OPINION: When favorite shows “jump the shark”

Jump the Shark. It’s a term that’s been around 20 years or so and it generally means, “that moment when a TV show stops being worth watching.” The idea is that there’s some fundamental change in the show and it’s much harder to like. It actually traces back to the 1970s show Happy Days, when Fonzie did, in fact, jump a shark– something you would not expect a mechanic from Milwaukee to do. Don’t believe me? Here’s the clip:

The show was just never the same after that.

The latest show to have jumped the shark is, in my opinion, “Dancing with the Stars.” Why do I care? I actually gained a fair amount of attention in the last decade with DWTS recaps, which I did for another site for about four years. So it’s with great sadness that I’ve watched the downfall of the show as it moved from dominating appointment TV to the point where I probably won’t even watch this year.

This is a show that relies a lot on casting and the cast, in my opinion, this cast is the worst ever. If you have any interest in the show, you’ve probably already heard the list: Amber Rose, Calvin Johnson Jr., Jake T. Austin, James Hinchcliffe, Jana Kramer, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, Laurie Hernandez, Marilu Henner, Maureen McCormick, Rick Perry, Ryan Lochte, Terra Jolé and Vanilla Ice. Obviously the folks at ABC have been trying to tick off the same boxes that they’ve ticked off for the last 11 years: Southerner, retired sports figures, recent Olympians, former TV regulars, reality TV “stars,” and Disney channel stars. This is the formula that’s gotten them this far… why change?

Every year seems to be a twist on this same formula and every year it seems to decay even further. While Governor Perry is not the first politician to appear (that “honor” goes to former house majority leader Tom DeLay) it’s the first time that a former Presidential candidate is on the show, and I just have to ask, “why, why, why?”

Usually, there’s one or at most two people I just can’t wait to see kicked off the island (oh wait, that’s a different reality show.) This year it’s hard to know who to keep. Should I target my venom toward the long-disgraced lip-syncher, the governor who proved unpopular on the national stage, the accused criminal/swimmer/John Slattery impersonator/bro (warning:NSFW) or one of the people I’ve never heard of? Truly a difficult choice.

Now, to back up, ABC probably already had a contract with Mr. Lochte before his scandal, and of that rather incongruous group, there does exist heartthrob-for-1970s-teens Maureen McCormick, heartthrob-for-1980s-adults Marilu Henner, and the extremely talented Laurie Hernandez. I actually feel bad for them for having to slum around with the other contestants.

Dancing with the Stars was one of the few network hits of the mid-2000s, a time when shows were crippled by a writer’s strike and when premium TV was beginning to dominate the conversation as never before. It came at a time when broadcasters finally realized that they would never again see the ratings they once enjoyed with M*A*S*H or All in the Family. The show is relatively inexpensive and should be easy to like. It’s just that in 23 seasons (some with 16 weeks of 3 episodes per week) it’s just plain run out of gas.

I have to imagine that the casting director for the show probably is a nice person, probably quite capable, and if there were a way to get better celebrities, he or she would have done that. Either there’s a corporate edict over at ABC to include as many ESPN and Disney folks as possible and backfill with reality stars and conservative southerners, or they just have no idea what people are looking for. Truth is, it’s never going to “skew young” no matter what they do so they should just stop trying to bring in teeny boppers who are utterly unknown by the show’s key demographic of 35+ females.

They probably also need to stop doing quite so much corporate synergy (yes, we get it, your parent company owns Marvel, Disney, and Star Wars, you don’t have to shove it down our throats) and certainly, stop with the excessive CGI. Once upon a time this was a quiet show about people trying their hardest to learn to dance. It was actually imported from a similar show on the BBC which has enjoyed decades of low-level popularity.

As it’s going now, I’d expect them to be off the air soon… or there’s another possibility. The first season was six celebrities in six weeks. No CGI, no “biggest elimination yet.” Six honest people honestly trying to learn to dance, with the blisters and the backaches and the tears. Six recent celebrities, known by most of the people who watched the show. Maybe that’s where they need to return.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.