Why This Matters: A successful programming stunt often attracts other networks aiming to entice those same viewers.
As the summer progresses, both of cable’s major shark stunts are set to embark, and both are expanding.
Discovery’s “Shark Week,” in its 30th year, is inching beyond a week. The iconic 1975 film Jaws airs for the first time on Discovery on July 21, the night before Shark Week officially starts. On July 29, Discovery’s shark theme continues with Naked and Afraid of Sharks, featuring five all-stars from survivalist show Naked and Afraid on an island surrounded by shark-infested waters.
Nat Geo Wild, for its part, is set to showcase an even more dramatic increase in shark programming. For the first time, the week-long event — now in its sixth year — extends to two weeks. “SharkFest” starts July 15.
“We know there’s so much passion and fascination with these incredible animals,” Geoff Daniels, VP and general manager of Nat Geo Wild, said. “We’re super-sizing SharkFest and super-serving our audience in a way we’ve never done before.”
‘Shark Week’ Turns 30
Shark Week has a number of notable celebrities involved in the eight-day event, including Shaquille O’Neal, star of Shaq Does Shark Week, about the former basketball standout overcoming his fear of sharks; Ronda Rousey Uncaged, which sees the former UFC scrapper face down the fearsome Mako shark; and Guy Fieri’s Feeding Frenzy, where the TV chef and his son sample cuisine in the Bahamas, and study the sharks there.
“It’s quite a jam-packed lineup,” said Scott Lewers, executive VP of multiplatform programming and digital media at Discovery.
July 25 is the debut of Shark Tank Meets Shark Week, where stars from ABC’s Shark Tank, a competition show where entrepreneurs aim to get the well-heeled “Sharks,” and their bucks, on board with their business pitches, appear on Discovery. Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran and Daymond John compete for a $50,000 donation to the shark-focused nonprofit they’ve chosen. “I think that’s going to be super fun,” Lewers said.
Discovery will also offer a shark-themed episode of Cash Cab July 27, where contestants are grilled on their knowledge about the famed fish. This year’s Shark Week will also look back on what Lewers calls the “best moments” in its history.
The 2018 Shark Week represents the most hours of shark programming ever. The event offers 30 total hours, including Shark Week’s 50 Best Bites that aired July 15, well ahead of last year’s 20½ hours. Lewers, who said Shark Week garnered 35 million viewers last year, said Discovery isn’t thinking much about extending Shark Week beyond its typical week, or this year’s eight-plus days. “There’s something special about a week,” he said. “There’s something to keeping it tight.”
Wild About Sharks
Nat Geo Wild, meanwhile, is keen to grow SharkFest. Specials include 700 Sharks, which sees a team of scientists dive in among, yes, 700 sharks in Polynesia to study the beasts’ hunting strategies and social behaviors; Big Sharks Rule, about giant great whites, tiger sharks and bull sharks in South Africa; and The Whale That Ate Jaws: New Evidence, about a 1997 incident near San Francisco that saw two whales kill a great white. “People see the great white as an apex predator,” Daniels said. “That time, the hunter has become the hunted.”
National Geographic is also hosting “Encounter: Ocean Odyssey” in New York’s Times Square, an exhibit featuring an underwater tour that has the participants feel like they’re smack in the middle of the ocean. “You can dive with sharks, without needing a bigger boat or a wetsuit,” said Daniels. “It’s a little slice of ocean you can explore in the middle of one of the busiest intersections.”
As for other networks’ shark-related content, Syfy premieres The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time August 19.
Both Discovery and Nat Geo Wild mostly shrug when asked about their rival’s shark show stunt. Daniels doesn’t say much about Shark Week, but does stress that “the real celebs are the sharks” on Nat Geo Wild, and that his network does not provoke a fear of sharks. “Nat Geo is all about our love of animals,” he said. (To be fair, Nat Geo Wild does have a number of When Sharks Attack episodes lined up.)
For his part, Lewers noted that “imitation is the best form of flattery” when asked about SharkFest.
He suggests that any network showing shark programming enhances the three-decades-old Shark Week brand. “It highlights us even more,” Lewers said.
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.