S.M. Douglas

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Tag: Discovery Channel

Shark Week 2015

As everyone not living under a rock knows Shark Week came early this year. And though I am not a fan of the July running time (versus the standard August airing that otherwise provided much needed entertainment value to the dog days of summer) give the Discovery Channel their due. Shark Week 2015 was a success.

Big Great White

Readers may remember my comments on last year’s woeful edition, and I am happy to say that other than a few glitches Discovery Channel got it right this year. This is important not just for Discovery Channel’s bottom line, but for sharks as well.

Discovery Channel made a big effort to return Shark Week to the elements that originally made it worth watching, as noted by Howard Swartz, Discovery’s vice-president of documentaries and specials. Swartz has publicly stated this year’s goal was to kill the bullshit about extinct sharks mysteriously still living today, and focus on science-based television. And that they almost did.

Several episodes were particularly strong, including “Shark Trek”, “Monster Mako”, “Alien Sharks”, “Tiburones: The Sharks of Cuba”, “Ninja Sharks”, “Shark Planet”, “Sharks of the Shadowlands”, and “Shark Clans”. Though each had flaws, the decision to branch out and discuss sharks such as the Thresher, Seven-Gill, Mako, and Salmon Shark was much appreciated. I hope next year follows up on what was undeniably a strong line-up.

Careful readers will note that only two of the episodes listed above truly focused on Great White sharks. I am not bagging on Great White’s – I love them, hands down my favorite animal alive. And even the episodes I am about to critique were worth watching, albeit with the sound muted, just to see these incredible animals. For whatever reason the Discovery Channel still seems to want to get gimmicky when it comes to embellishing a creature that is so magnificent it doesn’t even come close to deserving the schlock treatment.

To that end I am first singling out “Island of the Mega Shark” as being sub-par. For one reason the enormous female Great White “Deep Blue” repeatedly singled out as “pregnant” was clearly merely fattened up by recent consumption of an elephant seal.

Biggest-Great White Filmed

To date there is absolutely no evidence that near term Great White’s would get anywhere near a prime hunting ground, especially given that big Great White’s are known to eat smaller one’s. Why can’t you just enjoy the fact that you managed to capture on film one of the biggest Great White’s ever seen and let the viewers enjoy that? In addition, was it really necessary to have “Dicky” involved. The guy is a tool. He has no business anywhere near a research vessel. For that matter Discovery Channel would do well to push the non-scientists/non-experts into the background. The strongest episodes were all one’s where the scientist’s (or people like Rodney Fox who are clearly experts on shark behavior and identification) had leading roles.

Second place on the list of the worst episodes was “The Return of the Great White Serial Killer” which though interesting in theory simply did not warrant an entire hour. Not only was it incredibly speculative, but it was largely a retread of previous episodes. It could have been greatly strengthened by discussing the relationship between Great Whites, their prey, and how humans inadvertently end up in the mix in California waters in particular.

Finally, one of the other poorly done episodes would have to be “Super Predator”. It was incredibly frustrating in large part because the real story was right there in front of the Discovery Channel team. But they chose to ignore it in favor of some strained inference that maybe a Megalodon type shark is hunting the depths of the Southern Ocean. Stop it! Note to Discovery Channel, had you focused on the actual fact that there is this place where because of unique currents and underwater geography it creates an enormous buffet for some of earth’s biggest predators that would have been a great story worth exploring.

Overall I would give Discovery Channel a B+ for its efforts. Hopefully they continue in the direction they are going. In the meantime buckle up – It’s time for Sharknado 3! Yikes!

Last week was the Discovery Channel’s infamous “Shark Week”. First off, I am an avid scuba diver, and have completed 50 open water dives since I started diving at age 18 way back in 1991.

In addition, my interest in diving and thus the ocean and all that swims in it stems in no small measure from the Movie “Jaws”. Perhaps my all-time favorite film I, much as the character Matt Hooper describes during the film, saw something at a young age that should have scared me out of the water but instead sent me running with fascination into the ocean any chance I got. So you would think that I love “Shark Week”; and I do, but…..

