Jumping the Shark. Or not.

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I propose that there are four five categories of TV series distinguished on the basis of how long they run and the quality, or lack thereof, of the show more or less objectively defined (to the extent that one can do that).

1: Shows that jumped the shark

31gNwOQP1BL._SX342_These are shows that become redundant, lose their writing quality, or for some other reason reach a point where they get bad. That point is, of course, the “Jumping-the-Shark” moment. The phrase “Jump the shark” of course comes from an episode of Happy Days when Fonzie, water skiing, jumps over a shark. That was apparently a bad episode and is thought to mark the decline of the show from something a lot of people liked to something that needed to end. But then it didn’t end.


<li>Grey’s Anatomy</li>
<li>Happy Days</li>
<li>Lie to Me</li>
<li>Lost Girl</li>
<li>Northern Exposure</li>
<li>The Cosby Show</li>
<li>Twin Peaks</li>
<li>Will & Grace</li>

2: Shows that are inherently immortal(ish)

Martha-Jones-doctor-who-for-whovians-28291065-307-390These are shows that have a formula that allows them to remain high quality indefinitely, and for which the writing and directing and overall production value remains at high quality. It is hard to decide if a show that has been running for some time belongs in this category, or if they will someday jump the shark. But the examples given here have been on a long time and seem to lack sharks. The Simpsons, for example, has been running a very long time and last time I checked was still as funny as it ever was. Doctor Who, of course, regenerates, and the time element of the equation for that show is different for all other shows because on Doctor Who time is a wiggly wobbly timey wimey thing.


<li>The Simpsons</li>

<li>Law and Order(s)</li>
<li>Doctor Who</li>
<li>The Big Bang Theory</li>
<li>Son of Anarchy</li>
<li>That 70s show</li>
<li>Star Trek, original series</li>
<li>Red Dwarf</li>


<li>Family Guy</li>

3: Shows that were killed ended during their prime

Primeval460 These are shows that might have been of category 1 or 2 above had they been allowed to continue, but were terminated while they were still good, but after a longish run. I like to think these shows would have been in category 2, but that certainly not need be the case. It is sad or disappointing when they do end, but that they were shut down while still good is actually a good thing even if it hurts a little.


<li>MI 5</li>
<li>Breaking Bad; Seinfeld</li>
<li>The West Wing</li>
<li>The Dick Van Dyke Show</li>
<li>Moonlighting </li>
<li>six feet under</li>
  • Star Trek, original series
  • 4: Shows that die a young and undeserved death

    Bletchley_Circle-About-artThese are shows that has promise, were good, but for marketing or other reasons ended after one or two seasons even though they should not have. I believe it is necessary to have an arbitrary distinction between categories 3 and 4. I’m going to set that at a maximum of three seasons. I could be talked into four seasons.


  • Arrested Development
  • Deadwood
  • Firefly
  • House of Cards (if rumors are true that it will have only two seasons)
  • Kung Fu
  • Legend
  • My so-called life
  • Primeval US version
  • The Bletchley Circle
  • Torchwood (if we take 4 seasons as the cutoff)
  • Almost Human
  • Revolution
  • 5: Shows that die a young and richly deserved death

    tumblr_mkyjcvy2u01rprai1o1_500_by_aledunk99-d628gf3“These are mostly uninspired ripoffs of something that was successful a season or two earlier.” (John McKay) It is hard to find examples of these shows because they are obscure, and they may occupy a similar obscure space to gems that were also terminated early. In other words, for me, if I’ve not seen the show I can’t identify it as NOT having filled a niche somewhere. I’ve not seen any of the examples given here but they seem like good candidates.


    <li>Heil Honey I'm Home!</li>
    <li>Almost Human</li>


    A key feature of this nomenclature is the distinction between categories 3 and 4. In looking for examples of shows that ended way to early (after one or two seasons, mainly) I discovered that those who have talked about this on the internet seem to make no distinction between a show that runs 12 years and then ended but “we want it back” and one that runs only a few seasons. I think they are very different.

    Please enter your suggestions or complaints below. Not that there would ever be a difference of opinion about any of this.

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    45 thoughts on “Jumping the Shark. Or not.

    1. For #3, I wouldn’t say “killed.” I think a better term is “ended,” because some willingly offed themselves. Examples include Breaking Bad and Seinfeld.

    2. You left out: Shows that die a young and richly deserved death. These are mostly uninspired ripoffs of something that was successful a season or two earlier.

    3. James: Good idea on the terminology. I’ve added your two cases, they are very clear cut. I’d avoided Breaking Bad because we’re still watching it but from what I hear there are no sharks.

    4. I know they were more than likely thinking it would be renewed, but Carnivale had a particularly bad ending…the writing starting going down hill (dragging) about three episodes from the finale…and the finale stunk. There were way too many plot holes unresolved.

    5. Firefly! Killed in the crib by some unremembered Fox drudge. Each of the twenty six shows is a stand alone jewel, but as a piece of work it stands with the giants.

    6. There’s another separate issue: series that had an overall arc, and then that was done: did they then bow out gracefully, or let someone persuade them to go on and on. Moonlighting had that kind of arc, back in the day, and did a nice job closing up shop. Twin Peaks was only interesting when it was full of undefined menace. I’m not sure it jumped the shark, just got boring once it started explaining things and then not ending. Plus the explanations were stupid.

    7. Nat I agree this is a thing and I would regard that as a subset of Category 1. Some shows drift away culturally or lose relevance, some just get redundant, but many do seem to end, but then they don’t. They are the unended.

    8. “Freaks and Geeks” is popularly cites as a victim of early demise. I suggest adding it to category #4.

