Popular TV Shows That Jumped The Shark

The term “jumping the shark” refers to when a television show reaches a point when it has gone downhill from gimmicks that are meant to keep the audience interested. It originated in a 1977 episode of Happy Days when Fonzie (Henry Winkler) did a stunt jumping over a shark in the ocean, which created a huge tonal shift in the series. The phrase is now common when referencing a failing TV show that started out strong. There have been several shows that haven’t lived up to their early potential and left fans wondering what went wrong.

Happy Days Literally Jumped The Shark

henry winkler jet skiing with a leather jacket
ABC
ABC

Happy Days wasn’t the first TV show to jump the shark, but it’s the one that popularized the phrase. When the show began it revolved around a teen boy (Ron Howard) and his family and friends set against the backdrop of nostalgic 1950’s America. While most fans mainly remember loving Fonzie, he was only meant to be a supporting character.

As the writers and creators saw his increasing popularity they started to shift the tone of the show to put Fonzie in the forefront. This shift is dated back to the season five premiere on September 20, 1977, where Fonzie is shown jet skiing in Los Angeles and has to jump over a shark.

The Office Really Ended When Steve Carell Left

steve carell crying in front of blinds
NBC
NBC

While NBC’s The Office was comprised of an ensemble cast many critics believed that Steve Carell as Michael Scott was the true lead. His oddball character had no filter and shared many classic one-liners that are still considered to be some of TV’s greatest moments.

When Carell left toward the end of season seven it left many fans upset because he was the glue who held the show together. Even though new characters were added in, it drastically changed the dynamic and tone for the following seasons. The series finale got fans excited when he returned for a brief cameo.

Arrested Development’s Revival Wasn’t A Success

michael cera and jason bateman standing in front of an elevator
Fox/Netflix
Fox/Netflix

Arrested Development was canceled after only three seasons on network TV due to low viewership and ratings. The cast thought they were done with their roles forever. Some years later people started to catch on to the witty humor and complex characters and it became a cult classic TV show.

Netflix noticed that it was still a fan-favorite and revived it about a decade later. Since many of the actors had become more well known they weren’t able to shoot most of the series together, thus creating a different format than the first three seasons. This new format shift jumbled the storylines and wasn’t as easy to follow.

Scream Queens Changed Too Much Too Soon

billie lourd, emma roberts, and abigail breslin in pastel nurse uniforms
Fox
Fox

Ryan Murphy has made numerous award-winning television shows and one that jumped the shark too soon was Scream Queens. Its first season was filled with clever humor, just the right amount of gore, and eye-popping costume and set designs. The show made a huge leap from the first to the second season.

It changed the set from a college sorority house to a hospital, taking fans out of the familiar setting from season one. There were also several major character changes with plots that were too far-fetched from reality.

Glee Switched Up The Characters Too Much

darren criss and chris colfer in a still from glee
Fox
Fox

One of the most-watched television shows during the 2010s was the musical comedy Glee. Millions of fans from around the world tuned in to keep up with the ensemble cast who would put on elaborate performances each week to go along with the heartfelt storylines.

The first season stood out to viewers because of the relatability of the underdog high school glee club whose characters were elevated when combined with popular songs. As the show continued many characters were either added or cut, leaving less screen time for many fan-favorites.

SpongeBob SquarePants Is Still Airing New Episodes

spongebob squarepants holding up a rainbow
Nickelodeon
Nickelodeon

When SpongeBob SquarePants premiered in 1999 it attracted a huge audience. It had zany characters, deep-sea adventures, catchy songs, and humor that could be appreciated by all ages. SpongeBob SquarePants has become the longest-lasting cartoon on Nickelodeon with new episodes still being released today.

Although it’s still on the air its popularity with viewers began to dwindle after about eight or so years. This is mainly because of the large amount of episodes have told just about every story the audience would possibly want to know.

Ashton Kutcher’s Departure Ruined That ’70s Show

mila kunis and ashton kutcher sitting in a kid's room
Fox
Fox

That ’70s Show centered on a group of teenagers who would hang out in a basement. It followed their friendship, relationships, and family life in the 1970s while being filmed from 1998 to 2006. This is where stars such as Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher became household names.

