While Scandal is the most-talked about show on social media now and finds solid success on Thursday nights (mind you, a Thursday network landscape that includes shows that feature Robin Williams, Will Arnett, Michael J. Fox, and oh yeah, can’t forget that The Big Bang Theory), creator and writer Shonda Rhimes recently sat down with NPR Morning Edition’s Renee Montagne about her hit show and revealed that she knows where, when and how the show will end:

The political landscape on the outside, in the real world, will change — possibly before Scandal is over. But I feel like there is a finite amount of Scandal to be told,” she continues. “So I know what the end of Scandal will be, and I feel really good about that. And I can see where the end point is. And I don’t think I’m going to change that. … I know how long I think it will be. But we’ll see.”

While all, if not most creators of television shows, movies, books, or any piece that requires a beginning, middle and an end know or at least envision the totality of the project, along with how things will end, but try telling that logic to devoted fans:

To be fair, Rhimes, always known for her cryptic, wait-and-see language, doesn’t necessarily say Scandal will end a year, two, or even three years from now. In fact, the other ABC show she created, Grey’s Anatomy, currently on its tenth season, actually had a scheduled end date, but Rhimes admitted she wrote “past that” and has no timetable to end the show now: “It’s going to go as long as I feel interested in what happens to those characters,” she told the radio show. I’m sure part of the reason why Grey’s lives on is because of the reliable, consistent numbers it gives ABC (while at its prime in 2006, the show averaged 22 million viewers, the last two seasons of Grey’s Anatomy averaged roughly 10.21 million viewers, yet still ranks as one of the top 10 rated shows on television and in the 18-49 demographic) and the extended contract agreement between three of the shows highest paid stars: Ellen Pompeo, Sandra Oh and Patrick Dempsey that was signed in the spring of 2012 (Oh will depart the show at season’s end).

As fans, who understand the business model, yet find ourselves setting aside time every week to bashfully enter whatever world a particular show is set in, we oftentimes ask ourselves, when is it time for our shows to end?
Police procedural dramas like Law & Order and the many spinoffs can last 15, 20 years, and often find everlasting life in syndication, when a new generation gets to experience the show for the very first time, and still makes money for the producers and the companies involved. Television dramas like Breaking Bad and Mad Men have a very specific story to tell an audience and do not wait until the network ‘greenlights’ another season to write the next arc. Sometimes, dates are set in stone (Mad Men will air its final season in 2015) Usually, specific genre shows do not have to wait until the network informs them of cancelation or cutting production cost, because they let the story unfold, unless, of course, the ratings are atrocious and the network has to cut its ties.

Sometimes fans will reject shows that are no longer at its “creative peak”: Henry Jenkins mentions in Textual Poachers that many fans of the CBS show Beauty and the Beast actually rejected the third season (which was resurrected after being canceled that spring, and the network promised ‘exciting’ changes to the show’s format) because they were unhappy with the show’s direction (Linda Hamilton’s character Catherine was killed off). Those Beauty and the Beast fans that were unhappy with the third season begged for the show’s cancelation (after pleading for the network to allow the show to live to see a third season earlier that year) and wrote fan fiction to ‘off-set’ the new episodes that were airing that December). There’s a term for that dramatic shift in a popular television show: jumping the shark, meaning that, according to WhatCulture with help from Urban Dictionary:

A metaphor that identifies the exact moment a TV show has reached its creative peak. Or to put it bluntly, it’s the beginning of the end of a once great show. The moment in which it becomes clear the writers are out of good ideas and the show has begun its decent downhill. It’s usually some ridiculous stunt, story line, major character change, or huge fundamental shift in the premise of the show that is viewed as nothing more than a desperate attempt to raise viewership and declining ratings.”

The popularity of the term “jumping the shark” refers back to season three of Happy Days, when Fonzie, yes, jumped over a shark while water skiing. The show started a major gimmicky promotional campaign on if Fonzie would ‘jump the shark’ prior to the episode being aired. Many believe the show never recovered from that moment, the perception was that writers were running low on ideas and it didn’t help that ratings declined from that season and on.

