Not all TV shows end well. Unfortunately, part of the problem with TV is that it’s a business, and that means that the studios behind these shows have to get paid at the end of the day. If a show is popular because of its high quality, the executives behind the show are inclined to keep it on the air as long as possible to rake in potential profits.
What this means for many shows is that, instead of ending when they should have for the sake of maintaining that quality, they continue indefinitely long past their sell-by date. Often, this leads to popular shows that jump the shark.
A show jumps the shark when the plot becomes so ludicrous or half-baked that the show no longer resembles its former self. For many viewers, a TV show jumping the shark represents a turning point, beyond which the show they once loved stakes a steep dip in quality. And if you’re wondering where the term “Jump The Shark” came from, read on– the very source of it has a spot on our list.
Here are the 15 Most Insane “Jump the Shark” TV Moments.
15. That ’70s Show – Replacing Foreman with “Randy”
That ’70s Show lived and breathed on the dynamics between its characters. This sitcom, like most of high quality, relied on its cast to provide chemistry and give life to the jokes on the page. When two of those cast members , Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher, left the show, it lost much of the magic that had once made it great. It’s hard to assign any blame in this case, in part because the show really just lasted longer than it should have.
Kutcher and Grace, who played Kelso and Foreman respectively, stuck with the show for a long time. Both felt they had to move on at the end of season seven, which only made the eighth and final season of the show feel somewhat half-baked. Gone was the fizzy chemistry of the show’s earlier seasons, which relied so heavily on the interpersonal dynamics of every member of the show’s cast. In its place were two giant holes that became almost impossible to ignore, particularly when the character of Randy was brought in to serve as Donna’s love interest and the new lead character.
14. Lost- Nikki and Paulo
Lost was such a thrilling show to watch in part because it seemed like it was about to go off the rails at virtually every moment. The first time the show started to loose viewers was at the beginning of its third season, when the show produced a string of episodes that included the introduction of pointless new characters, like Nikki and Paulo (ugh). Lost seemed dramatically inert for the first time. The main ensemble were stuck in ruts, and the mysteries weren’t as interesting as they had been in prior seasons.
Of course, many would argue that the show course corrected by its fourth season, and managed to finish its run strong. Of course, many viewers had already jumped ship by that point, and it never regained the following it had during its first couple of basically flawless seasons. Lost was designed to shock its audience, of course, but it turns out that the biggest surprise for many was just how boring the show could be.
13. The X-Files – Mulder Leaves
The X-Files is iconic for all sorts of reasons, but part of what made it so endlessly watchable was the dynamic between Scully and Mulder, the show’s central pair. For years, the resident skeptic was challenged by the true believer in a way that engrossed fans of the series. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, which was the case for our central pair– at least temporarily.
After Mulder was abducted by aliens during the season 7 finale, his role on the show was diminished substantially. Although he returned to a leading role during the show’s tenth season, the damage done by his absence was too consequential to ignore.
While it may seem to some like The X-Files was attractive largely for its monster of the week cases, those cases weren’t nearly as fun to watch once half of the central duo had disappeared. To put it simply, The X-Files needs Scully and Mulder working together if the show is going to work at all.
12. Friends – Rachel and Joey Get Together
An entire generation was raised on Friends, and loved it because it managed to seamlessly blend its jokes with the everyday lives of its central characters. It was a show about a surrogate family, and it was hugely influential because of that. One of the show’s signature couples, Ross and Rachel, had ten seasons of romantic tension that ultimately culminated in a relationship. Unfortunately, because the show had to run for ten seasons, the writers had to throw Rachel and Ross some other romantic partners.
The most unbelievable of Rachel’s partners was undoubtedly Joey, another member of the core friend group and a persistent womanizer. The idea that Rachel and Joey would get together, even for just a moment, was ridiculous enough to turn some fans of the show away. The later seasons of Friends aren’t as great as the early years anyway, and it’s clear that part of that came from running out of story ideas and relying on fairly desperate gimmicks as a result.
11. Desperate Housewives – Five Year Time Jump
Desperate Housewives was the kind of show that kept audiences hooked simply by virtue of its soapiness. There was always some sort of drama on Wisteria Lane, and viewers kept tuning in to see exactly what it would be. Even so, when the show took a five year time jump during its fifth season, it proved to be a bridge too far for many in the show’s audience.
