DEBORAH CROMBIE: Here at JRW we are always thrilled to have a visit from the talented, erudite (take that, Brad!) and always entertaining Brad Parks! And Brad's topic today is one that is dear to my heart, as I've dealt with the same "Will They/Won't They and what the heck happens if they do?" dilemma in my own books.
First, here's a bit about Brad's new book, The Player--
Back in the newsroom, Carter has his hands full with his current girlfriend and with the paper's newest eager intern, not to mention his boss and former girlfriend Tina Thompson, who has some news for Carter that's about to make tangling with the mob seem simple by comparison...
It was a hard choice to pick just one quote from the praise for this book, but in the end I went with Booklist:
"Compulsively readable. . . Ink-stained heroes are a dying breed. Enjoy this one while you can."
But then I was already hooked just from the synopsis...
Take it away, Brad!
The show originally aired Sept. 20, 1977. It was the third episode in the fifth season of Happy Days, then one of television’s most popular programs, and it was given the innocuous title “Hollywood: Part 3.”
By most measures, it was another rousing success for the franchise. It pulled a 50-plus share—these days, only the Super Bowl surpasses a number like that—and was watched by more than thirty million people.
Sadly, it will not be remembered for any of that.
It will be remembered as the one where Fonzie jumped the shark.
Thanks to YouTube, which assures that no moment of ignominy is ever lost, you can judge the scene’s merits for yourself. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Just don’t get lost in shark attack videos for twenty minutes like I did. It’s only a 45-second clip…
… Okay, so first reaction: Wow, was that really a future Academy Award-winning director driving the boat?
Second reaction: Pretty bad, right?
Now, let’s be clear, I am theoretically here at Jungle Red to pimp a new book—it’s called THE PLAYER, it got some starred reviews, please buy it—but I am mostly here to pump the Reds and the rest of the salon dwellers for your collected wisdom about a writing problem I’ve been pondering.
But first back to the Fonz. As all except for a few iceberg-stranded Inuit know, that scene ended up inspiring the website, www.jumptheshark.com, which invited users to opine about the momenttheir favorite shows passed their sell-by date. In the early days of the internet—we’re talking 1997 here folks—it quickly became a sensation.
While the site no longer exists, “jump the shark” has solidified its place in the modern lexicon to the point where it is so overused—do we really need to talk about when a politician has jumped the shark?—the phrase, itself, is in danger of jumping the shark.
But what I really want to explore is one of the most heartbreakingly common causes of JTS Syndrome: when two characters whose sexual tension has been a primary source of conflict in a long story arc finally get it on.
This sad turn of events is perhaps best captured by the eighties classic Moonlighting. When Dave and Maddie finally got together, a show that had Americans huddled around their 28-inch round-screen televisions went straight into the tank.
Now, let’s be clear, since we’re all readers: book series can jump the shark, too. We can all think of authors who charmed us with their early work only to disappoint us later. But we’ll mostly be too polite (cough Janet Evanovich cough) to mention them.
Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking about this a lot because of a writing dilemma I’m currently having. In THE PLAYER, the aforementioned fifth installment of my series featuring sometimes dashing investigative reporter Carter Ross, two characters who have been gravitating towards one another for quite some time end up getting even more enmeshed. (I won’t give away more, though all twenty-eight of my fans can probably guess who I’m talking about).
The question is: what do I do now? In some ways, events have conspired to the point where it would be unrealistic for the characters not to get together.
On the other hand, if I let them have their Happily Ever After, would their matrimony lead to shark-jumping?
Now, I’d like to think the relentless pacing of my novels, the layers of suspense that I build—to say nothing of my deathless prose—make it impossible for the series to even come close to hurtling any cartilaginous marine fishes.
But I bet the writers at Moonlighting thought that, too. And look how that turned out.
Clearly, the consummation of a longstanding relationship can be done well. Going back to the television world, I think of the show Castle. When Richard Castle and Kate Beckett got together at the beginning of this season, the show’s intensely loyal following—which I count myself among—braced for the worst. Yet we’ve been rewarded with another marvelously entertaining season. The interplay between Castle and Beckett has changed, obviously, but it’s as delightful as ever.
The question is: what separates Castle from Moonlighting? How do you get two characters together yet still keep it interesting? Do you have to find a way to keep some kind of dynamic tension between the lovers? Or do you run the risk of jumping the shark even more, like Moonlighting did when it had Maddie marry some dude she had just met on a train in a lame attempt to keep her and Dave apart?
Help me Reds! You’re my only hope.
Brad Parks is the only author in history to have won the Shamus, Nero and Lefty Awards. His latest book, THE PLAYER, received starred reviews from Kirkus and Library Journal. RT Book Reviews made it a Top Pick for March, saying, “Parks has quietly entered the top echelon of the mystery field.” The Reds know this is absurd, since Brad has never done anything quietly in his life. Nevertheless, you can visit him at www.BradParksBooks.com.
DEBS: So, readers, tell Brad (and us!) what you think? (If you can tear yourself away from watching YouTube videos of the Fonz...) Is it possible to overcome the Moonlighting Syndrome?