Critics thought the show did a good job of making it seem believable to the era it was portraying and thought the cast had undeniable chemistry. The most disappointing turning point was when Kutcher left the show during its final season and abandoned his love interest.

The Dispute That Rocked Two and a Half Men

charlie sheen, angus t jones, and jon cryer sitting on a couch laughing
CBS
CBS

Classic ’90s sitcoms such as Seinfeld and Friends brought in massive audiences every week. At the turn of the century, TV creators were looking for something similar. Two and a Half Men had Charlie Sheen playing a fictional version of himself and centered on him living with his brother (Jon Cryer) and nephew (Angus T. Jones).

Fans were entertained by the blunt humor and the unique dynamic between the main characters. After Sheen had a dispute with creator Chuck Lorre his character was written out of the show and replaced with Ashton Kutcher. The replacement didn’t work with audiences and led to the cancellation.

Fans Just Said Good Riddance To Modern Family

the cast of modern family standing together in a living room
ABC
ABC

After Modern Family premiered in 2009 it quickly became a ratings hit with some of the world’s most famous leaders claiming it was their favorite show. Its premise was to have one normal and two abnormal families showcasing their daily struggles and triumphs in the modern world.

Modern Family just ended with 11 seasons, but actually needed a lot of extra promotion to gain interest for the series finale. This is because after a few years the lives of the characters started to become less relatable with the writers coming up with cheesy gimmicks and mixing supporting characters in and out of the show.

The Big Bang Theory Didn’t Allow Its Characters To Reach Their Full Potential

the cast of the big bang theory sitting in a living room
CBS
CBS

Some television shows are meant to air a multitude of episodes, while others can stop a lot sooner. The Big Bang Theory was one of the longest-lasting sitcoms of the 21st century, airing from 2007 to 2019. It began with a group of nerds who spent their time discussing science, comic books, and more and their newfound friendship with a blonde, confident woman who lived across the hall.

Protagonist Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) started out with a lot of strong character traits but was soon turned into a mix of bogus catchphrases. Also, many fans tuned in to see the relationship between Leonard and Penny, which quickly lost its spark.

Big Little Lies Would’ve Worked Better As A Limited Series

shailene woodley, reese witherspoon, and nicole kidman wearing costumes from breakfast at tiffany's
HBO
HBO

Tons of Hollywood’s most reputable actresses joined forces in HBO’s Big Little Lies. The show follows Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, and more as moms of Monterey Bay and their familial personal issues. Everything in the first season leads up to a dramatic moment that bonds the women together for life.

Since there was a massive amount of praise from both critics and viewers after the release of the first season it led to a second one. The addition of Meryl Streep was good, but the season as a whole ran similarly to a soap opera that wasn’t really going anywhere.

The Kids Aren’t Kids Anymore On The Goldbergs

a boy holding up a retro camcorder
ABC
ABC

One of the reasons why The Goldbergs became a successful sitcom is because the stories are based on creator Adam F. Goldberg’s real-life growing up in the 1980s. There are so many classic references for the people who grew up during that time and present-day families can see how similar they are to the one on the show.

The Goldbergs has been on the air for almost seven years and the kids in the cast have grown up, making it less believable that they are in high school and college. Many of the storylines are very similar, with the family members having a disagreement and resolving it the same way after 22 minutes.

The Brady Bunch’s Fate Was In The Hands Of A Little Boy

the cast of the brady bunch in retro clothes
CBS
CBS

There were several reasons why The Brady Bunch was canceled after its fifth season. The kids were aging out of the show, creator Sherwood Schwartz was always arguing with Robert Reed (Mike Brady), and ratings and viewership were very low. After the fourth season, the writers decided to switch things up to prevent the show from ending.

They introduced a new character named Cousin Oliver in hopes of bringing the cuteness factor back. Cousin Oliver symbolizes the jump the shark moment for The Brady Bunch because he completely shifted the dynamic. When shows add a young actor in the middle of the series it’s often referred to as Cousin Oliver Syndrome.