During this season, which also featured a major character death, the show took a dip in the ratings, even as it remained one of the most watched shows on television. Although it continued for several seasons after the time jump, the goings-on at Wisteria Lane began to feel repetitive and lost much of what had initially made them compelling. After all, how many of the street’s residents can be murdered before everyone decides it’s not really a safe place to live? Suburbia definitely isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
10. House of Cards – Frank Kills Zoe In Public
When House of Cards first premiered, it seemed like it was going to give us a smart but slightly heightened version of Washington, wherein a scheming Congressman and his wife could eventually ascend to the presidency. Fairly early on, though, Francis Underwood, the Congressman in question, began to do things that made him a downright despicable character.
It’s one thing to do despicable things, like ensures an addicted, disgraced congressman you’re mentoring dies from carbon monoxide, and quite another to just flat-out push someone in front of a moving train in public. Sure, Frank wore a fedora and stood in the shadows on the subway platform to push Zoe onto the tracks, but it was a far cry from the more hands-off approach he took in season 1, with Peter Russo. It was much riskier than the Frank Underwood we thought we knew.
9. Prison Break – The Prison Break
Prison Break’s premise was super smart. It was a show about one man’s attempt to break his brother out of prison by joining him inside the facility. From there, the show created an elaborate and well-plotted season that got both brothers out of prison and provided plenty of twists and turns along the way. Unfortunately, once the pair were free, Prison Break had no idea what to do with them.
Of course, on a show called Prison Break, this probably shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Still, the plots during the show’s later season veered into unbelievable and uninteresting territory pretty quickly. As characters became embroiled in conspiracies, it became clear that Prison Break should have ended with the titular breakout.
Possibly as a result of its name, this particular show had a hard time separating itself from the prison that was its setting through the first season. As a result, it often felt deeply directionless, and the writers had to resort to finding increasingly unlikely, new prisons for the characters to get trapped in and subsequenetly try to break out of.
8. Glee – New Directions Wins Nationals
Glee was only truly great during its first season. Then, it was a show about scrappy underdogs determined to prove how much they were worth. Naturally, as the seasons progressed, this group of misfits got closer and closer to achieving their goal: a national title that would prove how valuable the glee club was to the school, and validate the time the students had devoted to it. When the club finally got their win at the end of the show’s third season, things really fell apart.
A show that was primarily set in high school suddenly began splitting its time between characters who had graduated and those who remained in the school, and viewers continued to flee from the series from that point on. At its best, Glee was an optimistic show about misfits and their passions. Unfortunately, the show became a whole lot less compelling once those misfits started to win.
7. Dallas – It Was All a Dream
When it first aired, Dallas managed to grip the nation with its signature cliffhanger. Viewers around the country wondered who shot J.R., and watched in huge numbers to discover who had done it. Unfortunately, because Dallas is a soap opera, it couldn’t end there. It had to continue creating drama, and a large amount of that drama comes from twists.
One such twist comes after Bobby Ewing, a pivotal character on the show, is run over by a car and killed in dramatic fashion. This seems like a fairly normal plot development for a soap, but Dallas eventually undid it by revealing that the entire season in which the event had occurred was actually a dream. An entire season was undone by one scene where Ewing turned up in the shower. This meant that, in the following season, the show had to go back and pick up where it had left off a whole season ago. It was a risky storytelling gambit, and it wasn’t one that ultimately paid off.
6. Homeland – Terrorists Hack the Vice President’s Pacemaker
During its first season, Homeland burned brighter than the sun. The show was tightly plotted, well-executed, and perfectly performed by its central actors. Unfortunately, things went off the rails fairly quickly after that. It became clear just how much the show had jumped the shark near the end of season 2, when terrorists managed to hack into the Vice President’s pacemaker and keep it from working.
While it may technically be possible, the idea of such an attack occurring is more than a little bit ludicrous. The show continued to devolve from that point, and was never able to provide audiences with the thrills it had given them earlier in its run.
Although the show is still on the air, there seems to be a general consensus that it should have ended on a triumphant note after its first season, even if the second and third seasons had many redeeming qualities. Instead, it stuck around long enough to jump the shark.
