The Fonz and HBO’s Divorce

 In Blog, Divorce

Way back in the primordial mists of the Internet there was a great website call It was a complete collection of every – I mean every – TV show in TV history and the moment they … blew it.

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 20:  HAPPY DAYS - "Fonzie Goes to Hollywood, Part III" - Season Five - 9/20/77, Fonzie (Henry Winkler) accepted a challenge to jump over a shark tank while water skiing.,  (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

It was called ‘jumping the shark’ because back in September 1977 the hugely popular, hugely successful Happy Days did just that. In the all-time, ill-advised story arc the writers had the Happy Days characters head to Hollywood for three episodes. In the finale, they had the Fonz water ski and, you guessed it, jump over a shark. A great white in a pen.

The show was a disaster. A ridiculous disaster. The series never recovered. Jumping the shark became the watch word for when a show turned south. A comedian named Jon Hein started the website in the very early days of the internet and invited people to join up and rate every TV show ever and if and where it jumped the shark.

He developed some loose guidelines, more of a ‘what to look for’ – things like shows that introduce a baby (Mad About You), substitute actors (Bewitched), resolve sexual tensions (Moonlighting), move to a new location (I Love Lucy), win the lottery (Roseanne), a host others. All of those could, and usually did, introduce a ‘jump the shark moment.’

CaptureIt’s worth noting that by the web site’s untimely demise (Hein sold it to TV Guide, they, for obvious reasons, let it lapse) in 2005 St. Elsewhere, MASH, and The Simpsons were on the very short list of shows that never jumped the shark. The Simpsons, unsurprisingly, immediately did a show where Homer jumped over a shark.

So, it’s my duty today to report that the HBO show Divorce has jumped the shark – only a few episodes into its first season.

We wrote a few weeks ago about the show and the its portrayal of ‘that guy in the bar.’ That seemed more than realistic, unfortunately, and seemed a solid sign the show was going to stay in a realistic direction regarding a lot of the various aspects of divorce.

That was destroyed in subsequent episodes, to the extent that it jumped the shark so often that there was no single divorce-hbomoment to point to. Let’s just say there were a lot – from Frances and Robert retaining expensive attorneys without having to pay retainers, to one attorney promising to ‘win’, to one working on a contingency basis (not allowed in a divorce proceeding, anywhere), to filing for divorce in a city 30 miles from their home, to, oh, so much more.

Perhaps the worst: Robert’s $750/hr. lawyer calls Frances at midnight one evening to let her know he’s ‘on to her’ and is having her followed. In a word, he threatens her. Any attorney would be disbarred for that. People are arrested for things like that.

The show now just reinforces a really old, really worn, really outdated, very discredited view of divorce as something that should be ‘won.’

So, it jumped the shark and I think I’m done with the show. Besides, Frances and Robert and most of their friends aren’t the best characters to waste a Sunday night on.

All this got me thinking, though – when you’re going through a divorce, particularly if you’re trying to go it alone, there are so, so many places where you can jump the shark along the way. A big part of my job is to prevent that – you know, ripping up the script before the show is filmed.

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