In defense of Fonzie jumping the shark, which is not the jump the shark moment of 'Happy Days'

Instead of "Jumping the Shark," should we be talking about "the Shamrock Sandwich" or "Kissing the Nun" instead?

On Now
Relive the Iconic Moment when Fonzie Jumped Over a Shark!
Up Next:

Thirty years ago, some roommates at the University of Michigan were drinking beers, watching reruns on Nick at Nite. Being bored, buzzed college students, one of them posed a question for discussion: "What was the precise moment you knew it was downhill for your favorite show?" One guy offered up the moment that little green alien, the Great Gazoo, appeared on The Flintstones. Another dude suggested it was when Vicki boarded The Love Boat. At last, Sean Connolly won the debate. "That's easy," he said. "It was when Fonzie jumped the shark."

Thus, in 1987, the term "jumping the shark" was born. It quickly became the perfect phrase to describe the moment when a TV show begins its nosedive from popularity or quality. Prior to this, the phenomenon was likely referred to as just "Cousin Oliver." However, in 1977, Happy Days opened its fifth season with a three-part episode titled "Hollywood," in which the entire gang heads from Milwaukee to Los Angeles for some fun in the sun.

The 90-minute special climaxed with one epic stunt. The Fonz gets into a beef with a local beach stud. They challenge each other to jump over a caged shark on water skis. The blond surf bro chickens out. Fonzie, towed by Richie Cunningham, then soars over the shark with the ease of people in Juicy Fruit commercials. Aaaayyyyyy!

Frank Fox, Jr., scripted the episode. Years down the line, the veteran screenwriter understandably became both defensive of and proud of his work.

“If this was really the beginning of a downward spiral,” Fox told The Los Angeles Times, “why did the show stay on the air for six more seasons and shoot an additional 164 episodes? Why did we rank among the Top 25 in five of those six seasons?”

He has a valid point. The greatest defense of Fonzie’s shark-jump NOT being the “jump the shark” moment of Happy Days is the sheer weight of the near seven full seasons of television that followed. Chronologically, it just doesn’t make sense. Viewership at the time did not drop off. In fact, the following year, in its sixth season, it was still the third most watched show on television.

There’s another reason the shark jump deserves a little respect. Henry Winkler did most of the water skiing himself. In a recent-ish interview on Oprah: Where Are They Now?, the actor revealed he was an avid water-skier — and even an instructor in the sport. Winkler’s father was the one who suggested that he push for his skill to be incorporated into the show.

“My father — a very, very, very short German person — he said, ‘Tell them you water-ski,’” Winkler explained to Oprah. “I said, ‘Dad, I probably won’t do that...’ He said, ‘No, no, no, this is important they know this! You tell them you water-ski!’”

Tada! The producers and writers indeed worked it into the vacation special. Winkler did all the water skiing, except for the jump. One, the producers would not allow him. Secondly, he could not perform that high leap. He was more of a wave rider.

So, “Hollywood” Part 3 did not trigger a downward ratings spiral. Also, the episode does hold some kitschy entertainment value and an impressive display of Winkler’s talent. If that is the case, it begs the question: What truly is the “jump the shark” moment of Happy Days, if not the actual shark jump?

We have some suggestions. Understandably, “jump the shark” stuck as a term because it is such an evocative turn of phrase. It's fun to say. Thus, we offer replacements that could be just as catchy to work into conversation.

1. The Widow Fonzarelli


"Fonzie's Funeral" Part 1 and 2
Season Six

As far as goofy plots go, this one is up there. Fonzie discovers a casket full of cash while repairing a hearse, like you do. Turns out the funeral home that owns the hearse is a mob front. So, what does the gang do? Fake the Fonz's death. The plan involves dressing up the Fonz in drag as a mourning Italian widow. When heartbroken girls come to pay their respects, Fonzie uses it as a chance to hug some pretty women. "My, what strong arms you have, Widow Fonzarelli," one proclaims. Meanwhile, Potsie and Ralph are gagged and tied to chairs in a dirty basement somewhere.

2. The Wooden Arnold's


"Hot Stuff"
Season Seven

The series underwent cast changes in its later years, with regulars coming and going. One overlooked change, however, was the significant shift in sets. In this episode, Chachi carelessly tosses his work apron onto a grill in Arnold's and the classic diner burns to the ground. The Arnold's set was an equally key "character" to the show. After this conflagration, a new Arnold's was built with an excess of wood panelling and a German beer hall vibe. Crucially, it lacked the '50s nostalgia of the original. During this season, the show did plummet on the Nielsen charts, to No. 17, losing nearly a third of its viewers. (It should be noted, these are still impressive numbers!) You can go visit a shark on vacation, but don't mess with the sets!

3. The Shamrock Sandwich


"American Musical"
Season Eight

After season seven, Ron Howard left the show. He was replaced by Ted McGinley, the supposed "sitcom killer." (Though, we have come to his defense, too.) Happy Days thus entered its full-on "Chachi phase," experimenting with some odd stunts. Take this musical episode, for example. Fonzie helps Chachi with his history homework, explaining Irish immigration in his own unique manner. "We're talkin' the great spud famine here," Fonz says. "All he had's his good looks and a shamrock sandwich here." The show then shifts into fantasy musical numbers, with a Dickensian Chachi crooning buttery smooth ballads about America. There's a jailhouse routine with Potsie and Al, too.

4. Kissing the Nun


"No Thank You"
Season Nine

In one of the more uncomfortable moments of the series, Fonzie, who has become a teacher at Jefferson High School, puts the moves on a new teacher. She rejects his advancements, repeatedly telling him "No, thank you." Nevertheless, he grabs her and plants a kiss on her lips. She runs away. Turns out, she is a nun. An innocent shark stunt is preferable to this predatory behavior.

