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Shark Week Jumps the Shark


Aug 14 2014
Discovery Channel's popular (and once educational) series gets trapped in gimmick.

My friend took one look at promo staring Rob Lowe, “water-skiing” two harnessed sharks while tossing chum from a bona fide chum-bucket to the great whites leaping behind him and joked, “Shark Week has officially jumped the shark.”

But that arguably happened long ago, when Discovery Channel’s Shark Week decided to play up its popularity, not with more of what made people love it in the first place—educational shows about sharks—but with shark-themed ridiculousness.

There’s the mascot Bob the Shark, live kick-off parties in California, and ideas for how to hold your own Shark Week party at home. And just look at these actual Shark Week show titles: Lair of the Mega Shark #ExtraSharky, Zombie Sharks, Sharkageddon. (Looks like someone’s trying to compete with the hype over Syfy’s so-bad-it’s-good TV movie Sharknado.)

I personally lost faith in Shark Week when the network captivated and confused audiences with the well-disguised mockumentary Megalodon. I was far from the only one who Googled this mysterious, ancient shark of the deep, only to find that it’s not a modern-day monster, but long extinct. Like many viewers, I felt duped. Turns out, they’re at it again with yet another “dramatized” story of a giant shark of dubious existence.

And yet, here I am, tuning into yet another Shark Week, with all its campy, over-the-top programming. Even the ads get me—from the poster in the train station of a great white rising from foamy waters to the promos on Facebook. In my house, Shark Week has consistently succeeded at getting all five of us in one small room, in front of one small(ish) TV without arguing about what we were going to watch for a bit once they come in from playing. The decision is made for us. Duh, it’s Shark Week.

There are still minimal shark-related lessons to learn through Shark Week, but beyond that, it has become more of a shared cultural phenomenon than an educational experience. Millions of people are watching Shark Week—in fact, more than ever thanks to a boost in female viewers.

While I doubt we’ll ever get asked, “Where were you when you watched your first Shark Week ?,” it has become part of our pop culture fabric. On 30 Rock, Tracy Morgan spouts the advice, “Live every week like it’s Shark Week.” And Macklemore’s sings lyric, “And I’m eating at the beat like you gave a little speed to a great white shark on Shark Week. Rawr.”

Related Topics:Animals; Television

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