    9. Is “Community” a show that can arguably fit in every category (dependent upon how you view the fourth season)?

    10. Gail, i’ve not seen it. Very few shows are category 2 (and any positioning in that category is inherently tenuous as sharks can come out of nowhere).

    11. Possible inclusions
      * Jump the shark: “Dexter,” and “Lost Girl”
      * Died young: “Prime Evil” Ca version
      * Immortal: “Misfits,” “Sone of Anarchy,” and “That 70s Show”
      * Died in it’s prime: “Spartacus”

    12. OK, I’ve added them. I was wondering about US primevil. I’ve not seen it. I really like the UK version.

      People may argue with you about the immortals, but such is the nature of these things. I’m not against listing a show in more than one place.

    13. what about “six feet under” – i´d put it into “ended in their prime time” – any objections??

    14. I would put Being Human in Category 3. Sons of Anarchy should have ended with Jax killing his stepfather and before Opie was killed.

    15. “That ’70s Show” *definitely* jumped the shark. While there were a few worthwhile story lines after the 5th series, by the end of the 5th the show sailed over the fin. The 8th series, lacking two major lead characters, was a complete waste of time.

    16. Lie to Me* should land in category One (but could have been cat 2).
      Writing went away from the “science” of the behaviors, towards the personal, back-story junk,.

      The core was made to rot, when it should’ve been great.

    17. Only 4 cat 5 shows. I wonder if that’s because there really are fewer of them, you aren’t as familiar with many of them (good for you! 🙂 or you are being overly charitable. 😉

      Cat 2 is where everyone would want to be. What’s the minimum number of seasons to be considered in this lofty category? Is it premature to call Big Bang Theory a cat 2?

      In Cat 3 what about Sopranos? Six seasons and I would say they were all good. (YMMV)

    18. I must disagree with the choice of “Almost Human” deserving to die – it had real potential and at least three very interesting lead characters. I am still grouchy about its demise.

      Also, I could have used a LOT more MI5. 🙁

    19. Out of all of these, I can only find 6 that I have even watched a single complete episode of, so I am clearly unqualified to comment. On the other hand, this is the internet, so maybe I should just assert that I am an expert.

    20. Yeah, I kinda liked “Almost Human”. There was a similar show on another network that was pretty awful about a guy with a chip in his head. I have to wonder if, in the ratings and triangulations of the network execs , “Almost Human” didn’t get sucked down by that other show (the name of which eludes me) and a glut of sci-fi/fantasy stuff. Also there’s a show called “Being Human” that sounds pretty dreadful.

      “Revolution” got cancelled. Maybe file that one under shows that are too intense, provocative, and unsentimental for some people yet somehow don’t pander to the teen-angst CW crowd — not that it was Shakespeare or anything.

    21. Cat. 3.5
      Shows that Die but Sputter Back to Life.. Then Die… Then Get up and Do Schtick… Then Who Knows? And also at Some Point They Go to Hollywood but Wander off Because They Find out It’s too Disgusting

      Red Dwarf

    22. Rather surprised, pleasantly so, to see Bletchley Circle listed. Not many people know about it especially in the states.

      Fringe jumped the shark late in Season 4. Season 5 was really an anticlimatic season and didn’t fit. Some might argue Fringe jumped the shark when they rewrote the timelines because so many plots that were supposed to tie into a central theme couldn’t be tied in, so they gave up, discarded all those episodes, and started over.

      Still thoroughly enjoyed it though because a lot of it was filmed on my old stomping grounds both around Vancouver and at my old university.

      I might add Sherlock (BBC) as jumping the shark in the last season. He was wrong on pretty much every major conclusion, and the breakthroughs were made by other people. E.g. fanatic train guy who noticed a car was missing. And his response to being outsmarted time and again? Violence.

      We saw Elementary Season 1 on DVD, and despite our initial misgivings enjoyed it. When things slow down a bit we’ll see if our local library has more seasons out now.

      Incidentally, keep your eye on Orphan Black. I’m really hoping it doesn’t fall into Category 4 or 1. We’ve just seen first season on DVD and are awaiting Season 2.

    23. I agree with Obstreperous Applesauce, that there are some shows that die, then come back, sometimes much like they were before and sometimes very confused.

      In addition to Red Dwarf, I suggest Futurama in that category. Plus, I suppose, Family Guy, if only because a) its resurrection was the inspiration for a similar campaign by fans of Futurama and b) the quality after the resurrection was about the same as the quality before.

    24. kayvaan: regarding the Big Bang theory: There is actually a huge category that is not included at all; shows that are still running and we’re not sure if they’ll jump the shark or not!

    25. Nat Case, Star Trek, original series can’t be category 4 because it had too many seasons.

    26. Obstreperous A and TheBrummell, I’m putting those shows under category 2 because if you can keep coming back as a zombie you must be immortal.

      Dan, I reluctantly put Sherlock under category 1; I would have assumed it immortal (though with a twist based on the limitations of the canon). But I’ve not seen more than the first two or three so I’ll take your word for it.

    27. Shows that are prolific? (have spin offs and/or movies, go forth and multiply, etc.)

      Star Trek
      Though outside the parameters of this exercise I guess, Sherlock Holms is certainly a prolific character.

    28. That would be an interesting category, though it could overlap with each or all of the other categories so maybe it should be a separate list. Maybe even a separate blog post.

    29. Oh come on, Red Dwarf was pants after about series 6. It’s so long ago I’ve forgotten the details; Series 1 wasn’t that good, but by 3, 4, 5, 6, they’d found their mojo and it was great, but by 7 and after it just got silly and boring.
      Who can forget the comic genius of the episode where Kryten is taught how to lie? Or indeed the “Everybody’s dead” Dave bit.

    30. Hmmm.. Thinking about Farscape, I can’t decide which category it should go into. Probably #3, because I considered it excellent.

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