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The shark pen is ready

After mayor gives Fonzie the keys to the city, what's next

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Proving that irony is alive and well in the City of Winnipeg, Mayor Sam Katz plans to jump the shark this afternoon in the presence of the man who inspired the term.


At the World of Wheels car show, an annual event at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, Katz plans to present the keys to the city to American TV actor Henry Winkler, best known for playing leather-clad, nice-guy biker Arthur Fonzarelli on Happy Days.


The sitcom was one of the most successful in history. But in 1977, in the final episode of a three-part season-opener, Winkler’s character Fonzie donned water skis and jumped over a pen containing a shark.


The ludicrous climax foreshadowed the slow demise of the series, which ended with a whimper in 1984. But it also spawned one of the most popular Internet memes of the late 1990s: "jump the shark."


In 1997, a bored New York marketing executive named Jon Hein started a website called jumptheshark.com, which invited visitors to mark the moment when once-great TV shows started to suck.


As anyone who enjoyed the pleasure of having dial-up access in the ’90s will remember, the site listed a number of typical ways for series to mark the start of their declines. Shows typically jump the shark when their writers run out of ideas ("Hey, let’s have Scully get abducted!"), when cast members change inexplicably ("Let’s get the Terminator guy to replace Mulder!") or when previously platonic characters start having sex ("Let’s see what happens after Mulder and Scully finally do it!"). As The X-Files proved, one series could jump the shark a number of times.


Hein’s site became so popular, he wound up enjoying a brief career as a guest on the Howard Stern Show. His site is now part of tvguide.com, but the term he coined has expanded far beyond its original context.


Now, anything successful can be said to jump the shark when it does something silly that precipitates its decline.


Take the act of handing out keys to the city: After you give them to Fonzie, there’s no way to reclaim the act’s dignity. You might as well give them to Potsie, Chachi, Lenny and Squiggy, too.


To be fair to Sam Katz, Henry Winkler is hardly the worst candidate to receive a key to the city.The man is an author of children’s books that help kids cope with learning disabilities. He’s also a humanitarian who’s done a lot of work on behalf of epilepsy and other causes, at least according to his Wikipedia bio.


Winkler isn’t even the weirdest choice to receive the key to the city or become an honorary citizen of Winnipeg. Some of the luminaries who’ve received the honour include wrestler Chris Jericho (under Katz’s watch in 2006), actress Shannen Doherty (Glen Murray’s bizarre choice in 2002) and most infamously, the late, great country singer Johnny Cash.


In 1977, Cash tried to return his honour to Mayor Steve Juba after the Free Press ran an unfavourable review of the Carter Family, which included his wife June Carter Cash.


Reviewer Lee Schacter called the Carters "four lusty, busty women" who "carried on a lot" with homespun banter, complained they played too many gospel songs and trashed a tune called Lady, which Johnny had just penned for June.


The morning after the review, Cash marched over to city hall and demanded to see Juba, who would retire from office a few months later. But the Mayor of Unicity wasn’t there.


So Cash laced into Juba’s staffers, telling them Schacter’s review was "a black mark against the kinds of friends we have in Canada," the Free Press reported at the time. The mayor’s office then spent 20 minutes convincing Johnny "there was no connection between judgments made by city hall officials and the Free Press reviewers."


Cash agreed to keep his citizenship scroll the next day.


It’s tough to imagine Winkler reacting so angrily to a newspaper. But the question arises: Why are mayors so inclined to pose for photos with famous athletes and actors?


And when every organization in the city wants Sam Katz to appear at their events, why would World of Wheels occupy such a place of importance on his calendar?


According to Katz’s office, the Winkler honour was the event promoter’s idea. And the mayor’s office turns down requests to appear with celebrities all the time.


For example, a rock radio station’s desire to stage a "mayor and Slayer" promotion fell through when Katz’s former chief of staff Googled the metal band’s lyrics.


The first hit includes the lyrics "Only in the darkness of Christ have I realized God hates us all" and "Homicide, suicide. Hate heals — you should try it some time."


Hanging out with guy who jumped the shark and liked to take twins back to his attic apartment to "make out" doesn’t seem so stupid in comparison.

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott.

Bartley appears every second Wednesday on CityTV’s Breakfast Television. His work has also appeared on CBC Radio and in publications such as National Geographic Traveler, explore magazine and Western Living.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives
Email: bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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