‘Happy Days’: Why Fonzie Jumping the Shark Wasn’t Actually the Show’s Turning Point

by Taylor Cunningham

After all these years, the stigma of Fonzie’s jumping the shark stunt has remained.

To clear up any confusion, in the 1977 episode titled Hollywood, Fonzie literally jumps a shark. While taking a sunny Los Angeles vacation with his pals, the Fonze gets into a battle of egos with a smooth-talking, good-looking beach Hunk. And as they try to out-cool each other, they challenge the other to hop on some water skis and fly over a caged shark.

The bleach-blonde surfer backs out last minute. But Arthur Fonzerelli never steps away from a dare. So he takes his skis right over the shark with complete perfection.

The 90-minute special was so epically cheesy that once the show ended in 1984—years after the episode aired—fans decided it was where the classic TV series went wrong and started down the path to ruin.

In fact, Fonzie’s stunt is what coined the term “jumping the shark,” which describes the moment that a show begins to quickly lose its popularity.

The entire concept haunted the episode’s writer Frank Fox, Jr. for years. So in 1985, he actually spoke out and said the term was absurd because Happy Days did anything but suffer after Hollywood.

“If this was really the beginning of a downward spiral,” Fox asked The Los Angeles Times, “why did the show stay on the air for six more seasons and shoot an additional 164 episodes? Why did we rank among the Top 25 in five of those six seasons?”

Fonzie’s Nun Kiss May Have Sealed the Deal For ‘Happy Days’

And Fox was not wrong. For Jump the Shark to be appropriately used, Happy Days would’ve had to have taken a complete nose dive and come to a quick close. And that didn’t happen.

All television shows have that one scene or storyline where fans start to tune out in hordes, though. And Happy Days is no different. But there are plenty of examples that are probably more fitting than when the star character showed off his water ski chops.

A season seven episode named Hot Stuff is one story that may have done in the iconic series. In it, Chachi tosses his apron onto a grill at Arnold’s and causes the gang’s diner to burn to the ground. Because Arnold’s was just as important to the show as the famous cast members, people we not happy to see the hangout die.

Shortly after How Stuff aired, Happy Days actually lost close to a third of its viewers. And it subsequently dropped to 17 on the Neilson charts.

But a moment in season 9’s No Thank You is one of the most talked-about among fans—as in, it’s when they lost interest in the writing.

The episode shows Fonzie, who was then a teacher at Jefferson High, in a truly uncomfortable romantic entanglement with one of the school’s new teachers. It starts with her repeatedly rejecting him by saying, “no, thank you.” But Fonzie doesn’t seem to understand that no means no. So he eventually grabs her and gives her a long smooch.

But once the teacher breaks out of her stunned trance, she pulls away and tells him that she’s a nun. In the end, the loveable Fonze looks like a predator who forced a woman of the cloth to break her sacred vow.