Why TV Shows “Jump The Shark”

You’ve most likely never heard of “season six syndrome.” That may be because you haven’t extensively studied the intricacies of television sitcoms and cartoons over the last decade and a half. It may be because I’ve just recently made up the term.

You see, over the past few years I have been noticing a very disturbing trend in the television world. It seems as if there is an immutable law of television: the moment every one of my favorite television programs reached its sixth season, they began to get worse (heads up, Don Draper). The more I researched this phenomenon, the more disturbed I became. It appears that season six syndrome dates back as far as the television itself! Dedicating the past ten years of my television life to the matter, I have made two crucial observations:

1. Generally,the first symptom of season six syndrome is when a show becomes un-relatable.

This symptom has been exhibited many times before by once great television programs. In The Simpsons, lovable oaf Homer Simpson won over America’s heart by acting as a fun-house mirror, reflecting back the laziness and stupidity of middle-class suburbia. People could relate to Homer being incompetent at his job, which made him funnier. However, in season 5 (bearing in mind a “one-season” margin of error) Homer Simpson went into outer space.

While this was still a funny episode despite the outrageous plot line, it marked the beginning of The Simpsons’ decline. This one episode opened the gates to such instances as conservative housewife Marge accidentally getting breast implants and becoming a body builder within a span of seven episodes. Stories became more un- relatable, and eventually the characters of the show began exhibiting signs of the most fatal symptom of season six syndrome:

2. The most fatal symptom of season six syndrome is when the characters are reduced to caricatures of their former selves.

This is the final symptom of season six syndrome. There is no known cure, but doctors have speculated at the cause. A network television executive will be handed information that states “Audiences approve when Dr. Gregory House is sarcastic”. He then passes along the following message to his directors: “Dr. Gregory House should always be sarcastic in every situation, and never stop for any reason.”

In the case of The Simpsons, over time, each character was eroded down to their one funniest attribute. In the early seasons, Homer Simpson is a funny moron, sure, but he’s not so stupid that he couldn’t be human. His biggest problems were his job and his kids; he could pay his bills, go to work, and make a living. It seems that by season 13, the writers decided to remove every human quality from him except anger and stupidity.

Basically, Homer Simpson was at his funniest when he could have actually been a real person. This has happened to many other greats over the course of television history.

Here are a few:

George Costanza – Seinfeld

Neurotic best friend of Jerry; Larry David impersonator.
Over six seasons, reduced to one emotion: Anger.

Hawkeye Pierce – M*A*S*H

Quick witted doctor for the 4077th Mobile Army Surgery Hospital.
Over seven seasons, reduced to Groucho Marx.

Kevin Malone – The Office

Idiotic accountant of Dunder Mifflin; Sting enthusiast.
Over six seasons, reduced to one attribute: Stupidity. By season six, he was so stupid he wouldn’t have been able to survive in the real world.

Charlie Kelly – It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

Illiterate bar co-owner; roommate of Danny DeVito.
Over six seasons, reduced to the same fate as Kevin Malone.

Arthur Fonzarelli – Happy Days

Super cool, Elvis-channeling, lady-slayer who lived above a garage.
Over five seasons, reduced to shark-jumping jukebox repairman.

But why does this happen? Why does it seem that our favorite shows are doomed to this tragic fate? Unfortunately, much like everything else in show business (except for maybe Jon Bon Jovi), sitcoms too often fall prey to the old cliché: what goes up, must come down.

At this point, you’re probably frustrated. You’re surely questioning: who would support dragging our favorite programs so long past their prime? You’re most likely grabbing an old, wooden baseball bat and preparing to smash the face of your TV in. There doesn’t seem to be any one reason why a show deteriorates in quality around season six. Maybe the original writers are eventually replaced with younger, cheaper ones (who were most likely still in their diapers during the show’s peak). Rational plot lines are exhausted rapidly, and eventually it becomes impossible to think of fresh new ideas. All of these factors eventually cause a show’s quality to dip. But still, the show goes on.

