My hometown TV critic Matthew Gilbert has come up with a list of the worst jump-the-shark moments in recent television history:
1. '24' : Kim and the cougar
2. 'Heroes': The first season finale
3. 'American Idol': Sanjaya's ponyhawk
4. 'Frasier': Niles and Daphne hook up
5. 'Get Smart': Max and 99 get married
6. 'Scrubs': J.D.'s girlfriend gets pregnant
7. 'The West Wing': Bartlet's cathedral rant
8. 'Desperate Housewives': Wasting Alfre Woodard
9. 'Alias': The arrival of Nadia
10. 'ER': Drs. Greene and Corday
11. 'Will & Grace': Meeting Leo
12. 'The Real World: Las Vegas': The Las Vegas hot tub
13. 'Nip/Tuck': Sean and Christian sell the business
14. 'Grey's Anatomy': Izzy cuts the cord
Rising to the challenge, I am posting my personal Top 10:
1. M*A*S*H: In the fourth-season opener, B.J. Hunnicut (Mike Farrell) replaces Trapper John (Wayne Rogers) and ushers in the show's anachronistic "no adultery, no mysogyny, no fun" phase, which would drag on for another seven seasons.
2. Rescue Me: The entire third season was a shark tease. Susan Sarandon and Marisa Tomei guest-starred only to disappear in the show's parade of female characters who were psycho and/or inexplicably obsessed with Denis Leary's character, and "Probie" implausibly went from straight to gay to bisexual and back to straight in a matter of weeks. But the jump-the-shark moment for me was when the chief took a part-time bartending job and the bar owner, for no good reason, refused to pay his wages. The show's theme that everyone except for firefighters and fire victims were assholes was tiresome enough, but the idea that a New York City businessman would carelessly piss off city employees was preposterous.
3. Oz: I switched off midway through the fourth season, when Beecher's children are kidnapped on Schillinger's orders and he receives his son's severed hand in the mail. The initially compelling prison drama had already become less interesting when it became apparent that none of the major characters would ever change (see Poet's release and almost immediate return to prison). This is when the Beecher-Schillinger battle became more predictable than a Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoon.
4. The Andy Griffith Show: Don Knotts leaves, and the show pointlessly continues for another three years.
5. Saturday Night Live: OK, this show still has a few memorable moments each season, but it's never been the same since Joe Piscopo impersonated Ed McMahon. That's when the show shifted from the shaggy dog quality of its first few seasons and became an assembly line for celebrity impressions based on make-up and prosthetics as much as good writing. See the Piscopo comedy style in this HBO clip.
6. The West Wing: I'll agree with Matthew that the cathedral rant was pretty cringe-inducing, but I gave this show the benefit of the doubt until two characters discussed the merits of abolishing the penny, and I immediately forgot which character had said what. After that, I couldn't overlook the fact that almost all of the dialogue on this show could be assigned at random to any of the sardonic-but-idealistic characters and no one would notice.
7. The Simpsons: Epsiode No. 185, in which Apu gets married after complications of the sort we've seen in countless live-action sitcoms, was when I realized that the show's great episodes were getting farther and farther apart.
8. Columbo: More than a decade after ending his portrayal of the raincoated detective on NBC, Peter Falk returned with new episodes on ABC in 1989. Falk was still great, but the classical-style music and bright cinematography was replaced by a more "modern" score (synthesizers) and lighting (dark). Worst of all, Columbo put his own life at risk in the first episode, something totally out of character for the cautious and meticulous detective. The British have owned the classy murder mystery genre ever since.
9. NYPD Blue: "Take care of the baby!" Sharon Lawrence wanted out of the show, so at the end of the sixth season, her character is killed in a courthouse shootout, giving husband Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) yet another personal tragedy to deal with. By this point, I wanted Andy dead just to put both of us out of our miseries.
10. The Practice: For a couple dozen episodes, this was producer David E. Kelley's most tolerable series to date, depicting a Boston law firm that wrestled with such ethical dilemmas as obviously guilty clients. But Kelley couldn't help himself from loading up the show with increasingly bizarre murders that wouldn't be up to the standards of Law & Order. In the 43rd episode, there are two different serial killers terrorizing Boston, and the characters act as if this is an everyday occurrence. Buffy the Vampire Slayer looked like gritty realism by comparison.