I know “Shark Week” is bigger than ever, but why oh why Discovery Channel do you have to puff your annual line-up with utter bullshit when the real thing is so much more fascinating. Furthermore, why do you have to quote scientists out of context to imply something that is simply not true when again, the actual material you can cull from is that much more interesting.

Many before me have shown why the Megalodon series of specials from Shark Week 2013 and last week’s new Megaladon specials would have been perfect for the Sci Fy Channel but not Discovery as each was totally bogus, but to make it worse Shark Week 2014 also included the equally false Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine – which was also a pack of lies/fake documentary.

Other examples of obfuscation or outright lying occur in episodes such as the “Alien Sharks: Return to the Abyss”. This was an otherwise well done episode that attempts to get on film deep sea sharks rarely seen by the viewing public. However, Shark Week states several times over that this was all part of an expedition to the Southern Indian Ocean for only this purpose. Then at the end of the episode there is a claim that they “saved” 100 sharks. Saved from what? Were they actually on a working fishing boat? Would the sharks have died if they hadn’t dragged them up from the deep, unduly stressing their systems, and then thrown them back? Or would the sharks have been better off just filmed down deep, as other scientists now do and which was acknowledged as the preferred modern method of research by another scientist quoted in the episode?

In addition, Shark Week makes incredibly odd decisions when they often find compelling content but gloss over it in lieu of somewhat random programming. For instance, in “Jaws Strikes Back”, regardless of the title, there is some really good stuff involving scientists using underwater drones and attempting to document how a Great White Shark hunts elephant seals in deep water. In the course of this episode these scientists manage to tag and film the largest great white shark ever seen alive on film; a massive, pregnant female of some 21-22 feet in length as seen below:

Considering that the fictional “Jaws” was 25 feet in length this coup is the closest anyone has ever come to getting the real thing on camera. And what do they do with this opportunity? Turn it into about 5 minutes of screen time in a 47 minute episode (after stripping out commercials). Really? The biggest white shark ever filmed and you only spend 5 minutes on it? For chrissakes get a clue! How many viewers would have gobbled up an entire hour of little more than watching this huge fish swim around? What is all the more perplexing is that the episode “Lair of the Mega Shark” spends an entire hour searching for an 18 foot great white when they already have found a much larger shark off the coast of Baja California.

Another example of this phenomenon of ignoring TV gold when it is right under your nose takes us back to “Alien Sharks: Return to the Abyss”. In one small scene of no more than 30 seconds the Thresher Shark is mentioned, and briefly shown; with a comment on how the Thresher Shark uses its unusually long whip like tail to herd and stun prey for consumption. How about an episode on that? Has anybody ever filmed Thresher’s actually hunting? They seem like and look like fascinating animals, lord knows I love Great Whites, but wouldn’t it be nice to profile even more of the over 350 species of known shark? Especially big visually captivating one’s like the Thresher?

And therein is the dilemma that is Shark Week. It offers up copious servings of odious and misleading content about fictional or extinct animals alongside some really groundbreaking and intriguing actual science; all while managing to fail to exploit situations when something of tremendous interest is caught on film or raised by its almost throw away presence in a larger episode. Luckily there is DVR. Informed viewers who actually know something about sharks can easily skip over the worst of Shark Week and peruse the other episodes for occasionally jaw dropping footage of our favorite animals. And that is why I will be recording and watching a good chunk of “Shark Week 2015” when it rolls out next year.

In the meantime, and if like me you find what is real in this world to be even more exciting than what is fake, please let Discovery know when they do something right and when they do something wrong. You never know, by “Shark Week 2050” we might even have top notch visual and educational programming all rolled into one. And if we get to jonesing for something fake and silly there will always be “Sharknado 37″ or “Megalodon vs. whatever” on Sci Fy.

 

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