"Jumping the shark" is a term that never made any sense to me. It's used to indicate the moment when someone has gone too far--when Newt Gingrich began attacking Romney's days at Bain, for example, arguing, in effect, that Romney was too much of a capitalist, Newt was said to have "jumped the shark." But why? What did sharks have to do with anything? And what could it possibly mean to jump over one?
As it happens, I learned this very moment, the phrase dates back to that great figure of American television, the Fonz.
From an interview in the New York Times Magazine with Garry Marshall, the producer of "Happy Days":
Fred Fox Jr., who was the writer credited with the famous episode where Fonzie jumped the shark on “Happy Days,” said that the idea came from you.
Yes, it was my idea.
Considering the phrase’s fame, any regrets?
Well, it wasn’t good....We were stuck in Malibu making believe we were in Hawaii, and we had to do something a little special for Fonzie. So I said: “Jumping’s worked well for us. Let’s jump something maybe on water skis.” At the time we put it on, viewers didn’t throw rocks at it or send letters, but later some very clever guys said that’s when the show turned. So if it’s used about a show going down, fine. I got a word into the American vernacular.
Am I the last person here at Ricochet to have learned this?
P.S. Back during the Eighties, by the way, I met Henry Winkler, the actor who played the Fonz, on a studio backlot. (Considering a show based in the White House, a studio flew a couple of us speechwriters out to Los Angeles for a day. Nothing came of this, my one and only brush with the precarious industry in which Rob Long has somehow managed to thrive, although, as the hit show "The West Wing" would prove a decade later, it wasn't a bad idea.)
Winkler couldn't have been nicer--and went so far as to say he was honored to meet someone who worked for President Reagan. I waited a moment, studying his face for some sign of sarcasm or irony--we were in Hollywood after all. None appeared, leading me to conclude that he was just as good a guy as he seemed.