Jumping the shark

dreamstime shark jumpingI had a ‘jump the shark’ moment this week. What, you don’t know about jumping the shark?
It is a buzz phrase coined to describe the point in a TV series when far-fetched events are included merely for the sake of novelty, indicative of a decline in quality.
The term originates from an episode of Happy Days where The Fonz goes water-skiing and literally jumps a shark. There are loads of examples of bad choice formula departures in contemporary TV drama. ER had a couple and long-running medical soap Grey’s Anatomy has had several shark jumping moments – for example, the episode in which all of the surgeons started singing while operating. An operate-etta if you like. Last week, Dr Dreamy witnessed a car accident and saved three people using his outstanding medical skills and some glad wrap. Then he jumped back in his car and drove out onto the road and while reaching down to get his phone collided with a big truck. Next thing we know he’s on the operating table, trying to tell the Emergency Doctors that he has a bleed in his brain, but he can’t talk. That’s jumping the shark.

This usually comes about when the series writers feel hemmed in by the constraints of a fixed number of sets or locations. The splendid Danish political drama Borgen, for example, takes place mostly in the female Prime Minister’s home or the Castle (houses of parliament). So it’s not really surprising that the writers have the PM visiting Danish troops in Afghanistan or making a peace-keeping mission to some transparently fictitious African nation. These outdoor sorties typically happen in hospital soaps too, because there’s just so much you can do in an operating theatre where every actor is wearing a mask (or at least holding it in front of their mouth). Pastemagazine.com lists the ten worst offenders, but since they are mostly shows I didn’t watch (Will & Grace, Buffy, Roseanne, The Cosby Show), I’m none the wiser.

So here we are, about to mark the first year of Friday on My Mind, but fortunately I haven’t reached the stage where I feel it necessary to leap over sea creatures. It’s just that seeing the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy prompted me to talk about our secret obsession with medical soaps and obscure sub-titled drama series.
And an anniversary like this is kind of important; it prompted me to finish printing out the weekly column and filing it in a ring binder appropriately enough called Friday on My Mind. I print another copy for my sister in New Zealand who does not have a computer. That’s right; some people don’t have computers, or mobile phones or even answering machines.
So I’m thumbing through these 62,400-odd words, and odd some of them are indeed, to see how I went.
There’s a few that didn’t work because I tried interviewing people and quoting them and then you have to edit 2,800 words to 1,200 words which is never a great idea. She Who Sorts My Syntax wrote a couple, so I’m not officially up to episode 52 yet.

There was a fair bit about our CD – you know what they say, write about what you know. A regular reader and house concert attendee ambled over to the “merch” table at our CD launch and playfully said: “I suppose I’d better buy one of these CDs you’ve been banging on about for ages.” He bought multiple copies, so I figure he was just making a point, and a good point it was.

If you only just found us
For those of you who recently joined, I’ve been emailing this column to an ever-growing list of people and then I post it to a WordPress website. If you subscribe or “follow” on the website, the column comes to you as an email in any event. It’s just dressed a little differently. I have a handful of online subscribers who evidently prefer to receive Friday on My Mind in this way. Then I post it to Facebook, where I hang out quite a bit, and Twitter, where I don’t go at all. You can post comments online or email me directly and statistics show the majority of readers prefer the latter.
As some of you might know, I wrote a column for the Toowoomba Chronicle in the mid-80s, being blessed with an editor who was happy to let me write what I liked and take the flak. My English Lit lecturer at the time, one Bruce Dawe AO, encouraged me; he liked the ye olde English I sometimes employed and what he called the “common touch”, something you’ll find plenty of in Bruce’s poetry. Try as I might, I could never break through to writing such a column in the city media; we wrote plenty of gossip columns and I contributed to The Good Mail, a famous column on the back page of the Sunday Mail. The late Don Busmer was the editor of that page or to be more accurate he compiled it while doing 101 other things to get the weekly miracle out the door. Don came in one Tuesday morning (we had Mondays off) and after an hour or two pronounced Sunday’s page a “three-piano column”. Apparently, he’d written a snippet about an old person’s home that was very keen to get its hands on a (free) piano. By Tuesday morning The Good Mail had found not one but three pianos. It was a bit like Macca on a Sunday morning but written down.

Why broadsheets were better
Journalists don’t have that kind of space to play with today and if they do, it will be social pages, fashion, cooking or showbiz celebrities (and their many marriages and children with odd names), or strange fads like twerking and jumping the shark.
The Sunday Mail in Brisbane went tabloid in March 1992 and while The Good Mail continued for some years, you could tell that sports had their eye on the back page. When broadsheet newspapers convert to tabloid format, the main thing that happens is you get roughly half as much news and what news there is has to be more actively edited.
Nevertheless, tabloid sells. Last November, Queensland tabloid The Courier-Mail (which was a broadsheet until 2006), announced it had increased its officially audited circulation by 0.13%, the only Australian newspaper to record a sales increase over the six month period to September 30.
But there’s no space for a 1200-word column in a tabloid. I’d like you to think of Friday on My Mind as an old-style broadsheet newspaper column you can read without having to buy the newspaper.
There should be more of it.