By Jeff Pfeiffer (aka RabbitEars)
First of all — yes, yes, it’s true. RabbitEars is really me. I’ve hidden long enough! But be honest with yourself. You’re not too surprised, are you? After all, have you ever seen RabbitEars and me at the same place, at the same time?
But now to the main business at hand. Discovery Channel has announced the return of its summer favorite, Shark Week, in August. Just as many sharks need to keep swimming to survive, so this ratings juggernaut has moved ever forward since its debut back in 1988. And as in previous years, the event again reflects our love/hate relationship with sharks. We find them fascinating, yet are scared to death of them. Likewise, Shark Week tends to present itself under the guise of educating and informing us about these misunderstood creatures, yet the shows often deal with shark attacks, and feature some lurid titles. But it works. This year follows the same formula, with new programs including:
Blood in the Water — Kicking off Shark Week on Aug. 2, this drama brings to life the true story that inspired Jaws. In 1916, the New Jersey shore became a feeding ground as five people were attacked in 12 days, triggering a nationwide panic. It was the first multiple shark attack in American history, and the folks back then didn’t have a Shark Week to help them learn what was going on (or to scare them out of the water). In an interesting example of how little we knew about marine biology then, an expert at the time believed the attacks were caused by the gentle sea turtle, which he described as “of a vicious disposition and, when annoyed, extremely dangerous.”
Day of the Shark 2 — Described as a “harrowing hour,” this special looks at what happens when a great white shark breaks through a 300-pound aluminum shark cage and traps the divers inside; when another tackles a former Navy SEAL in shallow waters; and when a bull shark invades a spearfishing trip in the Bahamas. Seems to fit in with the current trend in Discovery/Animal Planet programming that details attacks on humans by various animals, notably sharks.
Deadly Waters — Les Stroud (Survivorman) is back for more shark action, this time venturing to five of the most notorious shark-infested waters in the world to find out which is the most dangerous.
Great White Appetite — While the great white shark swims along the shores of more than 50 percent of the world’s inhabited coastlines, scientists still don’t have accurate data on their population, mating practices, traveling patterns or what drives their feeding behavior. This special travels the globe with experts seeking out these answers.
Shark After Dark — No, not a Playboy Channel special. We know little about what sharks are up to at night, but now, armed with the latest in infrared heat-sensing cameras and night vision technology, a team of divers descend into the dark abyss to learn about shark behavior after sundown.
Sharkbite Summer — An account of the so-called “Summer of the Shark” in 2001, when sharks attacked more than 50 swimmers off U.S. beaches and journalists were even more ravenous in their hunger to create “summer of the shark”-type headlines.
A website will have related features, including live blogging with marine biologist Andy Dehart; exclusive video; shark facts in Facebook format (a shark’s favorite hangouts, favorite foods); quizzes; and the return of the critically acclaimed Sharkrunners, a game where shark fans become conservation-minded shark researchers and manage their own vessels to collect data.
Shark Week will also feature PSAs during primetime, educating viewers to the plight of sharks worldwide. Whether that plight is increased by the thrills and chills of Shark Week is unknown, but it seems likely these positive messages might get lost or dulled among the flashes of teeth and blood in the water spotlighted in the specials. Hopefully the messages won’t feel forced and tacked on and seen as a potential buzzkill, like those tiny “by the way, don’t drink and drive” reminders at the end of beer commercials.
Great White: Credit SeaPics.com
Lemon Shark: Credit Caterina Gennaro/Discovery Channel