To try and pinpoint the moment that TV shows jumped the shark, Broadband Choices used data from IMDB to visualise the decline of 14 beloved programs.
Ever since The Fonz literally jumped over a shark while on a pair of water skis in Season 5 of Happy Days, the term ‘Jump the Shark’ has been used to describe the moment when a show that was once great starts to decline in quality or popularity.
With new shows popping up on our TV schedules all the time, showrunners of established shows need new ways of keeping audiences engaged - whether that be introducing new characters, killing off old ones, or increasingly outlandish storylines.
Major Spoilers Ahead
The Walking Dead
Hot Take - Negan was the worst thing to happen to The Walking Dead
While the show’s season average had dropped ever so slightly over the first 6 seasons, the quality of the show falls off a cliff during Season 7.
In this season Rick and his group faced off against Negan, a sinister baseball bat wielding antagonist who was briefly introduced in the Season 6 finale. As the totalitarian leader of the saviours, Negan quickly announces his intentions by savagely beating two members of Rick’s group to death with his barbed wire wrapped bat, Lucille.
The rest of the season had a slow lumbering pace as characters dealt with the aftermath of the event, with entire episodes being devoted to checking in with how individual members of the now fairly large cast were dealing with the loss until well after the audience had come to terms with it.
From Negan’s first introduction in the finale of Season 6 audience review ratings began to slide, the episode has the lowest rating for a TWD season finale and is the third lowest-rated episode in the show’s history. The average rating dropped yet again in Season 8 before having a slight resurgence in Season 9 with episode ratings increasingly noticeably after the show skips forward in time.
Hot Take – The Simpsons hasn’t been good since 1997
The first 10 season of The Simpsons is often referred to as the Golden Age’ and data from IMDB would certainly seem to support that claim.
As you can see from the graph, the season average begins to decline sharply from Season 9 onwards, which coincides with a change in direction as a new showrunner and executive producer took over. Matt Groening and David S. Cohen also began working on Futurama around this time and would likely have been less involved with the show.
This period in Simpsons history has been the subject of much criticism with fans labelling it as too ‘gag-heavy’ while others bemoan the transformation of Homer’s character to a boorish oaf, going as far as to call him ‘Jerkass Homer’.
The Office (US)
Hot Take – The Office Jumped the Shark BEFORE Michael Scott left
Reportedly still one of Netflix’s most watched shows, the American adaptation of the BBC comedy took on a life of its own, running for 9 seasons and becoming a global hit.
For many, Michael Scott’s departure in Season 7 marks the beginning of the end for The Office, however, according to IMDB users the quality of the show began to decline the season before.
Aired in 2010, Season 6 focused mainly on Jim and Pam's marriage, baby, and life changes, while Dunder Mifflin was bought out by Sabre. Season 6 also boasts the lowest rated episode in the show’s history. Episode 14, The Banker uses the much-maligned clip-show format and has a rating of just 6.8 out of 10.
The decline continued over the next few seasons and showrunners brought in a whole raft of guest stars including Jim Carrey, James Spader, Will Arnett, Catherine Tate, Ricky Gervais, and even Warren Buffett in an attempt to revive the show.
With a revolving door of characters coming in and out of the show, fans generally acknowledge that The Office took a downturn in later years before bringing back writers who worked on earlier seasons to end the show on an all-time high.
Game of Thrones
Hot Take – Excellent individual episodes make up for some lacklustre overall seasons
While the final season has been bemoaned by fans, the show hit its peak during Season 4, meaning that Game of Thrones actually began showing signs of jumping the shark at Season 5.
For a show that had been filled with twists, turns and unfortunate events, Season 5 was almost too cruel to some of its most established characters which may have resulted in the downtrend in viewer ratings.
Cersei, the architect of her own demise, is imprisoned by the Faith Militant before being forced to do a walk of atonement, Jon Snow is betrayed by his brothers in the Night’s Watch, Arya spends most of the season mopping floors before going blind, and Sansa is married off to Ramsay Bolton resulting in one of the most difficult to watch scenes in TV history.
Season 5 also began to distance itself even more from the books on which the show is based. This could have also had an impact on audience sentiment.
While subsequent season still have relatively strong season average ratings, these are skewed by particularly strong individual episodes that include The Door, Battle of the Bastards, The Winds of Winter, and The Spoils of War, all of which have a rating of 9.8 or higher.
As for ‘that’ final episode, which is regarded as one of the most disappointing finales of all time? SHAME!
