Back in 1988, programming execs at the Discovery Channel were looking for a catchy gimmick that would draw some eyeballs to the fledgling channel during the summer, a time when most people traditionally don’t watch a lot of TV. As a result, they decided to fill seven days with programming focused exclusively on the world’s most fearsome aquatic predator.
Twenty-five years later, Shark Week is still a summertime sensation that’s become cable television’s longest-running event, racking up record ratings for Discovery. In fact, Shark Week hit its ratings peak in 2008, when over 29 million viewers tuned in — more than watched that season of American Idol — and this annual TV tradition continues to command one of television’s largest cult followings.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year (and its 17th in Canada, since Discovery Canada didn’t hop onto the Shark Week train until several years later), this summertime TV event keeps evolving from year to year. In addition to the always-entertaining footage of shark attacks, Discovery has added celebrities to the mix (including late-night funnyman Craig Ferguson and SNL’s Andy Samberg), as well as shark-themed crossovers with some of its other programming.
This year, Shark Week kicks off on Sunday, August 12, and continues throughout the week, with different sharky specials airing each night. Here are some highlights:
Air Jaws Apocalypse
This is a sequel of sorts to the popular Air Jaws specials about great white sharks that launch themselves out of the water like rockets, heading high into the air to catch prey. Shot over the course of an entire year, shark expert Chris Fallows and producer Jeff Kurr head to Seal Island in South Africa to track Colossus, a 14-foot behemoth that dominates all the sharks in the area like some kind of a flying shark king, and is so aggressive that it nearly ate the state-of-the-art underwater camera that was specially designed for the shoot. (Airs Sunday, August 12)
How Jaws Changed the World
Anyone old enough to remember being too scared to swim in a lake after watching Jaws will enjoy this special examining the indelible impact that Steven Spielberg’s terrifying cinematic masterpiece made on the collective psyche. The special also looks at the unintended consequences when this heightened fear of sharks caused an all-out war against the finned predators, with so many great whites killed that they almost vanished from America’s eastern seaboard; conversely, the film also created a wave of morbid curiosity about these mysterious creatures, creating a boom in research that led scientists to learn more about sharks than ever before. (Airs Wednesday, August 15)
Mythbusters’ Jawsome Shark Special
Friendly neighbourhood Mythbusters Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman celebrate Shark Week’s anniversary by counting down the 25 most prevalent shark myths in this sure-to-be-entertaining special that reveals why a suit of armor may not be the best way to guard against a shark attack. Plus, the No. 1 shark myth is supposed to “leave viewers stunned.” Jamie and Adam don’t screw around; if they say you’re gonna be stunned, you’re gonna be stunned! (Airs Wednesday, August 15)
Longer than a city bus, weighing in at a whopping 100,000 pounds and boasting a mouth full of 250 razor-sharp, six-inch teeth, the prehistoric megaladon was one of the largest creatures to terrorize the planet’s oceans. Although these beasts have been extinct for millions of years, you can see a megaladon come to life, for real (kind of) when a team of special-effects wizards come together to build a life-sized mechanical replica, with ginormous hydraulic jaws that can bite through a Buick. When this mechanical monstrosity is all screwed together, Mythbusters’ Kari Byron, Grant Imahara and Tory Belleci take it for a test drive to see just how much damage this robotic megaladon can muster. (Airs Thursday, August 16)