct.” But with the release of Jump the Shark, Hein has himself jumped the shark.

Other than bar bets, the publisher’s advance may be the only money Hein will ever make from the idea. In trying to force the metaphor on the music biz, politics, sports, and the generic category of “Celebrities,” Hein dilutes his own concept. Jump the Shark serves up, for the most part, a catalog of mere misfortune, poor performance, and failed expectations.

True, Garth Brooks jumped the shark with his bizarre alter ego, Chris Gaines. But to say that George Harrison jumped the shark when he was sued for copyright violation over the supposed similarity between “My Sweet Lord” and the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” is to misunderstand both the creative process and the legal system. On the basis of this decision, I ask: Why aren’t Steve Miller and Lenny Kravitz on death row?

Likewise, Gary Hart’s monkey business during his aborted presidential campaign is a grand example of hubris, nothing more. NASA jumped the shark with Apollo 13? So the Hubble telescope is comparable to the Great Gazoo moving to Bedrock? I don’t think so. And Custer at Little Big Horn? Please, no sharks were involved in that bloodbath.

We must credit Hein with the heavy lifting involved in putting up the Web site to catalog, collect, and spread the gospel of schadenfreudesque shark sightings. Like Craig Fass, Brian Turtle, and Mike Ginelli, creators of the Kevin Bacon game, Jon deserves our thanks for a welcome addition to pop culture. But, with jumptheshark.com available for whatever reference or debate anyone cares to indulge in, there is not much point to the print version.

Like Elvis, the JTS metaphor is out there, and we may all use it to our own ends. So this book is just a Very Special Episode of the Web site. CP

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