Not all shows on television have enough stories to tell to successfully maintain several seasons worth of content. Sometimes we get lucky, like with Six Feet Under or The Sopranos. But often times, if a show isn’t canceled after a few seasons, it grasps at straws trying to come up with new storylines that are interesting and keep up its ratings. Ultimately the show becomes inherently different from what it was when it began, and the whole thing just goes right down the tubes. When this happens, we say that the show “jumped the shark.”
Here are infamous moments in television history when otherwise great shows totally jumped the shark, in an effort to stay relevant. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, our first example below is the exact episode from which that phrase came about. You’ll notice that many shows like to throw in extra characters as a last-ditch effort to keep things engaging.
6. Happy Days — Fonzie jumping over sharks
Fonzie, Fonz, the Fonz — he used to be cool. He was the guy who got the girls and the guy the other guys wanted to be like. But in Season 5, Episode 3, Happy Days attempted a stunt (both literally and figuratively) that would go down in television history. Here we have Fonzie, in denim cut-offs and his standard leather jacket, water skiing (with Richie Cunningham driving the boat, of course) and jumping over sharks. It’s cringe-worthy at best.
5. Grey’s Anatomy — When Denny died
For Grey’s Anatomy, you could argue that the show jumps the shark on a regular basis, but the first instance occurred relatively early on — in the Season 2 finale. Denny, who has congestive heart failure, needs a new heart, but won’t get one because he’s stable on his LVAD (a device that replaces the function of the heart). Izzie, who is desperately in love with him and wants him to get that new heart, cuts his LVAD. NO DOCTOR WOULD EVER DO THIS. Of course, Denny dies shortly thereafter.
4. The Brady Bunch — When Cousin Oliver arrives
Toward the end of the final season, The Brady Bunch had run out of ways to entertain its audience with otherwise goofy exchanges between any number of the Brady children. That is when we got to meet Oliver, the clumsy cousin who is a self-declared “jinx” on the household. It turns out that he was also a jinx on the show, because his appearance was the beginning of the end for the Bradys.
3. Growing Pains — Leonardo DiCaprio joins the cast as Luke Bower
We have nothing against Leonardo DiCaprio, but when he began his run on Growing Pains, the show was essentially over. It was Season 7, after all. He played homeless teen, Luke Bower. Although he was cute and endearing, his addition to the Seaver family inherently changed the show, and the dynamic between all the other characters. They should have just ended it after Season 6 and called it a day.
2. The Office— When Michael Scott left
To put it bluntly: there is no The Office without Steve Carell playing Michael Scott. Michael Scott was the show. His clueless and inappropriate approach to managing Dunder Mifflin was exactly why everyone watched. The other characters were their best selves when they had to play off of Carell’s character. Once he left, it was never the same.
1. Roseanne — Sarah Chalke shows up as Becky 2.0
It is always pretty jarring when a show tries to replace one of its actors in a role without acknowledging it. In the case of Roseanne, Sarah Chalke replacing Alicia Goranson is probably the most famous instance of this bad idea. While Chalke is a talented actress, her take on Becky changed the dynamic of the Conner family, and took the audience’s attention off of the show. It’s hard to believe what you’re watching when you’re constantly wondering where the original Becky went. When Goranson left the show around Season 6, the show should have begun to wrap up.