I write this as a public service announcement to television lovers everywhere. Season six syndrome is real, and running rampant across North America (and parts of Europe). Its important to recognize the signs and symptoms early if you want to protect both you and your loved ones from its sinister clutches. Despite the tireless efforts put forth by the scientific community’s brightest, there is no known cure.

So go now, armed with the power of knowledge and the “info” button on your remote, and help fight season six syndrome by changing the channel when a bad episode of your favorite program is aired.

Well…unless nothing else is on. TC mark


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  • Yaseen Hussain

    I had a similar theory! A show usually becomes stale by it’s fifth season or thereabouts. I always used the example of scrubs, how Dr Cox and JD essentially became too ridiculous (with odd occasions of seriousness) to really follow. So I stopped watching that, the Office as well, anything generally past season 5. 

    Also, best shows that didn’t go past 5 seasons;The Wire
    breaking bad (well it hasn’t but also won’t)
    Arrested Development

    and the list goes on. 

  • Simon

    Seinfeld never went down.

    • Megan

      Nah, but it did get less…tight? after Larry David left

  • richie starr

    I’m too big a seinfeld fan to criticize it, but the characters definitely changed later in the series. The office has really suffered S6S.

  • http://lifeisnotamovie.net Robin

    Even one of my favorite shows had this, Six Feet Under. Luckily they ended at the end of season 6 and 6 wasn’t a bad season at all but it started to show signs of wear. I think with what they did with Nate was so far removed from who most of us felt Nate was, including the actor. I think no show should go beyond 6 seasons, no matter how much I will miss them.

  • AMY

    Lovely work!

  • Michaelwg

    Reduction into caricature, though not a t.v show, can most easily be observed watching Ace Ventura, and then Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. I’ve never seen a more serious outbreak.

  • Erin

    Remember when Eric from Boy Meets World went from being a little dumb to full-on mentally retarded? That sucked.

  • Susie

    Never go full retard.

    • Michaelwg

      Just ask Sean Penn

  • Guest

    At least there’s a simple explanation for The West Wing: Seasons 5, 6, and 7 miss you, Aaron Sorkin. Badly.

    • Megan

      And they lost Rob Lowe too…

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VYDVROKY4PUBOKUHB3QF42FH2Y Paul S

    And this is why the greatest TV show of all time (The Wire) only had 5 seasons.

  • rebecca

    The term “jumping the shark” came from the Happy Day’s show, the episode where Arthur Fonzarelli jumped over the juke box. 

  • Itreallydoes

    Your season 5 simpsons thing makes no sense.

    “You Only Live Twice” is in the top 5 episodes for any simpsons fan. That episode was in season 8. It was also one of the most ridiculous.

    Most simpsons fans agree season 8 was the last good season, which makes sense because 1) The show runner changed to a guy who is quoted as saying “when you get rid of quality the show can last forever 2) Phil Hartman murdered 3) The voice actors went on strike for money 4) Two of the best original writers for the show left to make Mission Hill

    Go look at the episode list for seasons 6, 7, 8. Maybe two episodes per season could be considered to have a fantastic or outrageous plot line and some of those episodes are also top 10 classics. Not to mention since day one the show has had an “outrageous” treehouse of horror episode every season. NOT TO MENTION two of the shittiest clip show episodes were made in seasons 3-5.

    “This one episode opened the gates to such instances as conservative
    housewife Marge accidentally getting breast implants and becoming a body
    builder within a span of seven episodes.”

    Deep space homer and those other episodes are almost 10 seasons apart. The simpsons never really declined it was just a golden age of animated comedy (seasons 3-8) followed by a completely different show that also happened to be called “The Simpsons.”

  • Amanda

    This seems to be the case with 30 Rock. It no longer feels as though Liz Lemon has a direct line to my brain. Also, Tracy & Jenna are damn near unbearable.

  • MP9090909

     That is why Breaking Bad is ending just in time.

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