Idea Blog

Shark Week: 15 Facts & Beyond!

Blake Harris 07.06.2015

Our lovely in-house rocketeer, Ms. Denise McArthur (one of our Account Managers), suggested that we come up some “theme weeks” to add a touch of flair to the blog. Great idea. So, to get this started on the right foot, we figured why not piggyback the most successful one of them all: Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” which began last night.

Later this week, we’ll dive deeper into our first theme—cataloguing animated sharks and searching for ferociously good, man-eating ideas—but before any of that, we wanted to first get our feet wet by learning more about the history of Shark Week. Like: where did this strange programming phenomenon come from? And from here—with 40 million people tuning in last year—where will it next go?

Below are fifteen, fin-friendly facts:

1. The inaugural Shark Week premiered on July 17, 1988.

2. The idea came about when three executives were reviewing the network’s numbers from 1987 and realized that shows featuring sharks nearly doubled the ratings of those that did not.

3. Prior to the advent of Shark Week, the Discovery Channel’s previous flagship “week” was “Space Week”

4. The original Shark Week opened with a show called Caged in Fear, which examined the science (and adventure) of testing motorized shark cages

5. The third and fourth years of Shark Week were billed with tongue-in-cheek subheading that alluded to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws franchise. Shark Week: The Revenge (1990) and Shark Week: They’re Back (1991). This subheading idea was dropped after 1991.  

6. For the first six years, Shark Week had no specific host. Then, in 1994, Discovery brought in author Peter Benchley (famous for penning a book called Jaws) to emcee the events.

7. In 1999, Shark Week premiered its first-ever live program: Live From a Shark Cage.

8. Shark Week’s 2001 program “Air Jaws” included footage of Great Whites breaching. This was apparently the first time that footage of sharks jumping out of water was depicted on film (a behavior that previously had only been considered a rumor).

9. 2002 was the first year to feature celebrities between segments. Here are some of the celebrities featured (with the project they were most known for at the time in parenthesis): Mark McGrath (lead singer of Sugar Ray), Brian McKnight (solo R&B artist), Casper Van Dien (star of movie Starship Troopers), David James Elliot (star of CBS hit J.A.G.), Julie Bowen (actress appearing on NBC’s Ed)

10. In 2002, behavioral scientist Erich Ritter was in the Bahamas filming a segment for the Discovery Channel. There, he was bit in the calf by a bull shark. The attack happened to be caught on tape and aired the following year in a highly-rated program called “Anatomy of a Shark Bite”

11. In 2011, comedian Andy Samburg hosts Shark Week and anoints himself CSO (Chief Shark Officer).

12. Controversy hits in 2012 when Shark Week kicks off with a documentary-style program called Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, which explores the loss of a boat in South America and investigates the potential existence of a thought-to-be-extinct prehistoric shark. 4.8 million viewers tuned in to watch Megalodon, making it Shark Week’s most-watched program to date.

Problems quickly arose when viewers learned that much of this program was fabricated and researchers (depicted in the film) claimed they were duped. In Discover Channel’s defense, they began and ended the show with this vague disclaimer:

None of the institutions or agencies that appear in the film are affiliated with it in any way, nor have approved its contents. Though certain events and characters in this film have been dramatized, sightings of “Submarine” continue to this day. Megalodon was a real shark. Legends of giant sharks persist all over the world. There is still debate about what they might be.

13. In 2013, Shark Week set new social media records for programming. Over 4 million #SharkWeek tweets were posted on Twitter and over 21 million people discussed the event on Facebook.

14. In 2014, over 40 million people tuned in to watch Shark Week. But, despite the staggering numbers, viewership was down nearly 20% from the year before. Critics believe this is due to the way that the Discovery Channel, at times, synthetically sensationalizes shark behavior via fake footage or pseudo science.

15. Rich Ross, the new President of Discovery Channel, says the days of fake documentaries are over. With a newfound gusto, Discovery’s 28th annual Shark Week premiered last night; a month ahead of its typical August slot because, as Ross described, “Shark Week is synonymous with summer, and to me, the holiday that is synonymous with summer is July 4.”

Blake Harris

Blake Harris

Blake Harris is the author of "Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation."
Blake Harris

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