Happy Days star Henry Winkler is “very proud” of his “jump the shark” notoriety. Winkler, who played Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli on the sitcom, literally jumped a shark on water skis in an episode, which later inspired the “jump the shark” pejorative used to describe the moment a movie or TV show became creatively bankrupt.
In an interview with Yahoo Entertainment, Winkler says, “I am one of the only actors in the world who has jumped the shark twice — once on Arrested Development and once, of course, the original on Happy Days. I'm very proud — very proud.”
Winkler says his father, Harry, set him up for the fishy stunt. “My father kept telling me to tell [Happy Days creator] Garry Marshall that I water-skied,” says Winkler. “I said to Garry, ‘My father wants you to know I water-ski. Next thing I know, I'm water-skiing! I did all the water-skiing for the jump, except for the jump. They wouldn't let me do stunts. Not only that, but I didn't know how to jump! I knew how to water-ski, but I didn't know how to jump like they do in the show.”
Two College Students Coined the Phrase “Jump the Shark” in 1985 About Henry Winkler's Big Scene
University of Michigan roommates Jon Hein and Sean Connolly coined the phrase “jump the shark” in 1985 during a discussion about when their favorite shows started to stink. Someone mentioned when Fonzie jumped the shark on Happy Days, and Hein created JumpTheShark.com in 1997 to list the exact moment that each show jumped the shark. The episode in which Fonzie jumped the shark is season five, episode three, titled “Hollywood: Part 3.”
In the project The Interviews: An Oral History of Television, Ron Howard — who played Richie Cunningham on Happy Days — talked about the “Hollywood: Part 3” episode. He says:
“I remember Donny Most and I sitting there, looking at the script. Donny was really upset. He said, ‘Oh man look at what our show has kind of devolved into. It's not even very funny, and you know Fonz is jumping over a shark' … and I kept saying ‘Hey Donny we're a hit show, relax. You know it's hard to have great episodes one after another. Fonzie jumping over a shark, it's gonna be funny and great …' I remember thinking that creatively this was not our greatest episode, but I thought it was a pretty good stunt, and I understood why they wanted to do it…. But the thing that has to be remembered about the jumping-the-shark idea, is that the show went on to be such a massive success for years after that. So, it's kind of a fun expression, and I get a kick out of the fact that they identified that episode (because granted maybe it was pushing things a little too far), but I think a lot of good work was still done after that show, and audiences seemed to really respond to it.”
Winkler says that he doesn't hold a grudge against Hein and his pals for suggesting that the infamously fishy Fonzie moment ruined Happy Days. “We were number one for years after it,” says Winkler to Yahoo Entertainment. “I met Jon Hein … and did his radio show once, so here we are. We're both standing!”
Happy Days streams on Paramount+ and Pluto TV.
Robert DeSalvo is a professional writer and editor with over 25 years of experience at print and online publications such as Movieline, Playboy, PCH, Fandango, and The A.V. Club. He currently lives in Los Angeles, the setting of his favorite movie, Blade Runner. Robert has interviewed dozens of actors, directors, authors, musicians, and other celebrities during his journalism career, including Brian De Palma, Nicolas Cage, Dustin Hoffman, John Waters, Sigourney Weaver, Julianne Moore, Bryan Cranston, Anne Rice, and many more. Horror movies, sci-fi, cult films as well as gothic, postpunk, and synthwave music are what Robert geeks over.