A message to Hollywood: Jump off before jumping the shark

Actor Clint Eastwood once said, “You always want to quit while you’re ahead. You don’t want to be like a fighter who stays too long in the ring until you’re not performing at your best.” While this idea may seem simple, Hollywood is still struggling to grasp it. Many popular television shows prolong their run after going stale, and they need to stop producing new episodes before they jump the shark.

To understand the problem with producing too many seasons of a show, it is important to understand the phenomenon known as “jumping the shark.” The term originates from an episode of the 1970s sitcom Happy Days in which the protagonist, Fonzie, jumped over a shark on water skis. The premise showed such a clear reduction in quality of the show that people today still use the term “jumping the shark” to refer to a once-great television show that got significantly worse.

The basic logic that more seasons equals more money has led many series to jump the shark. Take The Simpsons for example, which premiered in 1989 and is the longest running sitcom in history. The very first episode of the show, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” was given an 8.1 rating by IMDB. The most recent episode, “My Life as a Vlog,” was given a 5.9 rating by IMDB. As shows like The Simpsons continue to produce more seasons, they run out of ideas and tarnish their own legacy by creating sub-par episodes.

It is also common for shows to lose their audience when they extend past their natural expiration date. The Office is an example of this. Many fans believe that the show jumped the shark with the departure of beloved character Michael Scott in season seven. According to The Atlantic, 8.4 million viewers watched Scott’s final episode. After he left, ratings plunged. The first episode of season nine (post Michael Scott era) was down to 4.32 million people. The Office made money and won over the hearts of millions in its first seven seasons with Michael Scott. They should have ended on top rather than diminish in quality and popularity by forcing ahead without its star.

It is also important to note that the end of a television series does not need to be the end of a story. This idea was shown by Breaking Bad, a popular drama about methamphetamine dealers. The show was well aware of its success, but wanted to end on its own terms. According to Express, Creator Vince Gilligan said, “I learned at that point: You don’t want to leave the party too late. You want to leave folks wanting more.” 

Gilligan was eventually able to profit more off of Breaking Bad by creating the spinoff Better Call Saul, which was set in the same universe as Breaking Bad, but followed different characters, so it felt fresh. This show was also successful, proving that there is a way for commercially-driven writers to continue to expand off of their work without ruining what they have created.

While it is natural to want more out of a show that has brought joy to millions, it is better for a show to exit with its legacy intact while it has the chance.