jumping the shark

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jun 11, 2006

Have you heard it said recently that someone has "jumped the shark?" It's a wonderfully expressive statement, if you understand the background.

If I have the story right, the expression comes from show biz. It seems there was a popular television sitcom, in which the main character was a tough guy who could face down any challenge. For a while the show was very popular; the screenwriters put this character into odd situations and got plenty of laughs. But eventually they ran low on ideas, and began to count on absurd plot devices rather than snappy dialogue for laughs. Finally there came an episode when the tough-guy character went to the beach, found a shark worrying swimmers, and beat up the shark.

That was too much. Sitcom viewers are ready to suspend their disbelief for a bit of amusement, but there are limits, and that episode went beyond them. The sitcom's ratings had been slipping; now they fell off the cliff. The show had become too preposterous even to be comical.

End of lecture. Now a question for class discussion: When exactly did the US bishops jump the shark?

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