‘Jumping the shark’ refers to the point at which a long-running TV programme stops being good. It’s defined on Wikipedia as:
“the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality, which is usually a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of “gimmick” in an attempt to keep viewers’ interest.”
The website TV Tropes explains it further:
“The moment when an established TV show changes in a significant manner in an attempt to stay fresh. Ironically, that moment makes the viewers realize that the show’s finally run out of ideas. It’s reached its peak, it’ll never be the same again, and from now on it’s all downhill.”
The term is named after the scene from Happy Days, in the episode ‘Hollywood: Part 3’, in which Fonzie, on water-skis, literally jumps over a shark. However, it’s now used more generally, not just for the introduction of gimmicks which signal the drying up of ideas, but to other changes which signficantly detract from a programme’s quality: executive meddling, or the departure of key cast or writers, for example.
The Graph TV tool, created and published by Kevin Wu, lets us examine jumping the shark moments properly. The tool lets you enter the name of any TV programme, and automatically plots the individual episode ratings from IMDb, sorted by seasons and with trend lines. Now, for any series, we can easily see what the consensus of opinion is on whether and when it jumped the shark.