On this day in 1977, Happy Days accidentally created a term that remains essential to TV criticism. In the episode, Fonzie jumps over a shark on a waterski, and it left fans scratching their heads. The moment didn’t feel like the show at all, and thus, a new term was born.
“Jumping the shark” is commonly referred to as a moment where a TV show loses its wheels. For instance, if a show airs something odd and out of touch with the fictional reality it’s based in, that may be considered “jumping the shark.”
Sometimes a show jumps the shark in an attempt to draw in viewers it once had. Other times, shows jump the shark when the writer’s room runs out of ideas.
Either way, the jetski moment from Happy Days may not have been a positive one in the eyes of critics, but it gave birth to a term that remains incredibly useful in the entertainment industry. The term has even gone beyond describing television, sometimes describing when a person does something risky or out of character.
The episode it spawned from felt out of whack, even before Henry Winkler’s Fonzie boldly jumped the shark.
Henry Winkler has Said it’s Okay People Mocked the Episode
While it may be embarrassing to remain at the center of one of TV’s most critiqued moments, Henry Winkler has taken it all in stride. In fact, he’s fine that people critiqued the episode.
“We were No. 1 for about four or five years after that phrase came into being. And I had really good legs at that time,” he joked to BBC Hardtalk. “So every time in the newspaper [showed me] jumping the shark, they would show me on water skis, I looked pretty damn good. I was OK.”
Winkler has always been one to remain in good humor about things like that. He has had a successful career since the end of Happy Days.
Actor Don Most has also admitted that not only was he not a fan of the episode, but he wasn’t a fan of the direction the scripts were going overall.
One Writer for the Show Was ‘Flabberghasted’ By The Meaning of the Term
While Winkler remained in good spirits, one writer for the show, Fred Fox, wrote a piece in defense of the episode for The LA Times in 2010.
“If this was really the beginning of a downward spiral, 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?” He questioned. However, some might argue that a show’s success shouldn’t be measured in longevity, but rather in content.
Whatever you may think of the infamous episode, it birthed a fun phrase essential to any TV nerd’s lexicon.