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Jumping the Whale

Congratulations folks, we've finally done it.

11:00 PM, Oct 29, 2006 • By LARRY MILLER
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YOU'VE PROBABLY ALL HEARD the phrase "Jumping the shark" by now. It's a show business thing from decades ago that I think has been culture-wide for quite some time. (I only heard it myself about a year ago, which, considering I'm in show business, is probably pathetic.) In case you haven't . . .

Fonzie was surfing (Now, how often do you get a chance to say that?) in an episode of Happy Days, and, well, he jumped a shark. I didn't see the thing, but I think that's close enough. Somehow it got around and became a catch-phrase among writer-producers as the point in the tenure of a show--comedy or drama--where it's been on the air so long that some of the stories start to get a tiny bit preposterous. Then usage of the phrase spread to include various agents and executives who had also, just possibly, outlived their usefulness. Since most of them never had any usefulness to begin with, this was never big news, anyway.

I think by now "jump the shark" means anything in any institution or business that has gone so far over the edge it can't and won't be pulled back. The sort of things that, one way or the other, should just go away.

And unless I'm wrong, it sometimes takes on a slighter darker hue of something that was bad and got worse; and then much worse.

I saw one the other night. A big one. Very big. Too big. Lots of you probably saw it, too. It effects us all; and it's not good news. But unless I've lost all perspective--In other words, jumped the shark a bit myself, perhaps--this one is so big the word "shark" won't do.

With this one, I think we've jumped the whale.

I WAS OUT at a trendy, late-night café on Sunset Boulevard--which happens about never--with The Divine Mrs. M., her friend Ilana, and my publicist, Hansen. Actually, we had just come from a book signing next door, and we were there early enough that the place was basically empty. Six patrons, including us. As I said, trendy. We ordered some pizza and sodas (after asking for drinks, which they didn't have: they certainly won't be getting our business again).

Now, I don't watch television in bars and restaurants. I'll notice it if it's right in front of my face, and I'll glance up periodically if it's baseball or football, especially baseball (never basketball or hockey; sorry, not interested), but on the whole, television in bars annoys me. If I ever opened a joint and made it in my own image, so to speak, there'd be no TV and no bands, just good stools and plenty of light to read by. And lots of talking. And the house would buy every third drink. And free rides home. And the waitresses would wear painter's pants. And there would be framed pictures of every girl I liked in 10th grade. And . . .

Where was I? Ah, yes. Jumping the whale.

That's when it happened. That's when we jumped the whale; or maybe it was jumped already, and we just noticed. Hansen tapped me and laughed, pointed over my head and said, "Oh, man. You're gonna love this."

I looked up and there it was. A television was on. Sound off, but it didn't matter. It was Monday, October 16th. CNN. The Larry King show.

And his guest. Maybe you saw it: Let's give him a big hand, folks, and make him feel at home. That great international traveler, raconteur, and personal style consultant, back in the States now where he belongs after his whirlwind tour, please put your hands together and welcome the comedy stylings of . . . Mr. John Mark Karr!

That's right. That guy. That disgusting guy. Not in Thailand anymore. Not drinking champagne on a plane. Not strolling through a parking lot surrounded by far beefier men. Oh, no. He's a national talk show guest now. Chatting. Can't answer certain questions, of course, like about a certain girl. Plenty else to talk about, though, eh? This and that. Plans for the future. "How I see things." You know. Book deals and such. Maybe he'll get back to teaching. Yeah, there's an idea.

Come to think of it, there is a question I'd like to ask him: "Say, didn't you win the Creepiest Guy Ever award? 'Cause I think you're up for it." Got a good shot, too. I mean, let's be honest, folks, this guy makes Kim Jong Il look like Roger Staubach.

I looked up at the screen, but it took several seconds before I got it. I mean, I saw him, but I didn't get it, because I didn't believe it. I couldn't believe it. I saw that face, and that body and that hair, and that dreamy, frightening expression, and I almost laughed out loud, because for those few seconds, I couldn't accept that it was happening. I thought it had to be a joke.