MaHB / TV: Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

Esquire Malaysia, January 2015

HAPPY DAYS

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart
Some TV shows start out with such great promise, only to let us down all too soon.

By Sophia Goh

Television connoisseurs know the feeling: a new TV show is launched with much fanfare, and actually lives up to the hype. The plot is engaging, the lines are well written and even better delivered by a wonderful cast, and we, the viewers, are instantly sucked in. We can’t get enough of it, we chime in unison; it’s one of the best TV shows ever!

The months go by, we go through a couple of seasons because, obviously, a show this good is going to be renewed; and then, one evening, we sit down to our regular dosage and realise we’re just not that excited about it. Along the way, the show has grown flat and a little dull. The script isn’t as good as it was before, the plotlines are repetitive, and we don’t care whether the protagonist exacts his revenge anymore.

For many shows, their slide down the ratings and popularity charts is a gradual one. Fans drop by the wayside in twos and threes, until finally, barely anyone cares whether it’s on or not. But for the (once) fans, there is usually a turning point, a plot development that takes the show from must-watch to don’t-bother. There’s a term for that, and it actually originated in television. It’s called “jumping the shark” – the pivotal moment when a TV show takes a turn for the worse, and almost always never recovers.

Coined by Jon Hein, an American radio personality and former webmaster of jumptheshark.com, the term was inspired by a scene from the fifth season of the ’70s sitcom Happy Days, where Fonzie, one of the coolest characters on television at the time, straps on waterskis and jumps over a great white. The only thing worse than the idea was Fonzie’s outfit – a leather jacket and a pair of tiny shorts. Really?

Thirty-some years later, the term “jump the shark” is still as relevant as ever. The list of good TV shows that started out with so much promise, only to fizzle out prematurely, is long: Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Dexter, 24, Damages, True Blood and House MD, to name but a handful. Downton Abbey was a stroke of genius until it drowned abruptly in its own melodrama, as did Nashville. Kiefer Sutherland’s Touch had star power and an interesting premise, but little else. And when it got canned, he turned to 24: Live Another Day instead. This year, Ryan Murphy’s former mega-hit Glee will hobble painfully across the finish line of its halved finale season, and even the seemingly untouchable Shonda Rhimes is going to need something special to resuscitate Grey’s Anatomy.

We empathise. TV is a hard business, audiences demanding and difficult to please, and the pressure of high expectations tough to cope with. Good ideas run out fast while bad ones are aplenty, and before you know it, your leading man is on waterskis in a leather jacket and jumping over a shark. That’s why it’s so important not to overstay the welcome. Learn to say goodbye before we say good riddance.

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