5. Fighting the Clown


"A Night at the Circus"
Season 10

If Happy Days has its own Cousin Oliver, an adorable little blonde added to "Awwww!" things up, it would have to be Heather O'Rourke, best known as the main "They're here!" character in Poltergeist. She turns up in the tenth season as the daughter of Fonzie's love interest. In this episode, Mr. Cool tries to win over the child by taking her to a circus. Instead, he gets into an altercation with a clown and frightens the fragile kid.

Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


manofawholebunchofvoices 12 months ago
Whenever Happy Days runs on some retro station they should just repeat the first two or three seasons over and over. That show was just so wonderful and by the time Mork from Ork paralyzed Fonzie the show was barely recognizable. There was also one where some witch with an eye patch put a curse on Al and Fonzie and it has to be seen to be believed.
JBen 40 months ago
I miss It was a cool website.
Dario JBen 38 months ago
Me too, and, contrary to popular belief, the phrase "jump the shark" became hip in the 2000s. I heard that term a lot on the Howard Stern Show. ☺️
Chief_Ewiefee JBen 38 months ago
If you want to see the old Jumptheshark website comments go to the internet archive wayback machine, key in and pick a time period from around 2006 or earlier. The original website is still there with all the comments intact. I go there now and then for kicks.
JBen 40 months ago
I've got another theory.

In a two-part episode early in season 3, Fonzie jumped 14 garbage cans on You Wanted to See It. In a three-part episode kicking off season 4, the Fonz took on both Malachi brothers in the demolition derby. Then, in the Hollywood trilogy to start season 5, Fonzie jumped the shark. Then, in another three-parter to start season six, Fonzie did the death-defying act of...... anyone? anyone?

He rides a bull in the rodeo. 'Nuff said.
Mob39 43 months ago
I remember when I was a kid in middle school talking to my friends about what happened on Happy Days. Fond memories. We couldn’t stop talking about Fonzie “jumping the shark”

BrianHarris 46 months ago
I would add Potsie singing "Pump Your Blood" to this list.
Mob39 BrianHarris 43 months ago
Ha ha ha! True!!
DeborahRoberts 46 months ago
I loved "Happy Days" when Bill Haley and the Comets kicked off the show with "Rock Around the Clock, Richie was an innocent talking things over with his dad, Potsie was his Eddie Haskell, and Fonzie was a minor character. The show had heart and the kind of humor that made "The Andy Griffith Show" work. Then Fonzi became the central character--like JJ in "Good Times--and it was all "Whoa!" and "Heeeyyy!" and inane one-liners. Nothing against Winkler, who's a terrific and likable actor. But I guess for me that means the series jumped the shark after the first season.
Amalthea DeborahRoberts 31 months ago
While I kept on watching, I was annoyed that Fonzie became so prominent. I remember when my parents took my little brother to see his first theatre-movie, and I went along (he was 3; I was 11). It was a double-bill, of "Bambi" and "Gus, the Field-Goal-Kicking Mule". "Gus" featured Tom Bosley. Sitting directly behind us was a woman who took her young child. EVERY TIME Mr. Bosley showed up on screen, she would say - in a rather loud voice - "Look! There's the guy from 'The Fonzie Show'!" or "See the guy from 'The Fonzie Show'?" Finally, I had had enough. I turned around & said, "First of all, it's not 'The Fonzie Show''s 'Happy Days'. Second, WE KNOW!!!"
My mom didn't like the Fonzie character at all - not the "bad" things he may have done, but the obnoxious way he talked (which wasn't Henry Winkler in real life, but she didn't know that). Our ABC affiliate got poor reception so I never watched it at home anyway, we only saw Happy Days when visiting relatives. But I did hear many positive things about Henry outside of the show.

When Henry Winkler was doing commercials for "reverse mortgages" about 10 years ago, mom was more disgusted with him being in the ads than the subject matter, which she already wasn't a fan of. I'd long-since given up trying to convince her that Henry wasn't like Fonzie in real life, so I just let her think what she wanted.
GordARebelato 46 months ago
Just that they always run these sitcoms longer then they should because of $$$$. Once they start messing with the original characters chemistry, characters leaving, it never is the same and the show should end gracefully.
Delmo 46 months ago
TO me, the "jump the shark" moment is when Ron Howard left the series. It was never the same after that.
Dario Delmo 38 months ago
The 1979-80 season was Ron's last season in Happy Days.
tacy 49 months ago
I was thinking the same thing Fonzie ruined Happy Days, Jeannie should have married Roger instead of Tony and Lost in Space was ruined by Dr. Smith and Will.
wanderer2575 49 months ago
Nothing against Henry Winkler, but the show lost something when his Fonzie character took center stage. The show originally focused on the adventures of Richie, Potsie, and Ralph. I overall prefer those early episodes before Potsie and Ralph got relegated to the background,
tacy wanderer2575 49 months ago
I was thinking the same thing Fonzie ruined Happy Days, Jeannie should have married Roger instead of Tony and Lost in Space was ruined by Dr. Smith and Will.
JimSeely tacy 26 months ago
Will and Dr. Smith were LOST IN SPACE! Whaddah ya Huh?!
Devon 58 months ago
Jump the Shark has nothing to do with ratings. The Andy Griffith Show did extremely well after Barney left, but it was never the same. That’s a Jump the Shark moment/event. Happy Days started giving up on the 50s and Fonzie became almost a superhero that season. Within a short time, everybody had 70s haircuts, glasses, etc. It lost its original charm.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?