Coined by John Hein, the term “jump the shark” is frequently used to describe the plot twist that signifies a TV show has passed its prime. There are several changes that can cause a show to jump the shark, but most programs fall victim to the same ones over and over. Here are a few of the storyline changes that typically cause a show to jump the shark:
1) A Relationship is Consummated:
Sexual tension between lead characters can keep be a great source of suspense for viewers. So, of course, there’s always some repercussions for letting the characters resolve that tension. This doesn’t always kill a show the way it did Moonlighting, but it does lead to a decline in interest. For instance, Frasier was never quite the same after Daphne and Niles got together.
2) Two Characters Get Married:
Marriage takes the suspense out of almost any TV romance. Dramas like Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman and Walker Texas Ranger weren’t nearly as interesting after the main characters tied the knot. And, on the comedy end, spy work just didn’t seem as likely after Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 started playing house on Get Smart.
3) Change In Location:
Nothing may be worse then the aging program that tries to breathe new life into itself by relocating its characters to a new workplace or even a new state. Early Edition, an already mediocre program got even worse after its characters starting hanging out in a bar. Caroline in the City sealed its fate after everybody got jobs in the same office building. And yeah, Laverne and Shirley might start a new life in California, but why would their neighbors go with them?
4) The Main Character Gets Replaced but the Show Goes On:
Probably, this automatically causes a show to jump the shark. Most recently, we’ve seen this happen with William Petersen’s departure from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. In the past, shows like Northern Exposure and Spin City faded fast after replacing their lead characters.
5) Mom and Dad Have Another Kid:
The new baby in a family show is a classic attempt to make up for the other kids having grown up. Both Family Ties and Growing Pains tried the new sibling angleas did Seventh Heaven.
6) A Popular Character Gets Replaced By Someone Else:
This happened with the enormously popular Cheers after Diane left (somehow Sam’s chemistry never rang true with Rebecca). Other examples would be Barney Fife (Don Knotts) on The Andy Griffith Show.
7) Characters Exhibit Erratic Behavior:
Usually, this manifests itself in some kind of impulsive relationship storyline that no one saw coming. Like the romantic fling between Rachel and Joey on Friends. Or Lorelia eloping with Christopher on Gilmore Girls. Or George and Izzy having an affair on Grey’s Anatomy.