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)
When asked what his reaction to the script was, Winkler responded:
Except we were No. 1 for years afterward, so it didn’t actually apply to us! I realized you cannot question lines. One of the very first shows we ever did, I was reading the script and had just come from New York and went to school to be an actor and didn’t like the line. I started to punch the script and Ron Howard put his arm around me and walked me back to the soundstage and said, “Those writers work really hard. You don’t want to hit your script.” I said, “Ron, I will never do that again as long as I live.” Garry had people who were 21 and 77 years old in the room. (Via the Hollywood Reporter)
Winkler’s memory is fuzzy — “Hollywood: Part 3” aired in season five, when Happy Days was TV’s No. 2 rated show; by season seven, it would drop to No. 17; by season 11, No. 63 — but his general point remains: If your boss tells you to jump over a shark, don’t question him or her. Jump over that shark.
(Via the Hollywood Reporter)