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Jumping the Shark: 10 Great TV Shows That Took a Turn for the Worse

From ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ to ‘True Blood,’ these were the moments when our favorite series started to take a nosedive

True Blood and Dexter

Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer in 'True Blood' and Michael C. Hall in 'Dexter'

John P. Johnson/HBO; Randy Tepper/Showtime

It was supposed to be an invigorating, can't-miss moment: The coolest character on television, clad in a leather jacket and shorts (?!?), would strap on some water-skis to perform a dangerous stunt. But Arthur Fonzarelli, a.k.a. the Fonz, wasn't going to wow the crowd with just any death-defying act, mind you — he was going to leap over a Great White shark. Take that, Jaws! In your face, Pinkie Tuscadero!

When Happy Days forced its most iconic character to stoop to such desperate measures, it left behind a legacy it could not have predicted: a phrase for the moment that a TV series crosses the Rubicon of audience respect, losing both its integrity and the plot. The term "jumping the shark," as coined by Jon Hein for his Website devoted to the devolution of television shows, signals a pivot point in which a writer' room starts resorting to desperate measures to maintain viewers' interest. Such last-gasp measures didn't start with Garry Marshall's nostalgiafest, of course — the less said about the Great Gazoo, the better — but it was the Fonz's date with an aquamarine predator that gave us an iconic moment in which to sum up the beginning of the end.

TV history is littered with JTS moments, and the fact that we're now living in a new Golden Age of Television (TM) hasn't stemmed the tide. So we've brought together a crack team of boob-tube-ologists and asked them to pinpoint some recent examples of unfortunate series shark-jumping. These were all beloved shows that, for one reason or another, took a left turn for the worse. Strap on your waterskis, folks.

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‘Friends’

"I take thee, Rachel…" (Season 4, Episode 24)
Ross saying Rachel's name during his wedding vows with Emily in London at the end of the Season Four cliffhanger was a giant, neon-light indicator that this must-see-TV show might continue to be your favorite for its remaining six years — but that it would never be something you could fully respect again. Sure, you'd still get lots of Chandler quips and Central Perk shenanigans before the show bowed out (it would still be therrrrre for yooooou), but that nuptial-ceremony snafu was the proverbial "shark" and point of no return; that Freudian slip is Friends essentially admitting that it would be always be as manipulative and back-and-forth-y with these beloved characters as it could be, forever. ZD

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‘Glee’

A self-made marriage (Season 2, Episode 8)
Like a shooting star, Glee burned bright and faded very fast. The Fox phenomenon was an early shark-jumper, showing cracks in its foundation by Season Two – and then, eight episodes in, sharp-tongued coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) married herself in a groan-worthy subplot and openly gay character Kurt (Chris Colfer) transferred schools due to bullying. Until this point, the show's over-the-top antics were "charming." After this episode, it often moved into eye-rolling territory. By the Season Three finale, ratings were down, the series had lost its luster at awards shows, and much of the original cast was scattered to the wind. Still, we'll always have New Directions' memorable rendition of "Don't Stop Believin' " to help hold on to that original pop-culture feeling. KK

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‘Homeland’

Terrorists hack the Vice President's pacemaker (Season 2, Episode 10)
Yes, that's right: A show that beat the likes of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones to take the Emmy for Best Drama its first season out of the gate, not only featured a storyline where terrorist hackers remotely shut down the pacemaker of the Vice President of the United States — they did it in an episode called "Broken Hearts." [Groan] While many of Homeland's problems stem from the decision to keep Marine sniper turned terrorist sleeper agent Nicholas Brody alive following a failed suicide bombing at the end of Season One, his chemistry with CIA nemesis/true love Carrie Mathison kept the show ticking artificially. (Kinda like a, well, you know.) The pacemaker twist, however, is where the show's plausibility finally took one licking too many. STC

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‘Lost’

Take you pick! (Seasons 2-6)
Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse's twisty, ridiculous, occasionally brilliant series practically made a sport out of shark-jumping. It hooked us with compelling characters and high-grade mysteries, then proceeded to raise more questions than it could ever hope to answer. No one agrees when exactly Lost lost its mojo, because there is no one JTS moment that stands above the rest. Was it when the survivors met the Others and they didn't make any sense? Or when the infamously annoying Nikki and Paulo materialized on the scene? Or when Claire got amnesia? Or when the Island traveled back in time? Or when Locke was resurrected? Or when it turned out that all the evil in the world was being held back by a literal cork? Or when… The point is, Lost disappointed us at least as many times as it bowled us over. This show was a crazy mess and we loved…well, about 50 percent of it. JS

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‘The Office’

Jim and Pam tie the knot (Season 6, Episode 4)
In its heyday, Greg Daniels's mockumentary sitcom was one of the best comedies on television, balancing cringe comedy and sweet-natured character studies. But that perfect blend began to sour around the same time as those crazy kids Jim and Pam finally got hitched; they consequently morphed into being annoying jerks, and we lost our audience surrogates into this world of socially delayed salesmen and bumbling accountants. The stakes became so low that the show had to start jumping through hoops, and the cringe humor became just plain cringeworthy. By the time the show's boss Michael Scott (and Steve Carell) departed for greener pastures, The Office was already a shell of its former self. JS

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‘True Blood’

Welcome to Faerie-Land (Season 3, Episode 7)
"I'm a faerie? How fucking lame!" Indeed, Sookie Stackhouse, indeed. True Blood was already starting to get away from itself — too many characters, not a firm enough grasp on any of them — when it revealed that the source of Sookie's occasional flashes of psychic power, not to mention her irresistible vampire magnetism, was…faerie blood. Is this any more ridiculous than werepanthers, or the idea that a Republican-controlled House of Representatives would pass vampire equality legislation? Not necessarily. But the corny, silly faerie world, costumes, and special effects made the series look unwittingly cheap and stupid rather than knowingly trashy. For a show trying to walk the fine line between camp and crap, that kind of failure is the true death. STC

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