Hot Take – JD as the lead character carried the show
Running for a total of 9 Seasons, Scrubs is another classic example of a TV show that just went on for too long - an all-too-common occurrence in American sitcoms.
While Scrubs might never earn the same accolades as some of the other shows in this list, it was an instant cult hit and the finale of its penultimate season even ended on an all-time high.
However, instead of walking off into the sunset, Scrubs was given a ninth season. A soft reboot of the show, the series focused on a new cast in a new hospital, while still featuring fan-favourite characters like JD, Turk, Dr. Cox and Dr. Kelso in cameo roles.
The audience never really took to the new characters, citing a tonal shift and the lack of a strong lead character like the beloved JD. While the show helped launch the career of Dave Franco, faced with declining viewership and poor reviews, the network finally pulled the plug on the ill-fated Season 9 after 13 episodes.
Hot Take – Trinity killed Dexter
Another show that has been slammed for its disappointing final season, its fall from grace actually began in Season 5.
Season 5 picks up directly where the previous one left off, with the gruesome murder of his wife which leaves Dexter in a state of disbelief.
Over the first few seasons, the audience watched Dexter change from loner to family man. However, in the aftermath of Rita’s death, Dexter decides that they would be better off without him and takes off. On his return, his stepchildren, Astor and Cody leave Miami to go and live with their grandparents and Dexter is left alone with his infant son, Harrison.
As he moves through the stages of grief Dexter also begins to deviate from his ‘code’, such as killing an innocent man who offends him, and attempting to murder Quinn.
These fundamental changes to his character no doubt frustrated fans and is likely the cause of lower audience scores.
Big Bang Theory
Hot Take – The boys should have stayed bachelors
Over the course of its 12 seasons Big Bang Theory was one of the most watched shows in America, regularly getting more than 15 million viewers an episode. However, when looking at the episode ratings, perhaps the show should have ended a few years earlier.
What began as a show about a pair of roommates and their friends cracking jokes about science and comic book culture.
The show was about friendship and not judging a book by its cover, but fast forward to Season 8 and all the characters are in relationships, two with each other, and the clever jokes about science have been replaced with ones about relationships and dating. Even Sheldon, who the show had long established as having difficulty understanding emotions, has a girlfriend who he proclaims his love for.
Big Bang commits three of the major ‘jump the shark’ missteps in these subsequent seasons; removal of the ‘will they won’t they’, separating a major character (Howard as an astronaut), and drastically changing the original formula. As a result, in an effort to make the lead characters more human and relatable, it seems that the writers may have killed the golden goose – though with the actors reportedly making $1 million an episode, we’re not sure it mattered to them that much.
Hot Take – No one needed El Camino
Widely regarded as one of the greatest television series of all time, Breaking Bad followed a struggling and depressed high school chemistry teacher who’s diagnosed with cancer and turns to a life of crime to secure his family’s financial future before he dies.
The show is truly unique in the fact that every season almost always improved on the last, at least that was the case for six years until Netflix decided to revisit the show in a feature length production that picks up after the events of the final episode.
Reboots and revivals are a common trope of jumping the shark, and unfortunately while we loved El Camino, overall fans felt otherwise. The sequel follows lead character Jesse Pinkman coping with the aftermath of the show’s critically acclaimed finale. However, while fans gain some closure, other characters such as Walter White’s wife, Skylar aren’t featured, which likely left fans with more questions than answers.
While El Camino has garnered mostly positive reviews from critics, the audience rating is far below the dizzy heights of the original series – citing it as an unnecessary addition to the franchise
Hot Take – Archer’s coma put viewers to sleep
An animated spoof of James Bond, Archer has received both critical and cult success, generated three books, an album, a crossover episode- and there’s even been talk of a feature film.
So why is it on our list?
At the end of Season 7 the lead character, Sterling Archer was shot and has been in a coma ever since. The subsequent season have all been part of Archer’s dreams as he drifts in and out of consciousness, seeing him play the part of 1940’s private detective, a seaplane pilot who crash-lands somewhere in French Polynesia in 1938, as well as a season set in space.
These concept seasons saw review ratings take quite a hit as audiences were put off by the dark tone of ‘Dreamland’ and ‘Danger Island’ having no grounding in Archer's actual reality. The good news for Archer fans is that the latest season, Archer 1999, seems to hint that Archer may be about to wake from his coma, something that seemed to resonate with fans who gave the season a slightly higher score than the previous two.
