Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Jumping the Reality Shark

Let me start this post by saying that I do not condone my use of the term 'jump the shark.' It's actually on my list of words and phrases that people should be caned for using. Along with man card, maverick, ponzi scheme, wall street to main street, and a few others. Unfortunately, shark jumping is the topic of tonight's post, so it's unavoidable. For those of you not familiar, Jump the Shark is a term used by TV critics and others to denote that a television show has basically gotten ridiculous or veered off course from its initial plot. I guess you could say that about my blog. The term itself comes from an episode of Happy Days when Fonzi attempted to jump over a Shark while skiing. I think I'd like the term better if Fonzi would've jumped over a skeleton instead, then we could say 'Jump the bones' which is always fun to say. Most traditional shows (sitcoms, dramas, etc) just  jump the shark by adding a new character or new pet or killing off a character. But this isn't a post about traditional television, it's about reality shows jumping the shark.

Jumping the reality shark is much more difficult. In order to do it, a reality show has to do what it has always been doing, but to take it to the extreme. I thought of this last night when I was watching The Biggest Loser. Most of our loyal readers know that The Biggest Loser is one of my favorite shows. Based on my sliding weight scale, I can relate to the contestants (both the before and after), but now they've gone a little too far. During the first few seasons, the people were definitely fat, but the kind of fat where you can say 'hey I think I saw that lady at Wal-Mart last night.' In order for TBL to jump the shark, they had to get fatter and fatter contestants. Instead of guys weighing a solid three bills and women tipping the scales at a deuce, or deuce and a half, they are moving toward TLC fat. This season they've got a guy that weighs over 450 and a girl over 320. The only way that they can push the fat envelope any farther would be to start taking some people from TLC or Discover Channel, like that 1,300 lb dude in Mexico or the lady that eats 32,000 calories per day. Oh, and their also getting older contestants. There's like some 70 year old guy on this season who nearly had a grabber during the first day of working out. I'm thinking that maybe TBL is looking for some kind of product tie-in with defibrillator paddles or something.

It's not just The Biggest Loser. Extreme Makeover Home Edition is also getting more and more ridiculous. It started out with plot lines like 'parent died, let's build 'em a house' or 'kid is sick, let's build 'em a house.' I guess that got sort of stale. They've now moved onto things that sound as if they were inspired by a country song (wife left, lost job, dog ran away, kid in the service, dust bowl took all the crops away, etc). I have a theory that Ty Pennington has something to do with this. Not that he's embellishing the stories, but that he's actually harming the families to make better stories. Like he's got a family that is almost downtrodden enough for Sunday night, but then thinks to himself "yeah, it's good, but it would be better if the dad didn't have any legs." I'm not saying that he's doing it, but I think he's involved. The Real World isn't much better. The last season actually had a meth head stripper, a chick with an eating disorder, and an alcoholic. I'm not sure how much further they could go.

So this got me thinking about other reality shows that I watch and what they could possibly do to jump the reality shark:

Survivor - Start killing off people. Maybe not all of them at first, but eventually it would be like Surviving the Game. You know, the mid 90s movie starring Ice T. Where a bunch of hunters went into the woods and started hunting humans. Yeah, it would be like that.

Real Housewives of Atlanta - I've got a couple of thoughts here. First they could give the stars stun guns during the reunion show. I'm pretty sure that Nene would use hers on Kim. If that wasn't enough to boost ratings, maybe they could add Amy Winehouse to the cast. True, she's not a housewife, and she's not from Atlanta, but she is batshit crazy, which seems to be the only requirement for getting on that show.

Jon and Kate Plus 8 -  They could make Jon and Kate take custody of the Pitt-Jolie children, which would be Jon and Kate Plus 14. But I'm afraid that would probably make Jon snap and maybe we'd end up with Jon Minus 15. It would just be Jon. Sitting alone in a dark apartment. Shaking.

American Idol - Lots of people think that adding the 4th judge was jumping the shark. Still others think that when Paula went from being a little tipsy to being full on sweating scotch drunk that this was a sign of shark jumping. I don't think it was either of these things. I think it's when they went from highlighting bad singers to highlighting bad singers with mental problems. Honestly, when was William Hung not bad enough? Did they really have to put on kids that have special needs in addition to a bad voice?

Alright. That's all for now. If you've got any thoughts of reality show shark jumping, post it as a comment. It doesn't matter how obscure the show is, I probably watch it. Or your comment will motivate me to start watching. Unless it's Big Brother. That show is lame.


Cat said...

Thanks for teaching me a new term. But now I have a question for you...

So what is it called when the very first season of a show starts off as absolutely ridiculous? Like "A Double Shot at Love" where those twin blonde bisexual girls have both men and women competing to be with them. That show is nuts!

McCaughey said...

Trading Spaces is definitely one that 'jumped the shark". I immediately stopped watching after Hildi decided to wallpaper the bathroom using artificial flowers.

I think 'House Hunters' on HGTV needs to jump the reality shark. Perhaps showing a house with a completely inappropriate room. Did they choose House #1 with your run-of-the-mill psychopath photo-covered walls or House #2 with crime tape, chalk outline and limited disclosures?

Nate said...

Cat - The term for that is MTV. If you consider that they are supposed to do what VH1 does, but be a little more risque, then it makes sense. How else can you be more inappropriate than Breaking Bonaduce, Surreal Life (sepcifically episode where Verne Troyer pees in a corner,)Rock of Love III, and Flavor of Love (specifically the episode where Pumkin spits on the other girl).

After Real World Las Vegas (which was basically the equivalent of watching Cinemax after 11pm) bisexual twin sisters is really the only way you can go. The network's hands were tied.

McCaughey - The only way that trading spaces would go farther would be to bring Anthony Hopkins on as a guest designer (as Hannibal) and have him wallpaper a room in human skin. And maybe he could convince Frank to make a lovely sconce out of the skull. Frank would probably paint some flowers on it.

My thought on house hunters was to just have an episode where Suzanne Wong took a drunk homeless guy around and had him look at places to pass out. Did he choose dark alley, the bus station, or rich guy's attic? You'll find out, after the break.

Amanda said...

I hate most reality TV, but I would SO watch Jon Minus 15.

Nate said...


I think it could happen. Kate isn't very nice to Jon. I think there are only a couple of things keeping him hanging on right now. First would be the sweet job that he got from their rich friends. Second would be some of the perks that they show gives him, like free trips and stuff. Then again, the trip still includes eight small children, so I'm not sure how much of a perk that is.

Chris Baggott said...

a "Grabber" OMG I almost had a 'grabber' myself when I read that!

Wendy said...

I could barely stomach the Biggest Loser the other night because of all the superlatives! The biggest, the youngest, the oldest, the fattest. Kind of like how every time The Bachelor is on it's, "The most dramatic rose ceremony ever." Except that they say it EVERY SINGLE WEEK.

And I admit, I watched the newest Real World last night and didn't want to gouge my eyes out. Compared to the last few seasons that I attempted to watch without much success (I'm sentimental and want every season to be great like the early ones), it was fairly tame. The season is young though, and there's plenty of time for ridiculous drama.

Ben said...

How about a show that is going to Jump the Shark, just not sure when...Man v. Food on the travel channel. Premise is this guy travels around to different cities and completes the local "eat this and get your picture on the wall" challenge. I mean, you can only eat so many cheeseburgers the size of toilet seats and steaks as big as your head.

Nate said...

Ben - My dream job is to be both on Man vs. Food and The Biggest Loser. I'd basically bounce from one to the other. Eating seven, two pound breakfast burritos in the fall, then burning all of the calories off at the ranch in the winter.