Family Matters Was Created Without Steve Urkel

urkel and carl sitting on a couch
ABC
ABC

Steve Urkel wasn’t originally written to be the lead of Family Matters. Actor Jaleel White came in for one episode as one of Laura’s nerdy friends who would take her to a party. The amount of positive attention White received as Urkel led the writers to make him a permanent cast member.

While he had some of the most memorable catchphrases and was a professional in physical comedy, it couldn’t last forever. White got older and aged out of the nerdy Urkel. Also, many of the Urkel-centric plots such as his good-looking twin made the show lose its believability.

South Park Has Been On TV For Almost A Quarter Of A Century

the main four characters of south park in winter clothes
Comedy Central
Comedy Central

Cartoons are usually associated with being a favorite among young kids, but South Park is an animated show for a mature audience. It’s been on the air for almost 24 years and follows four school-aged boys and the wacky people who live in the town of South Park.

The jokes have always been extremely raunchy and add satire to many of the present day’s biggest stories in news and pop culture. Since it’s been on the air for over two decades the episodes aren’t as strong and the shock factor has significantly dropped.

Who Were The Best American Idol Judges?

lionel richie, katy perry, and luke bryan sitting at the judges table for american idol
ABC
ABC

It’s still possible for unscripted or reality shows to jump the shark. American Idol is a singing competition show hosted by Ryan Seacrest that features celebrity judges who give feedback during each performance. American Idol aired on Fox from 2002 to 2016 and was picked up by ABC two years after its cancellation.

A huge reason why millions of people tuned in each week toward the beginning was to see the original judges of Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell. After they left new celebrities kept coming and going, which created a worse version of the original.

Friends Was Obnoxious By The 10th Season

the cast of friends looking up from a couch
NBC
NBC

If there could be one sitcom that defined a decade it would be NBC’s Friends. It lasted a total of 10 seasons premiering on September 22, 1994, and ending on May 6, 2004. The series followed a group of young adults living in a New York City apartment and focused on their relationships with one another.

Since the show lasted a long time, the storylines started to stray from the tone of what made Friends an initial success. For example, many fans were so confused when two characters who barely gave each other the time of day for nine seasons started dating in the last season.

How I Met Your Mother Told The Same Story For Nine Years

the cast of how i met your mother doing a cheer
CBS
CBS

The title of How I Met Your Mother gives away the basic premise of each episode. The narrator reflects back to the years right before his kids were born talking about how he met their mother while hanging out with his friends. This CBS sitcom lasted nine years and fans were fed up that they didn’t know who the “mother” was a lot sooner.

When it first aired it had a true spark because of the clever comedy, chemistry between the actors, and overall comfort viewers look for in a sitcom. Many fans and critics were deeply upset with the finale because they had predicted the finale from the first season.

Chris Pratt’s Fame Almost Ruined Parks and Recreation

aziz ansari, amy poehler, and chris pratt standing in front of a lake
NBC
NBC

Parks and Recreation started off a bit slow but was able to gain momentum around its second season. This workplace comedy centered around a fictional Indiana parks and recreation office with an ensemble cast that ranged from Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Aziz Ansari, Rashida Jones, Rob Lowe, and more.

Things started to go somewhat downhill when Pratt became a global phenomenon and the show had to shoot around his schedule. Also, the departures of Jones and Lowe mixed with several casting replacements made it seem as though Parks and Recreation had lost its true voice.

New Girl Made A Mockery Of A Serious Issue

zooey deschanel and jake johnson in a still from new girl
Fox
Fox

After the first season of New Girl aired on TV it was considered to be one of the top comedies of the year. Critics praised the series for Zooey Deschanel’s offbeat comedy style, the witty writing, and the strong supporting cast. By the time the series reached the seventh season, Deschanel admitted she was ready for it to be the end.

The real turning point was in a season six episode where the usually charming and quirky Jess (Deschanel) is given a restraining order from an ex-boyfriend. New Girl took a rather serious topic and turned it into a laughing matter, which upset numerous fans who thought joking about restraining orders was inconsiderate.