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Meaning and Origin of the Phrase 'Jump the Shark'

Tanaya Navalkar Mar 16, 2020
'Jump the Shark' is an expression that is used usually when a TV show that was once really good, has now reached its creative peak, which also marks the decline in its quality and popularity, along with its storyline.

The New 'Jump the Shark'?

'Jump the shark' is often used alternately with the phrase 'nuking the fridge' or 'nuke the fridge', which was derived from a scene in the fourth Indiana Jones film, in which he saves himself from an atomic bomb detonation by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator.
Just imagine how monotonous conversations will get if we only use simple sentences while conversing with people around. The English language consists of a number of colloquialisms, which are nothing but a way of spicing up our lives from the boring and usual way of conversing with each other.
After all, variety is the spice of life! They have become an integral part of our daily lives. Some phrases and idioms simply leave us wondering about their meanings and context in which they were said. Some have quite literal meanings, while others, we just cannot understand easily. The phrase that we will be talking about here is quite a tricky one.
Imagine your favorite TV show; the one that you simply love watching every week or every day, and just cannot miss it for anything else in this world. Now, imagine a track where suddenly everything changes, and you start feeling a little distracted; so much so that you no longer mind missing a few episodes in between.
This is the usual scenario when the show is long running, and the creators have to constantly come up with new ideas and plots to keep the audience hooked onto it and raise the viewership. Amidst all this commotion, the show goes downhill, and loses its quality and popularity.
This is when we say that the show has 'jumped the shark'. We're sure you must have come across such situations at least once in your life. Let us venture deeper into the meaning and origin of this phrase.


The usage of the phrase 'jump the shark' has mainly to do with TV shows, indicating its downhill descent. It was used to describe a moment of a TV show when it begins to decline in quality, popularity, and relevance after reaching the peak of its creativity, mainly in the attempt of keeping the audience interested.
This usually happens when the main actor or actress leaves the show, and is replaced by another actor for playing the same character. Or it may also happen that the main character in the show dies, after which the plot completely deviates from the original path.
Once the show 'jumps the shark', the viewers sense a great decline in quality, and feel that it has undergone too many changes to even return to its original track.
According to the Urban dictionary, 'jump the shark' is a term used to describe a moment when something that was once great has reached a point where it will now decline in quality and popularity.
For example,

● The Flintstones 'jumped the shark' when a man from outer space came to visit them.
● The story of Transformers 2 (movie) 'jumped the shark' even though it had good special effects.
● Indiana Jones survived a nuclear blast by hiding in a fridge. This movie officially jumped the shark then.
Although this term originated in reel life, it can also be applied to many different scenarios in real life as well. It can be used for musicians who no longer captivate their fans as they once did.
It can even be used as a defining point in any business or relationship, in which a person behaves in way that questions his/her credibility, and eliminates the purpose of continuing the same task.


The term 'jump the shark' originated after an episode of the popular TV series Happy Days. You might as well thank this TV show for inspiring this catchy phrase. In this episode, it so happened that Arthur Fonzarelli, popularly known as The Fonz, literally took his water ski over a shark.
It was this particular point that the viewers became disinterested, and the quality and popularity of the show started to decline rapidly. Although the show went on to be successful for seven more years, it never matched up to the quality of the first few seasons again.
This phrase was first used in December 1997, when Jon Hein created a website of the name 'jumptheshark.com', which is now defunct. It was coined by Jon Hein's roommate Sean Connolly at the University of Michigan, when he first used it when the show ended in 1985.
They were discussing their favorite shows that had lost their charm, in which similar 'jump the shark' moments had occurred. The website listed about 200 shows and his opinions on such moments in each of them. He explained the concept as follows,
"It's a moment. A defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak. That instant that you know from now on... it's all downhill. Some call it the climax. We call it 'Jumping the Shark.' From that moment on, the program will simply never be the same."
Thus, a 'jump the shark' moment can be anything that has turned mediocre and monotonous after a while.