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.