What does it mean? According to the website, Jump the Shark, "It's a moment. A defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak. That minute that you know from now on...it's all down hill. Some call it the climax. We call it jumping the shark."
The term comes from an infamous 1977 episode of Happy Days when the Fonz was waterskiing in Hollywood and jumped over a shark. According to Wikipedia, "'jumping the shark' is a metaphor that is used by US TV critics and fans to denote the tipping point at which a TV series is deemed to have passed its peak. Once a show has 'jumped the shark', fans sense a noticeable decline in quality or feel the show has undergone too many changes to retain its original charm."
Jump the Shark is a website dedicated to recording such moments for current shows. The site was started in 1997, and sold to Gemstar (owners of TV Guide) in 2006. They look at shark moments in current TV programming, which does little for me as I don't watch much TV, as well as classic shows.
Most of the readers polled voted on these five shows:
The Simpsons: Over 1500 voters, ten times those voting for an actual episode, said that the show had never jumped the shark. Interestingly several episodes included a shark jump.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Most voters also say this show never jumped, slightly edging out those who thought it jumped the shark after the "Death of Tara" episode.
Friends: Likewise the majority of Friends watchers said the show never jumped, followed in quick succession by those who thought the turning point was "Day One", followed by "They Did It (Ross and Rachel)", "They Did It (Chandler and Monica)", and "I Do (Chandler and Monica).
The X-Files: The majority, boring as they are, once again say the show never jumped, followed by a group that say it jumped when the movie was made.
Mash: Never jumped, followed by "Alan Alda's Moralizing", and "Death (Henry Blake)."
Notable shark jumps:
Dick York in for Dick Sargent on Bewitched.
Laverne and Shirley head for L.A.
Chrissie says goodbye to Jack and Janet on Three's Company.
Felicity gets it cut.
The site is fun, particularly if you have an opinion on such things. Get over there and vote. Don't you know how important your vote is?