Fins de Siecle

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Ws a sophomore at the University of Michigan, Jon Hein and his roommates would crack open a couple of Schmidts and discuss the merits of Nick at Nite. One fateful evening, the discussion turned to when, exactly, their favorite TV shows took an irreversible turn for the worse. When Happy Days came up for debate, there was none: “When Fonzie jumped the shark, of course!” The phrase stuck. Fifteen years, a popular website and now a new book later, “jump the shark” has been adopted to describe the nosedives of everything from Three’s Company to the Soviet Union to one’s own dysfunctional relationships. Below are just a few of the saucier highlights from the book.

MORK & MINDY (1978-1982)
The Birth of Mearth

“Nanoo, nanoo.” Let’s cast Robin Williams as an alien, give him rainbow suspenders, stick him with a woman in Colorado, and see what happens!
     Yet another spin-off of Happy Days (don’t ask), Mork & Mindy chronicled the experiences of a visiting alien — Mork from the planet Ork — and his earthling housemate Mindy McConnell. At the end of each episode, Mork would report his findings to his superior, Orson, who was heard but never seen.
     Mindy’s father, Fred, who owned a music shop, and her wacky grandmother, Cora, complimented Mork and Mindy during the first two seasons. Mindy had some issues to deal with, but this show was Robin Williams’s chance to show America what he could do . . . and he made the most of it. The show became a tremendous hit as Mork learned human emotions and adjusted to the day-to-day life of an earthling.
     The shark fin made an appearance as early as the third season, when Mindy’s dad and grandma disappeared, and deli owners Remo and Jean DaVinci relocated from New York to Boulder. Shazbot! Mr. Bickley, a grumpy neighbor (Tom Poston, of course), and Exidor, a bizarre “prophet” that Mork befriended, started to appear more regularly. Special Guest Star Raquel Welch appeared as an alien captain who had the hots for Mork, and there was even an episode where Mork met Robin Williams.
     Mindy’s relatives were brought back for the next season, but the shark was circling in for the big kill. The show took an unprecedented leap over the shark when Mork wed Mindy, and they honeymooned on Ork, and Mork laid an egg that hatched into Mearth, as portrayed by Jonathan Winters. Please take a moment and read that sentence again.
     The shark wasn’t hungry for a while after that.

MADONNA (1958-)
She Writes About Sex

Madonna redefined the pop star of today by constantly reinventing her image yet never failing to forget to keep her music on the top of the charts. My childhood friend Todd Anderman said it best back in 1984: “She’s so hot.” Madonna Louise Ciccone hails from the great state of Michigan and is a fellow U of M alum (there’s a shrine in her former dorm room). She came to New York to be a ballerina, but ended up as a drummer for the pop/disco band The Breakfast Club. She soon became the lead singer, and then went out on her own penning catchy club tunes.
     Madonna debuted with a self-titled album that brought dance music to the forefront of pop. “Holiday,” “Borderline,” “Lucky Star,” “Everybody,” “Physical Attraction,” “Burning Up,” . . . nearly every cut was a bonafide hit. Her boy-toy sex appeal helped sell records, but Madonna’s dance music (she wrote the songs) was what put her on the map.
     A superstar was born with her follow-up album, Like a Virgin, which featured the title track, “Into the Groove,” and “Material Girl.” The music fell short of her first release, but her image was cranked up several notches by the videos that built up her sexy profile. She soon launched her acting career by playing herself in Desperately Seeking Susan, which is critically acclaimed for reasons which elude me to this day.
     Old Playboy and Penthouse nude photos soon emerged as she began her rocky marriage with Sean Penn, but nothing could hinder Madonna’s celebrity. Her next release, True Blue, featured the title track, “Open Your Heart,” “Live to Tell,” and a cropped blond haircut. It also included the preachy “Papa Don’t Preach,” a horrible “Thriller”-length video chronicling Madonna’s struggle with abortion and featuring Danny Aiello as her father. Later that year the film Shanghai Surprise, which co-starred hubby Sean, was released. The shark couldn’t even circle, it was so repelled by this garbage.
     Who’s That Girl? came next with typical results — number one single, horrendous film. After divorcing Penn, Madonna got back to basics and released Like a Prayer, which featured many hits including “Vogue” and “Express Yourself.” Not willing to give up the big screen, Madonna stared in Dick Tracy and a concert tour film, Truth or Dare, which were moderately successful at the box office, and followed with an appearance in the chick flick A League of Their Own.
     In 1992, it was time for another image makeover, so Madonna released Erotica, which was not as successful as her other albums. She sailed over the shark with her book, Sex, a steel-bound, soft-core collection of photographs of herself, Vanilla Ice, and other “models.” Madonna hasn’t been the same since.
     Bedtime Stories was moderately successful with “Take a Bow,” but Madonna was losing her trend-setting impact. She took yet another crack at movies with a critically acclaimed, hardly seen performance as Evita, and also had her first child, Lourdes. Madonna the mom. Ray of Light and Music became popular techno albums, but the Material Girl has fallen in with the pack instead of brazenly leading it as she once did.

