Happy Days writer says “we didn’t Jump the Shark.”

Writer Fred Fox Jr. defends the historic episode that supposedly marked the show's demise.

When Fonzie water-skiied over a shark in Happy Days during its 1976-77 season, TV history was being made.

The scene would later be chosen by a group of University students in 1987 as the defining moment that the series lost its mojo. JumptheShark.com (later sold to TVGuide.com) became a pop culture hit as TV fans voted for key turning points in television history.

Now writer Fred Fox Jr. defends the episode that he penned, in an article for the LA Times. Fox says the long-running sitcom continued its success for another 164 episodes.

Here are some excerpts from his article on how the episode came about and whether it was indeed a pivotal point in the life of the show or not.

After discussing different scenarios, we decided to take the Happy Days gang to Hollywood, with Fonzie invited for a screen test. One of the plot lines would be Fonzie clashing with “The California Kid,” a cocky local beach boy. Since Henry water skied in real life, it was suggested the characters race and then, as a tiebreaker, have to jump a shark in a netted area in the ocean.

Now, whose idea was it for Fonzie to jump the shark? Amazingly, I can’t remember — which is frustrating, as I can usually watch a Happy Days episode from any season, hear a joke and recall who wrote it. My friend Brian Levant, then a talented new member of the writing staff, believes that Garry Marshall, the show’s co-creator and executive producer, and Bob Brunner, the show runner at the time, made the suggestion. But what I definitely remember is that no one protested vehemently; not one of us said, “Fonzie, jump a shark? Are you out of your mind?”

It was the 91st episode and the fifth season. If this was really the beginning of a downward spiral, why did the show stay on the air for six more seasons and shoot an additional 164 episodes? Why did we rank among the Top 25 in five of those six seasons?

Now that so much time has passed, it’s clear that “jump the shark” is no mere fad. It has become a part of the American lexicon. I often hear or read the phrase and run into people who know it. Some of them aren’t even aware of the origin. It is unfathomable to me that the shark still has its bite.

You can read it all here.


11 Responses

  1. I’ve bought the first three seasons on DVD but likely won’t buy the rest. In the early years the show stayed authentic to the look and feel of 50s culture and the character of The Fonz had just enough of the tough guy in him to offer an effective counterpoint to Richie C. I kept watching the later seasons when I was a kid, but I agree the show took a further dive after Richie and Ralph left.

  2. The website Jump The Shark jumped the shark the moment it was sold to TV Guide. It is nowhere near as good as it once was. It gave me many hours of sidesplitting entertainment back in the good ol’ days. As for Happy Days, it jumped after Ron Howard was written out of the show. They then stopped caring about the integrity of the production, with many of the characters sporting distinctly 70’s-80’s hairstyles, ie, Chachi’s layered, feathered hairstyle (for a show set in the late 50’s-early 60’s????????? ), pop culture references that wouldn’t have been around at the time the show was set, 70’s style make-up on the actresses, etc.

  3. “Jumping The Shark” is about being the moment where the tone of the show changed, which eventually lead to it being terrible, rather than the point where it was never good again. Mork the alien turned up after the shark, for instance, and I don’t believe they would have had a wacky alien character in the early seasons of the show.
    But Fred does seem to struggle with the very different concepts of the show being any good and how many people were watching it. People also watched Underbelly 3.

  4. I loved this show but I don’t think it jumped the shark that early, it was still good afterwards. I think it really jumped the shark after the diner burned down in the fire in the 1980 season where all the sets changed, the main characters started leaving and all these new unknown characters started to come into it. By the end of it the Cunningham house seemed to be a house full of strangers, Fonzie got older and the gang was no more and I think that’s what really spelt the end of the show. But I would definitely mark the burning down of the diner as the pivotal event when the show jumped the shark because everything changed after that.

  5. I liked the Hollywood episodes and IMO Happy Days didn’t “jump the shark” as there were plenty more great episodes in the 5th,6th even 7th seasons. For me the show ended when Richie and Ralph left the show.

    Also I loved the JTS website and used to spend hours & hours reading through the comments but sadly it’s now not what it was thanks to a take over.

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