Anna Blackburn examines the exhaustion of continuous content by filmmakers over the past few years.
The famous idiom ‘jumping the shark’ was coined in the 70s after beloved Happy Days character Fonzie literally jumps over a shark on water skis. This phrase has since been used to describe the moment a show has peaked and subsequently begins its creative decline. Since the debut of streaming services, the way in which we consume content on a mass level has also changed the way new storylines are adapted for the screen. Due to the public’s binge-watching, shows are under more pressure to deliver more consistent and enticing storylines at a quicker rate, but this comes at a price.
When television was written to be released on a weekly basis, writers could leave the audience in anticipation and expect their return. This is not to say that shows don’t still leave you wanting more at the end of each episode, but the ability to immediately satisfy that hunger by the “Next Episode” button, for me, takes away some of the suspense. Let’s consider the Netflix hit, Outer Banks. Currently in production, fans of the teen treasure hunt drama are waiting anxiously for the return of their characters in season three. Now, I’ll admit the first season of this show was a guilty pleasure and I enjoyed the mystery of the first season, but the premise of the show was to find the missing treasure from the Royal Merchant and by the end of season one the characters had accomplished this. In my opinion, if they wanted OBX to last longer, they shouldn’t have solved the initial mystery by the end of the first season. While the show is still popular enough to come back for another season, it seems that the writers are very much reaching for straws at this point.
The same cannot be said, however, for NBC’s Manifest. This show was cancelled by NBC due to the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving audiences with the biggest cliffhanger so far. When the show was released on Netflix it became an instant hit and devastated fans begged for another season. Why is it that this show is still so popular compared to OBX? For starters, while shows which revolve around teenage protagonists tend to be the most popular initially, their storylines are exhausted and often go from relatively realistic to straight up impossible. Unlike OBX, the initial mystery set up by Manifest writers of what supernatural force brought back the passengers of Flight 828, has yet to be solved which ultimately led to the rights of the show being bought by Netflix who are releasing a fourth and final ‘super’ season expected in late 2022.
...but the ability to immediately satisfy that hunger by the ‘Next Episode’ button, for me, takes away some of the suspense.
Similar arguments can be said for HBO’s Game of Thrones, whose creative decline can be attributed to the first six seasons being based on George R.R. Martin’s best selling books and the final seasons being written solely by the writers as Martin had yet to finish the series in novel form. So why then do television shows continue with shows that have so clearly ‘jumped the shark’ and how do filmmakers know when to stop? It’s clear that they don’t, as writers and filmmakers, like their audiences, become invested in their cinematic creations. However, there is a simple explanation as to why they continue to produce shows which have already jumped the shark which is unfortunately easy to guess: money. Hollywood is a business like any other and new seasons, no matter how rushed, unfocused, or terrible they may be, are still watched by many and make significant amounts of money. It may be hard to let go of the characters you have become so invested in, but these days, writers and filmmakers are certainly making it easier by the end.