Plus 5 fin-tastic facts about Shark Week
Fin-atics everywhere can’t wait to dive into Shark Week.
When the first Shark Week, a 10-show lineup of all things sharks, aired on the Discovery Channel 30 years ago this Sunday, few thought it would become the massive TV event that it is today.
But the network knew it was onto something big when the channel’s primetime average ratings nearly doubled that week in 1988. So Discovery brought Shark Week back the following year with even more shows including “Shark: Maneater or Myth?”, “Shark Hunters of Achill Island” and “Sharks of San Francisco.” Now, the cultural phenomenon that Stephen Colbert once deemed “one of the two holiest of holidays,” has become the longest-running programming block in cable television history, pulling in an audience of more than 20 million views every year since 1995.
So why has Shark Week made such a splash? It all starts with a killer subject that both frightens and fascinates people, says Shark Week host Paul De Gelder. “While marketing is essential … the sharks really are their own marketing point,” he told Moneyish. “Sharks are one of the animals people go their whole lives without seeing … the sharks do things you so rarely get to witness, except when you see them on Shark Week.”
Of course, America’s obsession with sharks didn’t begin with Shark Week — it dates back to the 1975 Steven Spielberg movie “Jaws,” says Marc Berman, TV analyst and creator of the Programming Insider. The shark classic, which remains the seventh highest grossing film of all time, made almost $500 million worldwide in box office revenues. And movies like the 1999 sci-fi horror flick“Deep Blue Sea” and 2013’s SyFy’s surprise B-movie sensation “Sharknado” only added to the feeding frenzy. In fact, “Sharknado” went viral when it first aired in 2013 and garnered 318,232 tweets that night — and up to 5,000 tweets per minute.
But Discovery holds a special place in shark history thanks to the fact that it gets some of the best footage of sharks in the world, such as robot-sub fitted with six cameras that filmed great white sharks off the coast of Mexico’s Guadalupe Island in the 2014 show “Jaws Strikes Back.” “Quite honestly, it’s brilliant profiling material,” Berman says.
The daring antics of the hosts — Gelder is a former Australian army paratrooper who lost two limbs to a brutal shark attack in 2009 — don’t hurt, either. “We risk our lives to make things,” said Gelder, who will spend 48 hours in shark-infested waters with no food, water or sleep for this year’s Shark Week.
And the TV event only happens annually, which builds anticipation among audiences: “Once a year, every summer, the audience knows they’re gonna get it, so they tune in,” says Berman.
The 30-year programming phenomenon has maintained a cult-like following and grown into a franchise that even boasts shark-themed merchandise like $20 to $25 t-shirts, or socks and pillows at about $20 each. Apart from the estimated $50 million that the yearly Discovery event makes from advertising alone, that Shark Week merch rakes in an additional $10 million. “When they decided to start something with sharks, it resonated. Every show they put on kept getting an audience, and people reacted to it,” Berman added.
But beyond the event’s entertainment factor, Gelder hopes the audience can learn to respect and protect the animals that a lot of people fear enough to kill. While there were just 88 unprovoked shark attacks and five deaths from sharks worldwide is 2017, according to research from the university of Florida, more than 100 million sharks were killed by industrial fishing, according to conservation nonprofit, Oceana. So every year Discovery Channel runs anti-fining PSAs throughout the week.
Whether we’re scared or not quite sure how we feel about the great sea predators, Shark Week still has got many people hooked. So in celebration of its 30th anniversary, here are five fin-tastic highlights, many courtesy of Discovery, to get you excited about the week ahead:
1. Celebs go gaga for Shark Week. Not only is Stephen Colbert a fan, so are actresses Evan Rachel Wood and Snooki, and comedians Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon. And one of NBC hit “30 Rock’s” most famous lines comes from Tracy Morgan’s character inspiring a coworker to “Live every week like it’s Shark Week.”
#sharkweek all night baby! ❤
— Nicole Polizzi (@snooki) August 8, 2013
2. Shark Week has become insanely popular. In 2000, the TV event reeled in an average of 2.35 million live and same day audience viewers. Last year, viewers could watch Shark Week in more than 220 countries, and viewership hit 15 million at its peak.
3. “Jaws” author Peter Benchley, who wrote the best-selling novel behind the blockbuster movie, became Shark Week’s first host in 1994 for the book’s 20th anniversary. Benchley introduced each shark special from a different location where the “Jaws” motion picture was filmed.
4. Size and splash matter. Viewers were able to get live footage of great white sharks launching themselves 15 feet above water for the first time in the 2001 “Air Jaws” feature — the fourth most-watched Shark Week special. And in 2015, the “Island of the Mega Shark” show featured the largest great white ever filmed — a female shark that was more than 20 feet long. But in fact, the largest shark ever to be featured on the series was a whale shark, the world’s largest fish, which is estimated to weigh a ton and measures up to 40 feet long, on average.
5. During last year’s special, Olympic medalist Michael Phelps squared off against a CGI shark, and racked in more than 5 million viewers nation-wide, making it the most watched Shark Week special ever.
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