Hot Take – Killed by its revival
Arrested Development is considered to be one of the best cult sitcoms to ever grace our screens, that was until Fox decided to unceremoniously cancel the show in 2006 - much to the bemusement of fans.
Seven long years later it was announced that Netflix would be reviving the show and fans rejoiced, but unfortunately the fanfare was short lived as the revival proved to be a shadow of the shows original run.
One of the biggest changes from to the shows format was the decision to dedicate each episode to just one character. Considering the length of time that had passed since the last season, this initially sounded like it could be a good idea, but some characters just weren’t interesting enough to carry an entire episode on their own and the show suffered as a result.
The fifth season also proved to be a flop, an issue that was likely exacerbated by the fact that the first and second half were released almost a year apart.
House of Cards
Hot Take – The Underwood’s should never have taken the Whitehouse
In a time before international politics read like something from a TV show, there was House of Cards. A cool and witty political drama that followed the manoeuvrings of the Underwood’s as they seek to operate their way to the top of the political food chain, however, the show declined rapidly during Season 6.
During this season we follow President Claire Underwood, who wrestled the White House away from her husband, the notorious Frank Underwood in the previous season.
While this sets the stage for a new direction for the show, the Underwood’s original goal of winning the presidency had been achieved twice over leaving little direction for the story to go.
As a result, the plot became increasingly incoherent and convoluted and Netflix cancelled the show.
Hot Take – TV’s biggest roller-coaster watch
While 15 seasons is an incredible feat for any show, it’s particularly impressive for a show that has been so inconsistent over that time.
Each good season is almost always followed by a bad one before rebounding again for just long enough to keep people watching. The show hits an all-time high of 8.9 during Season 5 before a regression to the norm, however, by Season 7 the season average plummeted to new lows of 7.4 and it never really achieves the heights of Season 5 again, making Season 6 a good jumping off point for anyone watching the show who wants to get off the roller coaster before getting stuck in the next cycle.
Season 7 sees the cast deal with the trauma of the active shooter situation at the end of Season 6 and featured several episodes that experiment with the shows format – including a musical and documentary style episode.
Hot Take – Just stop watching after Season 1
With a critically acclaimed first season, eight Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe win, it looked like Heroes was set to follow in the footsteps of Lost and become the next Sci-Fi drama juggernaut.
Perhaps irreparably compromised by the 2007 – 2008 writers’ strike, Season 2 of Heroes was cut short and the following two seasons continued with the downtrend.
During the first season, the show was moved forward by our heroes learning about their new powers and coming together to “save the cheerleader, save the world”. In Season 2, fans bemoaned the length of time that Hiro spent trapped in ancient Japan, the sheer number of powers that Peter and Sylar managed to acquire became difficult to follow, and writers failed to deliver on the dystopian future that they had teased since Season 1.
The show's creator gave hope to fans by saying that he had spoken to NBC about finding a way to keep the Heroes Universe going and in 2015 mini-series, Heroes Reborn was announced. Unfortunately, Heroes Reborn continued with the downtrend and was not renewed for another season.
Star Trek (Original Series)
Hot Take – Probably has the most influential fans in TV history
One of the most culturally significant TV shows of all time, Star Trek has spawned multiple spin-offs, films, video games and even helped influence technology. However, the show owes much of its prolonged success to its fans.
Even during its now legendary inaugural season, ratings remained fair at best. However, the show aired at a time where networks were considering viewer demographics, and despite its mediocre viewership, it reached what they deemed to be a key audience.
While the show may have hit a sweet spot in terms of demographics, ratings dwindled as Season 1 wore on, and as a result, the network lowered the production budget for Season 2, something not insignificant for a show that relied heavily on props and special effects. The show’s producer was also replaced mid-season putting more of a strain on the show.
The show continued to decline in Season 3 by which time several members of the writing team who had been responsible for ensuring consistency were no longer working on the show.
Star Trek may have been cancelled earlier were it not for the number of letters sent in by fans in support of the show, ensuring that the second season and even a third went ahead despite the decline in quality.
We deemed a show to have Jumped the Shark when its most recent completed season had a lower average rating than its first season, or where the show had multiple seasons with a lower average rating than the shows overall average.
Show review data gathered from IMDB.
Season synopsis and receptions were taken from shows fan wiki pages, such as Fandom.com. Reviews were sourced from a variety of online publications including The Guardian, IGN, Vanity Fair & Den of Geek.