5. Scrubs – The Rebooted Ninth Season
The season eight finale of Scrubs is perfect. It ties up every major story thread at Sacred Heart, and sends us off with plenty of jokes. More importantly, the show mixes fantasy and reality one final time, creating a truly moving sequence about what the future may hold for each of the show’s main characters. Unfortunately, the creative powers behind Scrubs didn’t know to quit while they were ahead, and instead rebooted the show for a ninth season.
The idea behind the season was to focus on a new group of young doctors, and allow the original show’s cast to make appearances without relying on them too heavily. In practice, the season felt off, in large part because it didn’t have the same emphasis on the characters fans had already come to love from the first eight seasons. Instead, it hoped to make up for their absence by introducing a slew of new characters, but alas, it simply wasn’t meant to be.
4. Heroes – “Volume 2: Generations”
Heroes’ first season isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty close. The show was quickly able to set up a slew of interesting characters, and set them on a collision course with one another. This all culminated in a climactic and fairly stupendous finale…. until the season 2 teaser, which sent Hiro traveling back in time to Edo Japan.
From that point on, the show seemed to have no real sense of direction. Beginning almost immediately in season two, the show felt much less interesting, and couldn’t manage to get back on the right track.
Whether it was an entire season about time traveler Hiro spending time in Japan, or the ill-advised introduction of several new characters, Heroes was never able to return to its initial glory. Of course, it’s possible that the pressure on the show was too high. After all, the first season was met with widespread acclaim, but the show’s creators clearly took the wrong lessons from that acclaim, and doubled down on several plot lines that were never particularly compelling.
3. Felicity – Felicity Cuts Her Hair
This was truly the haircut heard round the world. After a first season that was phenomenally successful, the cast and crew of the teen melodrama were poised to take the world by storm during the show’s second season. There was a love triangle that had plenty of buzz, and there were Felicity’s signature curly hair, which became as iconic as the show itself over the course of the first season. Unfortunately, those locks weren’t long for this world.
Apparently, star Keri Russell initially sent the show’s producers a picture of herself with a short wig on to freak them out. Eventually, though, the producers decided that they liked the idea of Felicity cutting her hair, and made it happen on the show. It wasn’t some minor grooming, either. This was a full-blown pixie, one that many blame for a downturn in the show’s overall quality, as well as a dip in the ratings. Felicity was great, but it couldn’t survive the damage of that hair.
2. Roseanne – The Family Wins the Lottery
Roseanne was a groundbreaking television show in part because it depicted the kind of people who usually didn’t get to be on TV. This wasn’t a high income family. These people were really and truly struggling, and that’s what made Roseanne so important for TV. It’s also why the show’s final season plotline, one in which the family wins the lottery, felt like such a betrayal of everything that had come before.
Of course, the season ends by revealing that everything Roseanne and her family have experienced all season long was actually just a fantasy of Roseanne’s. The family never won the lottery, and Roseanne’s husband had actually been dead for an entire year. This twist was something of a rude awakening, one that returned the show to the realm of reality. Still, it didn’t make up for the nonsensical aspects of the final season, ones that left many fans feeling as though the show had betrayed its roots.
1. Happy Days – The Fonz Literally Jumps a Shark
The show that started it all. Happy Days is where the term “jumping the shark” originates, and with good reason. Although the show was successful early in its run, it struggled to maintain momentum in later seasons and the showrunners began to make ridiculous decision after ridiculous decision. These choices climaxed with the decision to have the Fonz, the show’s most popular character, quite literally jump (well, water-ski over a shark.
Happy Days used the gimmick as a way to keep viewers interested in the show, but the fact that they needed to have a main character perform the stunt suggests that the show had lost much of what initially made it worth watching. Gone were the simple days when the show focused on its characters.
Happy Days used to work because it made our nostalgia for an earlier period into comedy. Later in its run, the initially iconic show became a parody of itself, and coined the phrase that allowed this list to exist.
Henry Winkler, who portrayed the Fonz, even parodied the moment in the cult hit sitcom Arrested Development. Winkler plays Barry Zuckerkorn, who casually hops over a dead shark that lies in his path at a marina.
Which “jump the shark” moment ruined a TV show for you? Let us know in the comments!
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