To 'jump the shark' is a verb applied to a television series, typically. It indicates the point in the series' on-air run when, in the speaker's estimation, something critical happened that caused the show to begin the long (or not so long) but inexorable slide downhill to the status of junk. A show has jumped the shark if it has reached one of these points. Examples are said to include:

There are even specific categories of how to jump the shark. For instance, the main characters can hook up, as in #1 above. Or a show can resume after a season break - but with a different actor playing a continuing character. Or perhaps, like in Dallas, an entire season can be declared to have not happened!

Thanks to the world wide web, there is a whole website where you can discuss, research and sound off on when shows jumped the shark. I am told, however, that TV Guide took over the site and performed all manner of unspeakable changes on it, so I can't recommend it.

The original reference to Jumping the Shark comes from the TV Show, "Happy Days", when Fonzie went to California and waterski-jumped a shark on a dare. It was a large departure from the typical episode, and signalled the beginnings of the decline of this show.

Jumping the shark is a good way to put it for another reason: the fact that a shark's dorsal fin has this looong leading edge, and then...drops off. It's like when you've got this TV series, or group, or author, or actor... (my favorite is Sting), that has a good career, maybe a great one. They can do no wrong! You're confident, even complacent about how they'll always be there, doing that thing they do, better and better... and then... nothing. They screw up, not just a little, but bigtime. You feel embarrassed they're still around. Your old favorites are still there, but there's something... missing somehow when you know that instead of there being "more where that came from," or even "what if there were more", but that there is more. And more, and more...

Or they leave, and come happened to me with Patti Smith. PS 70's? Golden. Pure unalloyed ecstasy. She leaves showbiz for anonymity in the Detroit area. Years pass, with everyone speculating on the might have been. Comeback time! Smith fans rejoice! Only now, Robert Mapplethorpe is dead, Fred "Sonic" Smith is dead, the crew is older, she's off drugs... and the wacko politics (a paen to Ho Chih Minh?) no longer seem deep or amusing.

Actual "jump over the shark tank" gestures can sometimes restart an artist by repurposing them into a different direction, but for some, it's too late.

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