What Does 'Jumping the Shark' Mean?

An Explanation, Examples, and How the Expression Started

Henry Winkler, as Fonzie in 'Happy Days'
Silver Screen Collection/Moviepix/Getty Images
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To "jump the shark" is the same as saying that "this once-good thing has now become absurd and dragged out," or "this has crossed over into stupidity and uselessness." The expression is also known as "nuking the fridge."

Note: Jump the Shark is also an episode of The X-Files (S09E15).

"Jump the Shark" Examples

Here are several instances where the "jump the shark" expression might be used:

  • "Indiana Jones just survived a nuclear blast by hiding in a fridge? This show has officially jumped the shark!"
  • "Enough with the lecture, Dad! You're not just beating a dead horse, you're jumping the shark with your preaching."
  • "This healthcare bill debate has jumped the shark. Enough, already! Let's just make a decision and move on."
  • "The car manufacturers have officially jumped the shark. Government bailout? Puhlease! We rescue mismanagement in this country? That's idiotic."
  • "The 'Transformers 2' movie may have had good special effects, but the story seriously jumped the shark. I'm not going to follow that series anymore because it now insults my intelligence. Even Megan Fox couldn't save that show from the crap heap."
  • "I can't believe they're making a seventh Saw movie. They jumped the shark with that show at the second installment."
  • "This party is not just clownshoes, it's a shark jump. Let's get out of here and find a real party."
  • "I think Dr. House has jumped the shark. He is the same sarcastic jerk he was four seasons ago. Someone give us new storylines, please!"
  • "The Star Trek franchise jumped the shark with that fourth movie. Ever since the crew started time-traveling to save whales, that show just lost all appeal."

Where the Expression Comes From

The phrase "jump the shark" emerged from a 1977 television episode of "Happy Days." In this show, one of the main characters, Fonzie (Henry Winkler), performs an absurd stunt jump over a caged shark while water skiing.

Fans of "Happy Days" argue that Fonzie's water skiing jump was the pinnacle of the television series, after which point the series started to rapidly decline in quality. 

This preposterous TV moment has since become a Hollywood symbol of when screenwriting has deteriorated into absurdity. This shark-stunt moment has also become a household cultural symbol of when quality takes a dramatic downturn for the worse in daily life.

When the "Happy Days" series ended in 1985, the "jump the shark" phrase was allegedly coined by Sean J. Connolly, a friend of a web publisher Jon Hein. Jon started a website at JumpTheShark.com that became a celebrity gossip hub, but then sold it to the owners of TVGuide.com. The original website link now redirects to TV Guide's website.

Is It the Same as "Nuke the Fridge"?

Yes. "Nuking the fridge" is the same expression. It comes from the fourth Indiana Jones movie, "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."

The absurdity moment happens when Harrison Ford hides inside a refrigerator as shelter from a nuclear explosion a mile away. Indy and the fridge are hurled through the air during the nuclear blast, but land unscathed and free of radiation. Many viewers argue that this is the point where the Indiana Jones franchise commences its plunge into poor quality.