The season premiere of legendary television show Happy Days fifth season was titled "Hollywood, Part 3," and according to a number of television experts and analysts signaled the beginning of the end for the series from a creative perspective. During the episode, Henry Winkler's character, Fonzie, jumps a shark on a pair of water skis, all while wearing his trademark leather jacket.
Fast forward to 1987, when Jon Hein and his University of Michigan roommates were sitting around drinking beer and watching Nickelodeon's Nick at Night. The crew fell into an intense discussion about classic TV shows when one of them asked the question, "What was the precise moment you knew it was downhill for your favorite show?"
Someone said it was the moment when Vicki became part of The Love Boat crew, while someone else said it happened when the Great Gazoo became a regular on The Flintstones. Sean Connolly then spoke some immortal words.
"That's easy," he said. "It was when Fonzie jumped the shark."
And the dictionary was changed forever. Shortly thereafter, Hein and his crew created Jumptheshark.com, a website that listed over 200 television shows and asked fans to pinpoint the moment when each show became irrelevant, or 'jumped the shark." The site's popularity soared and Hein eventually sold the property to Gemstar (owners of TV Guide) before becoming a fixture on the Howard Stern Show.
So why would I proclaim that The Walking Dead has perhaps reached its 'jump-the-shark' moment? Let me explain: Back when I was a pre-pubescent teenager, the bands Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were just emerging on the scene in Southern California. I became addicted to each, wearing out each band's cassette tapes in my Sony Walkman. "Whiplash!" "True Men Don't Kill Coyotes." "For Whom the Bell Tolls." Even "Damage Incorporated" and the "Uplift Mofo Party Plan"! I was a funkadelic rocker and these were my bands.
Then something horrible happened. Both Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, my indie loves, became popular with everyone around me. And then the whole world! All of a sudden they were superstars and their music was playing on the pop charts. What once was so cool had become so lame! Suddenly, new songs like "Enter Sandman" and "Give It Away Now" turned me off. At that point, I stopped buying their albums and moved on new indie finds.
This analogy relates to The Walking Dead and to the zombie genre. I have been a lifelong science fiction movie buff, with zombie flicks stealing the majority of my attention. I've watched every zombie movie in existence and could argue for days on end about the merits of a fast zombie versus a slow zombie, à la The Walking Dead.
But something feels funny in my gut in regards to zombies, akin to the feeling I had when my favorite indie bands suddenly became popular.
Not only is The Walking Dead the most-watched drama series on basic cable, American society has gone zombie-mad! Instead of a population of nerds like me watching late night zombie flicks on the Sci-Fi channel, now large swaths of the population are soaking up the living dead.
There's even a new, 2013 zombie-girls-in-bikinis video calendar stealing headlines, released by a New Zealand-based advertising agency in an effort to promote The Walking Dead in foreign markets! The calendar is compelling, for sure, but truth be told the zombies in the calendar hardly resemble the zombies in The Walking Dead. The last thing I want to see is a Walker in a bikini, sprawled on a pristine beach.
Surely our leaders in government and medicine could talk some sense into our zombie-obsessed society? Maybe present some statistics about the reality of a zombie apocalypse? If only that were the case! Just last year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued zombie propaganda, with its Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse campaign, complete with Zombie Task Force t-shirts available for those who joined the task force.
This zombie madness comes with a price.
Tens of millions of viewers around the world are currently sitting on pins and needles in anticipation of what will happen next when The Walking Dead returns on Sunday. Who will get munched? What will happen to the governor? Some astute viewers, however, will sit through the show wondering, "Is this series showing signs it may become the next 'jump-the-shark' television poster child? Have we seen the best from The Walking Dead? Am I sick of zombies yet?"
Tune in on Sunday to find out.