Okay, let’s be honest about this. The most memorable shark in American popular culture is probably always going to be Bruce from “Jaws.” Bruce was named after director Steven Spielberg in honor of his lawyer. While no argument is available to dismiss the aptness of naming a mechanical shark with no emotions and, really, no brain, in honor of a lawyer, it would be just as appropriate had Spielberg named Bruce to honor a banker, his stockbroker, the head of the studio, the Sheriff in charge of providing cops to beat senseless any onlookers who got too close. Sharks are all around us. And they are memorable for their appearances on TV.
Perhaps the most memorable–certainly the most infamously resonant–shark in TV history is the one that Fonzie water-skied over in a particularly gruesome episode of “Happy Days.” Not gruesome because the shark ate any of the cast. Heck, that would not have been gruesome at all; that would have been sweet. Can you imagine how different the world of TV would be today if the term “Jumped the Shark” referred to that moment when a TV show decided to violently kill off its most loathsome character? If only it had been Chachi on those skis and if only he’d not made the jump and had fell into the cage containing the shark and if only the blood from his body had spurted upward. But, alas, Fonzie jumped the shark and made that term a legacy of TV history in a quite different way.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
A demonic loan shark occasionally shows up on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Spike has still not paid him back for the kittens he borrowed from this loan shark at an interest rate considerably less than that charged by most credit cards. They call this loan shark Teeth and he’s one of the coolest demons to be found wandering the streets in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Why? Because he has the head of a shark. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all loan sharks gave themselves away by having the head of a shark? Of course, it would mean the end of the bank system until people got used to the idea of being ripped off by people with the heads of a shark.
Saturday Night Live
In the wake of the success of “Jaws” in the theater, the small screen purveyors of comedy around the same era gave us the Land Shark. He was a character played by Chevy Chase and he would knock on the door of an unsuspecting victim claiming to be delivering a candygram. But candy was just the bait this oversized shark used to claim his revenge on the long history of the reverse situation.
1976 was a great a year for sharks on TV, “Jaws” had hit the big screens the summer before and suddenly everything was coming up sharks. Saturday was especially robust. You could wake up to “Jabberjaw” in the morning and go to sleep with the Land Shark of “Saturday Night Live.” Jabberjaw was one of Hanna-Barbera’s less fascinating Saturday morning cartoon characters, meaning it was one of the worst things to be seen on Saturday morning during the 70s. I mean he acted like one of the Three Stooges and stole his catchphrase directly from Rodney Dangerfield. Oh, and just to make him the cartoon equivalent of Chachi, he also played drums.
The Six Million Dollar Man/The Bionic Woman
Here were two shows that vowed never to let a pop culture moment pass by without attaching their wagon to its star. First came Bigfoot who became a recurring character revealed to be a robot in the service of aliens. Then came episodes on both these shows about villains call on sharks to become a part of their dastardly plan to destroyed the bionic titular heroes of their respective series.