Poor Henry Winkler. When Arthur Fonzarelli risked life (and limbs) in an aquatic stunt during a 1977 episode of Happy Days, not even the Fonz could have known he'd coin a term forever designating the beginning of the end for popular TV shows: "jumping the shark."
Fast forward 33 years and take a closer look at Fox's American Idol. It's still a ratings champ, but are those water skis that Randy Jackson is wearing at the judge's table? Why is Ryan Seacrest donning a leather jacket? And who put Ellen DeGeneres and Kara DioGuardi behind the wheel of the speedboat?
Somewhere out in L.A., Winkler is saying "uh-oh" instead of "Aaay!"
5 signs a TV show is jumping the shark
1. A KID IS ADDED TO THE CAST: Cousin Oliver is probably still in therapy for breaking up The Brady Bunch. Pin the blame on little Andy Keaton for the demise of Family Ties. (Though we think Scott Valentine, as Mallory's boyfriend, deserves equal blame.) And setting sail with Vicki Stubing, the captain's love child, helped sink The Love Boat.
Trouble for Idol? Adding 39-year-old DioGuardi wouldn't seem to count, though her spat with Bikini Girl last season was a bit childish.
2. THE BIG STAR LEAVES: Very few shows actually improve when stars move on. (M*A*S*H's Wayne Rogers and McLean Stevenson, we're looking at you!) George Clooney checked out of ER after five seasons, but the show managed to limp forward another 10 years. But the Happy Days were over by the time Ron Howard/Richie Cunningham left the show in 1980.
Trouble for Idol? This is the first season without Paula Abdul. Next season: Goodbye, Simon. Those are alarm bells you're hearing.
3. TAKE A TRIP TO HAWAII: Actually, any beach will do — Fonzie's infamous shark jump happened during a California trip — but Hawaii offers the ideal climate for television disaster. Brady Bunch fans: Remember Mike Brady taking Alice, Carol and the kids on a big family trip? Rule of thumb: If the guest stars included Don Ho, find a new favorite TV show.
Trouble for Idol? The reality show did auditions in Hawaii for Season 3 and survived just fine.
4. THE SPINOFF IS BETTER: Archie Bunker just got grumpier when The Jeffersons started moving on up and eclipsed the popularity of All in the Family. It probably felt like a stake to the heart when Angel and David Boreanaz fled from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. At least Frasier waited until last call at Cheers to hang a shingle in Seattle. As for the great Diff'rent Strokes vs. The Facts of Life debate, we're not picking sides. Just get well soon, Gary Coleman!
Trouble for Idol? Cowell plans to bring X Factor to the United States after leaving Idol. If he snags Abdul as a judge, it's "Seacrest Out!"
5. TWO STARS HAVE SEX OR GET MARRIED: "Dancing in the sheets" makes for good pop song lyrics but lousy TV script-writing. Just ask Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd. It didn't take a private eye to see that Moonlighting turned to green cheese when Dave and Maddie shacked up. And hey, Ross and Rachel, Chandler and Monica? The show is called Friends, not Friends With Benefits, for good reason.
Trouble for Idol? Fans always had their suspicions about Cowell and Adbul. If true, their romance would be the biggest thing (i.e. disaster) since Joanie Loves Chachi.