Shark Week 2011 ready to surface

By  Jeff Pfeiffer

In preparation for our feature on Discovery Channel’s annual summer event favorite Shark Week — airing July 31-Aug. 6 and now in its 24th year — we tried to connect with “Chief Shark Officer” (CSO) Andy Samberg (Saturday Night Live), who will be hosting the programming stunt as well as starring in a special of his own. Most “CSOs” would jump at the opportunity to promote their “products” (in this case, Discovery Channel and sharks), but Samberg simply wasn’t available for an interview (don’t worry, Andy, we weren’t going to ask hard-hitting questions about the outrageous pay of CSOs today or anything!). He did tell Entertainment Weekly earlier this summer how his “executive” position came about.

“I had reservations at the restaurant of destiny,” he joked. “It has very little to do with me on the surface, which to me was a perfect sign that I should do it. Everyone loves Shark Week. I love Shark Week. I was just so flattered. The pitch was that I would get to fly to the Bahamas and literally swim with sharks, and I was thinking there’s no way I would ever have the balls to do that on my own, so I went for it.”

Samberg is the face of Shark Week’s on-air marketing campaign and also appears in the Aug. 4 premiere Shark Week special Shark City, where he jumps into the shark-filled waters off Nassau to find out the distinct personalities, quirks and feeding patterns of a specific group of sharks — Caribbean reef sharks.

It’s likely that Samberg’s special (which we were unable to screen) will contain some levity along with its information about sharks. But other specials airing during the week are pretty serious — often deadly serious. It’s hard, even after 36 years, for shark programming to fully get out from under the shadow of the movie Jaws, and that classic (though guilty of over sensationalizing the threat from sharks) film does inform some of the programs here. Several of the specials explore how sharks, notably great whites, are increasingly being drawn in closer to shore on various coasts, and into more potential confrontations with humans, and this brings up scientific questions of why this is happening, with some theoretical culprits being global warming, overfishing and more. And there are in some cases a few fairly gruesome reenactments of shark attacks and re-creations of wounds inflicted by sharks, so those with sensitive stomachs might want to be ready to look away occasionally.

From what we’ve seen, this year’s Shark Week offers up what people have been coming back for in ratings feeding frenzies time and time again — a nice combination of thrills, education and now, with Samberg’s presence, a bit of humor. And I’m not just saying that because of the cool swag Discovery sent us, either.

Shark Week 2011 Programming

Shark Week 2011 offers up seven new specials:

Great White Invasion — July 31. Chris Fallows, famed for being the first to photograph great white sharks breaching and by now a familiar face to Shark Week viewers, explores the coasts of Australia, South Africa and California to find out why great whites seem to be coming closer to shore and swimming among unsuspecting humans more than ever before — but yet with few attacks. As Fallows investigates, it appears that juvenile sharks are the ones engaging in this behavior for various reasons, and Fallows adds his usual thrills by paddling a board close to the sharks, nearly getting tipped as one swims beneath him.

Jaws Comes Home — July 31. A fascinating look at investigators following and tagging five great whites as they make an epic journey of over 1,000 miles from Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard down to the Gulf of Mexico. Satellite technology allows the scientists to pinpoint where the sharks end up. The title refers to the fact that the movie Jaws was filmed in Martha’s Vineyard, and fans of the film may recognize some familiar sights and backgrounds in this special. Unfortunately, the researchers tend to view themselves a bit too much like the heroic fictional crew of the Orca, mugging for the camera and quoting Jaws enough that if they had been in the film you might have rooted for the shark.

Rogue Sharks — Aug. 1. Unavailable for preview, this special picks up on the central premise of Jaws — that a rogue shark would develop a taste for humans and keep coming back for more — to see if science bears out that theory by looking back at some of the most notorious shark attacks in history.

Summer of the Shark — Aug. 1. Dramatic re-creations make for gripping viewing in this special that looks at the wave of shark attacks that struck all across Australia in the summer of 2009, and how shark experts scrambled to figure out what was happening as the populace became more frightened. The special is also an interesting look at Australians’ innate love of the water, and how they tend to view sharks as a fact of life.

Killer Sharks — Aug. 2. The most Jaws-inspired of this year’s Shark Week specials, this one is a dramatic reenactment of the events in South Africa of December 1957 when, during the height of tourist season, a rash of ocean attacks occurred, with authorities suspecting a massive rogue shark. There are interesting real-life insights from those who were actually there — including former lifeguards and a woman who lost an arm to a shark when she was a girl — but most of this special is made up of actors portraying the events, with characters including all the clichés you might expect, such as the obstinate mayor who refuses to lose tourist money by closing the beaches even as the brash young marine biologist walks around uttering dire warnings about how “nowhere is safe …”

How Sharks Hunt — Aug. 3. Dave Canterbury and Cody Lundin of Discovery’s Dual Survival series use tests and high-tech cameras to examine sharks’ specialized methods of killing that make them perfect predators. Unavailable for preview.

Shark City — Aug. 4. Chief Shark Officer Andy Samberg dives among Caribbean reef sharks off of Nassau in the Bahamas. Unavailable for preview.

If you can’t wait to see some sharks, Discovery Channel has also teamed with Georgia Aquarium to live-stream a Shark Cam, continuing through the end of Shark Week.


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