Sharking in the Seventies

Though I've written about the show a couple of times here, last night's mid-season premiere of The Walking Dead actually served as a jumping-off point for a discussion about something far more interesting: sharks.

Backing up a bit: Rick is in sorry shape (broken ribs, multiple contusions, a shirt that must stink to high heaven by now), leaving son Carl free to wander around and almost get killed twice. As a reward for incompetence that stops just shy of Darwin Award status, he finds a giant can of warehouse club chocolate pudding, which he eats on a rooftop while contemplating his dwindling character arc.

This got my little group of TWD watchers wondering -- yes, four to five of us get together every week for "Zombie Taco Night," let he who is without nerd sin cast the first nerd stone -- will "eat the pudding" replace "jump the shark" in our pop culture lexicon? This, in turn, led to a discussion about the influence of Jaws on entertainment, specifically TV. Most of us were kids in the late 70s who watched way too much prime-time network TV, so it was easy to rattle off most, if not all, relevant shark appearances of the tops of our heads.

To wit:

Happy Days - "Hollywood: Part 3" (S05E03) - 1977 I have to apologize to my friends for misremembering certain elements of The Episode. For starters, I thought Fonzie was tricked into jumping the beast because it had been hidden on the waterskiing course by the nefarious "California Kid" (played by none other than James "Greg Marmalard" Daughton). But no, the shark was merely being kept penned up -- 50 feet from a public beach and right next to a handy ramp -- before it was transported to a nearby sea park.

What I was correct in recalling was the hilarious levels of concern on display. Come on people: he's a biker from Milwaukee jumping on waterskis for the first time ever (and in a leather jacket) over a tiger shark. What could possibly go wrong?

The Six Million Dollar Man - "Sharks (Part 1 & 2)" (S05E01-02) - 1977 Did everybody who ever appeared on this show get skin cancer? They're all so finely cured they should've been skinned to make quality luggage. And while at first glance the idea of sharks against a bionic man seems pretty laughable, these sharks have been diabolically trained to follow orders. If only the Nazis had more ichthyologists.

Saturday Night Live - "Jaws II" (S01E04) - 1975 With only a week's run-up to air time, SNL had a huge jump on other programs, most of which required months of production before airing. Chevy Chase's "Land Shark," for example, made its first appearance less than five months after the release of Jaws.

Misterjaw/Jabberjaw - 1976-78 The vest and top hat clad Misterjaw (AKA "Mr. Jaws") was content with scaring humans instead of devouring them, and made a handful of appearances on the 1976 Pink Panther cartoon series. Jabberjaw, on the other hand, headlined his own show (he played drums for a band called the Neptunes, echoing the premise of seemingly every other Hanna-Barbera cartoon), and is basically what Curly from The Three Stooges would've resembled as an apex predator.

More chilling is how Jabberjaw eerily forecasts climate change and the coming catastrophic rise in sea levels, which by 2076 will force mankind to live in uneasy proximity to sea creatures who talk like Rodney Dangerfield.

The Bionic Woman - "Deadly Music" (S03E17) - 1978 A device that *attracts* sharks instead of repelling them? That's some high-octane nightmare fuel right there. Fortunately for Jaime Sommers, she's more human than human, and can easily wrap iron bars around any attacking sharks, which then sink to the bottom of the sea, slowly suffocating in confusion and fear. Nice.

The Hardy Boys Mysteries - "The Last Kiss of Summer (Part 2)" (S03E02) - 1978 I just realized fabled TV producer Glen A. Larson had a hand in three of the shows listed here, meaning there's probably a great opportunity for a particularly terrifying Between Two Ferns about his crippling fear of sharks.

I described this Hardy Boys episode to my friends as the ultimate confluence of all things '70s: Shaun Cassidy, surfing, sharks, and the Bread song "If" on a seemingly constant loop. If the powers that be had only found a way to merge this with "The Return of Bigfoot," in which Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers team up with Sasquatch to fight aliens, Iran would never have dared take our embassy.

Magnum, P.I. - "Home from the Sea" (S04E01) - 1983 Fine, 80s, whatever. Magnum is one of my favorite shows and this was a powerful episode, even if Thomas' zen shark repelling powers are about as plausible as Higgins, T.C., and Rick all experiencing identically simultaneous telepathic unease compelling them to hunt for their not-officially missing friend. Let this be a lesson to all sea kayakers: wear a life jacket, because a mustache loses buoyancy in less than a day.

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