So many things had to happen for one of the most infamous moments in television history to occur. If someone nixed the idea of doing a backdoor pilot from Love, American Style called Happy Days; if Happy Days hadn’t become one of the most popular shows on television; if Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli, played by a diminutive Jew from Manhattan, didn’t somehow become synonymous with cool; if credited writer Fred Fox, Jr. never pitched, “Let’s have the Fonz jump over a shark on waterskis,” then we never would have gotten “Jumping the Shark.” The idiom, coined by The Howard Stern Show‘s Jon Hein and his roommate, signals the exact, desperate moment a show begins its decline.
For The Simpsons, it was the evil jockeys episode. For Roseanne, it was the Conners winning the lottery. In his remembrance for late Happy Days creator Garry Marshall, Henry Winkler recalled the origins of the shark-jumping episode, “Hollywood: Part 3,” which aired on Sept. 20, 1977.
My short German father said, “Tell them you water ski!” I said, “Dad, I don’t think I’m going to do that.” He said it so often to me that I told Garry at the Cubs game when we lost my father at the stadium. Everybody got on the bus but my father. Garry said, “It’ll be OK, we’ll find him, it’s fine! There’s a lot of people looking.” I said to him, “Garry, my father wants you to know I water ski.” I’ll be damned if I didn’t wind up water-skiing and jumping the shark. (Via the Hollywood Reporter)