The Fonz (Henry Winkler) taking the plunge, literately and figuratively for Happy Days. Source: WhatCulture)

The Fonz (Henry Winkler) taking the plunge, figuratively for Happy Days. Source: WhatCulture)

I believe when a fan or a critic states that a show has “jumped the shark”, it is a purely subjective statement. Loyal fans may stay until the bitter end, many may find other new shows similar and because of ‘hot fresh stars’ and ‘buzzy plotlines’ may race over to the new aisle of shows. It may not be the first twist that does a fan in, but maybe it’s the second (“Wait, in season three we watched [insert main character’s name]’s kill her ex-husband, yet in season 6 we found out he’s alive and well and after her! I’m out of here!”)

TV Guide devotes a section of their website to television shows “jumping the shark” and list shows that they (editors), and fans believed, have jumped the shark with many specific reasons. For example, many believe when an actor departs, the show has ‘jumped the shark’: Fans were unhappy with Lisa Edelstein left FOX’s House, or when Christopher Meloni handed over his badge on season 12 of NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. A death of a character can sometimes cause an uproar in a fan base: Dr. Sarah Tancredi was killed on season 3 of Prison Break, but was revealed to be alive in the very next season, and do I even have to mention Bobby’s “death” on the original Dallas? Recently, fans have taken issue with the shift in setting, like on FOX’s Glee when the original gleeks graduated from McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio and the show split the fourth season between New York, Ohio, and sometimes Los Angeles.

“Jumping the shark” may not apply to or for Scandal right now, the show seems to be hitting its stride creatively and directivity and the fans are louder than ever. TV Guide recently let the fans answer the question of, how the show will end. Could Scandal be one of the few network shows that leaves the airwaves on a ‘high’ note, or will we watch as Olivia Pope tries to jump over the D.C. sharks, strapped to water skiis, decked out in all her white trench coat and Prada bag glory?

Written with StackEdit.

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Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. Great article!

    Reply
  2. I believe that a show is stronger when it knows it has a specific lifespan. The longer something goes, it seems that it becomes a parody of itself. Whatever message exists for it just gets watered down. J Michael Strazynski was rumored to have planned on ending Babylon 5 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylon_5) after its fourth season (and if you watch it, it absolutely seems like it was intended to stop there). However, one more season was produced, and it wasn’t at all good. The strength of the show seemed to be in the cohesion of the one story you followed through the series.

    I feel the same way about other media, too. One comic book, Cerebus the Aardvark, was designed to run only 300 issues, with the last issue ending with the main character’s death. It was no secret; the creator of the book always said it would end with issue 300. No surprises.

    Reply
  3. A good example of what Mike’s talking about is The Simpsons. I’m sure they are still capable of the odd joke, it’s just beyond the point of vitality. Sometimes, less is more. Fans, creators, it’s hard to tell who knows what is best for the show. I think the tweets are a vital fan affirmation of their affection. They won’t cry-presumably-when it does end, but they are expected (they feel) to bemoan the end, even if it really isn’t in sight.

    Reply
    • Thanks for these great comments! And re: Simpsons: With that new syndication deal in place, the money train keeps on rolling, so why not continue to produce new episodes? I hear they may be “shaking things up” by killing off a (major?) character at season’s end. Been there, done that?

      Reply

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About Christina Maxwell

I’m a young professional journalist with a dual B.A. degree in Radio-TV-Film and Journalism and I am currently working on my M.A. in Writing, specializing in Journalism and New Media Studies (both at Rowan University). Although my advanced degree allows me to have options in the future, for now, my main goal is finding a job in journalism. I am a journalist at heart. First hand knowledge, original reporting and precisive answers are what I strive for when I'm working. For the past two years, I have done freelance reporting with the Gloucester Township Patch, but my goal is to have a sustainable, consistent job in journalism.

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fandom, participatory culture

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