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.
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Discovery Channel made a big effort to return Shark Week to the elements that originally made it worth watching, as noted by Howard Swartz, Discovery’s vice-president of documentaries and specials.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.
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!