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.

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