HUGH GRANT (1960-)
Meeting Divine on Sunset Boulevard

Maybe it’s a British thing, but if Liz Hurley were my girlfriend the last place you’d find me would be cruising Sunset Boulevard.
     Hailing from London, Hugh Grant had been a significant star in the U.K. for more than a decade by the time we first noticed him in Four Weddings and a Funeral. His immediate popularity in the U.S. was demonstrated by the seven films he did in the two years after his crossover hit.
     Hugh’s irresistible, foppish Englishman was a character not often seen on the America screen. He was the antithesis of macho, and women around the world fell hard for Hugh. He had Elizabeth Hurley on his arm, and People had named him one of the hundred sexiest stars.
     All the attention went to his scruffy-haired head pretty quickly. We spotted a fin when we learned Hugh’s next project was a buddy comedy with Tom Arnold called Nine Months. Baby films and Tom Arnold are a lethal combination. But it was what Hugh did off-screen in 1995 that sent him over the shark — getting arrested on Sunset Boulevard for “lewd conduct” with hooker Divine Brown. One might say that the shark jumped him.
     Why Elizabeth Hurley’s boyfriend needed to troll down Sunset Strip looking for love has perplexed us for years. It was a huge personal and professional embarrassment for Grant. He got some points back for apologizing publicly and profusely on The Tonight Show, but the damage had been done. He wouldn’t have another strong role until Notting Hill, and his image will forever be tainted.
     Hugh is now making the most of playing the charming villain, as we saw in Small Time Crooks and Bridget Jones’s Diary. Clearly his range extends beyond the fumbling lovable goof on which he made his name. But every time we look at him now, we see a police-issue flashlight illuminating his million-dollar grin. Sometimes the shark comes in high heels and fishnet stockings. Bloody hell.

Is Marv Kinky? Yes!

Marv Albert was more than just a successful play-by-play man. The unprepossessing sportscaster with the obvious toupee was a celebrity of sorts, what with his appearances on Letterman and SNL, as well as his easily imitated catchphrase “Yes!” In 1997, however, he became more famous than he’d ever wanted to be.
     Marv had been involved in trysts for some time. His sexual tastes apparently involved biting. One day the tryst bit back. His lover, Vanessa Perhach, accused him of throwing her down on a bed and forcing her to perform oral sex. He also bit her on the back a number of times. Rumors were flying. Allegedly Albert liked threesomes and wearing feminine undergarments. (These kind of highlights were never played on Letterman.)
     Supposedly he was mad at Perhach that day for not bringing a third party. Surprise witness Patricia Masden claimed Marv had bitten her and tried to force her to perform oral sex. That was more than enough for her: She ripped off his toupee and ran. Marv had just jumped the shark.
     On the other side, Albert’s defense team claimed that Perhach had a history of making inflated allegations against boyfriends who ended relationships with her. Albert’s attorney, Roy Black (who’d gotten William Kennedy Smith off in his rape trial), claimed Perhach was angry with Albert since he was about to marry someone else. Much of Marv’s argument couldn’t come out in court due to rape shield laws preventing the victim’s sexual past from being discussed. Marv knew it was time to throw in the towel. He decided to plead guilty to the biting in order to have the rest of the case dismissed. He was charged with a misdemeanor, and with no previous record, he avoided jail time.
     Still, the scandal was out. NBC fired him. (The joke was that they gave him a pink slip . . . and he put it on.) Albert laid low for about a year after jumping the shark, but eventually got back into sports broadcasting. It’s really the perfect job for him, since TV is full of backbiting.

Al GORE (1948-)
Al and Tipper Suck Face

All the Letterman appearances in the world couldn’t change the perception that Al was a stiff.
     The public didn’t warm to Al Gore. Michael Dukakis easily beat the Tennessee senator for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988. Dukakis! That might have spelled the end of Gore’s national career, but for Bill Clinton choosing him as his running mate in 1992. Gore served faithfully as veep for eight years, biding his time, ready to reemerge as soon as his boisterous benefactor got out of the way.
     Gore had little trouble outflanking Bill Bradley to gain the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000. The national convention was his big chance to bury the old, distant Al. Al Gore is dead . . . long live Al Gore. He was due for an upgrade.
     The people breathlessly awaited his acceptance speech, but it turned out that something else would leave them breathless. His wife, Tipper, who wasn’t wearing a warning label, introduced him to the cheering crowd at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. He took the stage and then he almost took his wife. He grabbed her, hard, and their lips locked in a passionate suction that clocked in at four plus seconds.
     The next day, some discussed his speech, but most of the commentary was about “The Kiss.” The pundits were perplexed by this prominent public pucker. Was he morphing from stiff to stud? Was this a new kind of “family values”? Was he saying “I’m not Bill Clinton — when I kiss someone, it’s my wife”? Some thought it a magical moment; we thought he jumped the shark.
     Regardless, there was a large contingent that simply found it the biggest “ewww!” moment since Michael Jackson publicly planted one on Lisa Marie. It just wasn’t . . . right. We discovered we preferred the wooden Al, dull but dependable.
     Gore went on to lose a hotly contested election but continues in his quest for hipness with his recent beard. He’s got all the time in the world to make out with Tipper. Take it away, Al.

Excerpted from the book
Jump the Shark:
When Good Things Go Bad

published by Dutton, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc.
? 2002 Jon Hein.

To buy this book, click here.

? 2002 Nerve.com.