Why ‘Shark Week’ Has Become A Global Phenomena

Published on July 29, 2019

It’s time to get your feet back in the water, because Shark Week is back! Back for its 31st season, Discovery Channel’s ‘Shark Week’ kicked off Sunday July 28 and goes until Sunday August 4th, with over 20 hours of original programming.

While it may seem like a new summer fad, Discovery Channel started the shark week frenzy back in 1988, making it the longest-running cable television program in history. As of today, Shark Week is now broadcasting in 72 countries.

What Is Shark Week?

Since its inception, the Discovery Channel created the series to debunk the myths about sharks as well as emphasize the importance of their oceanic conservation. Year after year, we learn how much more we don’t know about sharks.

In 2012, Shark Week’s executive producer, Brooke Runnette, told The Atlantic, that the idea for the shark-themed programming began as an idea scribbled on the back of a cocktail napkin. Executives John Hendricks, Clark Bunting, and Steve Cheskin were at a bar with a few colleagues, and chatting about fun things Discovery Channel could do in the future.

The first episode of Shark Week aired on July 17, 1988 and was a science-history piece. The episode, “Caged In Fear,” gave viewers a glimpse into the process of testing motorized shark cages.

Since its first airing, Shark Week has turned into a global phenomenon, taking over social media, particularly Twitter and Instagram with “shark facts.”

Last year, there were approximately 34.9 million viewers to Discovery’s summer frenzy, with 48 million users on Facebook and Instagram sharing material—making the week-long program the number one network spot for prime-time.

Debunking Recent Criticism

In recent years, Discovery Channel has faced serious backlash over its attempts at increasing viewership with allegations that they “created” or misrepresented certain scenarios involving sharks—particularly surrounding the Great White and its ancestor, the Megalodon. Back in 2010, the network incorporated “docufiction,” or fictitious programming intertwined with its true documentary work.

In 2015, the network’s president, Rich Ross, said they would remove docufictions from its ‘Shark Week’ programming. However, in 2017, the network heavily promoted what seemed to be an exciting race between a great white shark and Olympic gold medalist, Michael Phelps—unfortunately, to viewer’s disappointment, the race was computer generated.

Grit Daily’s 2019 Favorites

Source: @abc4explore | Instagram

So, what should you be on the hunt for this week? I listed the top four segments airing this week, that I already have recording on my television.

For the first time, Shark Week will premiere its first scripted feature-length film, CAPSIZED: BLOOD IN THE WATER, a true story about an October 1982 shark encounter. The film will air on Wednesday, July 31 at 9pm ET/PT.

#1 –Sharks of the Badlands (Monday, 8pm ET/PT)

This year alone, a record number of 150 white sharks were recorded off the coast of Cape Cod. In this episode, Greg Skomal, a marine fisheries biologist at the Martha’s Vineyard Research Station, teams up with cinematographer, Andy Casagrande and shark expert, Kina Scollay, in New Zealand to test new shark-detecting surveillance technology. Sharks of the Badlands airs Monday July 29 at 8pm ET/PT.

#2 –The Sharks of Headstone Hell (Monday, 10pm ET/PT)

This episode focuses on a tiny speck of land known as Norfolk Island. In the middle of the South Pacific, Norfolk Island was the site of one of the harshest penal colonies on Earth. However, today, it is a huge gathering spot for some of the largest reported tiger sharks on our planet. Shark scientist, Riley Elliott investigates how full-size animal carcasses tossed into the sea by islanders, have affected, if at all, the behavior of these tiger sharks, making attacks on humans more likely. The Sharks of Headstone Hell airs Monday July 29 at 10pm ET/PT.

#3 –Laws of Jaws: Dangerous Waters (Tuesday, 10pm ET/PT)

Back by popular demand, hosts Paul de Gelder, Mike Dornellas, Nick LeBeouf, and Jamin Martinelli put themselves in harm’s way, reenacting five of the recent shark attacks to see if they would’ve turned out differently based on the technologies and gadgets being brought into the water. The question remains on whether the electronics we bring into the water have any effect on the rate of shark attacks. Laws of Jaws: Dangerous Waters premieres Tuesday, July 30 at 10pm ET/PT.

#4 –Extinct or Alive: The Lost Shark (Wednesday, 8pm ET/PT)

Wildlife biologist and animal tracker, Forrest Galante, sets out on the Indian Ocean to search for the Pondicherry shark—believed to be extinct since the 1970s. The rare species’ alleged extinction has been recently questions, due to recent photos appearing of unidentified sharks around Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Could the Pondicherry shark still be alive? If Galante can prove it’s still alive, it will be removed off the extinct species list. Extinct or Alive: The Lost Shark premieres Wednesday July 31 at 8pm ET/PT.

Despite the criticism, “Shark Week continues to dominate the ratings game, bringing the celebrity “A-Game” into the picture.

A recent addition to the highly anticipated week is celebrities participating in shark dives. In 2019, retired Marine and actor/comedian Rob Riggle will dive into the water with Damon Wayans Jr., Adam Devine, Joel McHale and Anthony Anderson.

You can view this week’s full line of programming here:

Sunday, July 28:

  • 8:00 PM Expedition Unknown: Megalodon
  • 9:00 PM Shark Trip: Eat. Prey. Chum.
  • 11:00 PM Shark After Dark

Monday, July 29:

  • 8:00 PM Sharks of the Badlands
  • 9:00 PM Legend of Deep Blue
  • 10:00 PM The Sharks of Headstone Hell 
  • 11:00 PM Shark After Dark

Tuesday, July 30:

  • 8:00 PM Sharkwrecked: Crash Landing
  • 9:00 PM Laws of Jaws: Dangerous Waters
  • 10:00 PM Air Jaws Strikes Back
  • 11:00 PM Shark After Dark

Wednesday, July 31:

  • 8:00 PM Extinct or Alive: The Lost Shark
  • 9:00 PM Capsized: Blood in the Water
  • 11:00 PM Shark After Dark

Thursday, August 1:

  • 8:00 PM Return to Shark Island
  • 9:00 PM Great White Kill Zone: Guadalupe
  • 10:00 PM Monster Mako: Perfect Predator
  • 11:00 PM Shark After Dark

Friday, August 2:

  • 8:00 PM Isle of Jaws: Blood Brothers
  • 9:00 PM Andrew Mayne: Ghost Diver
  • 10:00 PM I Was Prey: Shark Week

Saturday, August 3:

  • 8:00 PM Sharks Gone Wild 2
  • 9:00 PM Shark Week Immersion

Andrew "Drew" Rossow is a former contract editor at Grit Daily.

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