It was an up and down Shark Week for my son. First off, we did not realize it was Discovery’s summertime shark extravaganza until it was half over, which made the 9-year-old boy extremely sad—a hard thing to do in the summer. He was, however, heartened to learn that a vast array of Shark Week programming was available on demand. And so he watched every day—the only actual TV he’s seen, not counting occasional viewings of SpongeBob—in weeks. (When the kid gets screen time, it’s all some video game Five Nights at Freddy’s on the iPad.)
Last night, my son Gavin watched Super Predator, which is about a shark that’s said to be 39 feet long, and that devoured a nine-foot great white. I didn’t watch, but Gavin said the suspense was building as the swashbuckling crew got closer and closer to the shark, whose size was estimated based on a 5-foot in diameter bite mark on a whale.
As the episode came to its climax, a funny thing happened. “They ended up never finding the shark,” said Gavin. He stared blankly at the screen as the credits rolled.
He was not just dissatisfied—he was flat-out furious. Though it was well past bedtime, Gavin insisted he watch another episode; in his mind, he’d been cheated by Super Predator and by Discovery and had a freebie coming. Needless to say, he lost that argument and went to bed in a foul mood.
“I was disappointed,” Gavin says. (Full disclosure: I am buying the media-shy kid a pack of Starburst Tropical in exchange for sitting for this interview. Don’t tell the Poynter folks.)
For Gavin, the Super Predator that wasn’t immediately brought to mind a previous Shark Week letdown—the Megalodon debacle of 2013. Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives featured a 60-foot shark that supposedly devoured whales, and reportedly devoured the crew of a fishing vessel. There were dramatizations whose disclaimers were not easy to spot. Said Slate.com: “The Monster Shark Lives featured actors playing scientists, photoshopped pictures, and fake digital video.” (For what it's worth, here's what Snopes.com says about Megalodon.)
The Megalodon, in fact, has been extinct for a few centuries. Viewers charged Discovery for hewing closer to Sharknado than its non-fiction principles.
“It was another super-big shark,” Gavin says. “They also never found out what Megalodon was.”
Last summer, Discovery went with Megalodon again, this installment called Megalodon: The New Evidence. "Shark Week is Lying Again," went the Daily Beast headline.
My kid loves Shark Week and will talk about ninja sharks and chumsicles and Megamouth for the foreseeable future. He’ll watch again next year, and surely the year after that. But Discovery may have to stop it with these Al-Capone’s-vault endings or Shark Week will continue to leave disappointed fans in its wake.
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