October 18, 2013
Forget Jumping The Shark, What About Running Out Of Steam (And Ideas)?
Often times, fans of TV shows like to denote when they have “jumped the shark” – that point where something so outrageous happens that the show never really recovers. This of course goes back to the hit series Happy Days, which had Fonzi jumping a shark on water skis.
The truth is that with Happy Days, the show really didn’t “jump the shark” at that point. This episode aired in the beginning of the fourth season, and it was really when Ritchie Cunningham (played by Ron Howard) left the show at the end of season seven that the show really took a downward turn. Yes, the show had become a more conventional and even outlandish sitcom; but it should be remembered this show had begun as a single camera show that was meant to build on the success of the hit film American Graffiti. It had thus slowly gone downhill from season two.
In this way, Happy Days also serves as an example of the problem many shows face, the writers simply run out of ideas – or at least ideas that make for good TV.
Consider that this season, two returning shows in their third seasons are really more running out of steam and ideas than jumping the shark. When you jump the shark, the idea is that you can’t come back from it, but the slow death might be worse.
This season, the ABC fantasy series Once Upon a Time has taken the action to “Neverland,” the domain of Peter Pan. The premise of this show has always been interesting – what if the stories from fairytales were real? Great idea and it worked really well in season one and worked OK in season two.
The problem is that this concept is more fitting of a movie or perhaps a shorter run series. At 22+ episodes a season, it is running out of fairytale twists and turns. Whatever happened to the notion of living happily ever after?
It is worse because ABC decided that instead of perhaps letting this show remain special, that it would take the CSI approach mastered by CBS and create a spinoff. Once Upon a Time in Wonderland tells a completely different tale, but with some intertwining plots.
Given that NBC has Grimm, which also is in its third season, another fairytale inspired story, and Fox launched Sleepy Hollow this season, there is no shortage of fantastical tales on the air. The problem is that when these things come at you from all the directions, the viewer slowly loses interest. This is truly a case where it can be too much of a good thing.
Over on cable things are much the same.
Showtime’s Homeland, which has won an Emmy for outstanding drama, is now also in its third season and so far it feels more like a show about overcoming adversity than that intense thriller it had been. This show hasn’t so much jumped the shark as it has just really run out of steam. You can’t keep up this level of intensity or it will wear you down.
That’s sort of the point as the main character, Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes) finds herself past the point of a nervous breakdown. Where the realism is lost is that she should be out of the picture, but TV shows don’t work like reality. It should also be stressed that the series is based on the Israeli show Prisoners of War – or Hatufim – and it ran for two seasons and had a real conclusion.
This is a problem with American series, except for the rare Band of Brothers and The Pacific, too many American shows are built on an open-ended run. There is no end-game in sight until it starts to become apparent that the steam is gone.
Let’s hope all these show runners know that perhaps it is time to start looking to the end. And whether it is happily ever after is anyone’s guess.
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