Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
We may earn a commission from links on this page

Jon Hein: Jump The Shark: When Good Things Go Bad

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

According to his own legend, Jon Hein was hanging out with college friends 15 years ago, talking about the decline of once-favorite TV shows, when Hein famously said that Happy Days went downhill the moment "Fonzie jumped the shark." That one image aptly encapsulated the cruel, desperate dance required to keep the heat on pop-culture phenomena. The subsequent success Hein has had with his web site jumptheshark.com (which consists of comments by Hein, his friends, and regular site visitors on just when various mass-media creations hit the skids) is mostly due to the fact that it's hard to hear the central idea for the first time without chuckling in recognition. "Jumping The Shark" has become a common term because it's just so right. But it's also so, so wrong. The publication of the best-of collection Jump The Shark reveals the decadent framework behind Hein's parlor game, but a concentrated dose of smug dismissals leaves behind the smell and taste of rot. It's not that Hein is necessarily wrong when he claims, for example, that The Andy Griffith Show diminished in quality after Don Knotts left, or that The Who should have split up when Keith Moon died. But not every entry exemplifies an artist trying to squeeze more money out of naïve consumers. Jump The Shark's cynical attitude is often misplaced: Hein makes no distinctions between entertainers striving to experiment (such as Tom Cruise or R.E.M.) and media conglomerates looking to keep a still-profitable brand on the market (à la The Dukes Of Hazzard). Nor does the book, unlike the site, allow much leeway for fluctuations in careers, or consider whether the TV shows and celebrities cited were any good in the first place. Hein leaves contemporary relevance and critical acuity aside in the name of snarky nitpicking, even writing, "We all grew up with these shows and feel betrayed when they jump," as though the addition of Cousin Oliver to the Brady Bunch cast somehow constituted an act of criminal deceit. The "Jump The Shark" worldview ultimately strains to transform every misstep into an outrage, which is a habit that becomes easier and easier, if that's all a person wants to do. It's a sour legacy.