SHARK WEEK POST-MORTEM: Which shows swam? Which shows sunk?

‘Great White Highway’ — Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel / Scot Anderson

Discovery Channel’s annual smorgasbord of shark content is almost over (programming has extended to Sunday, Aug. 19). Back to reality we all must go, clutching our memories of great whites and already looking forward to next year’s installment.

This year’s Shark Week celebrated 25 years of amazing TV programming on the most misunderstood marine wildlife in the world. There were many ups, and only a few downs to the nonstop action.

First off, tying the 25th anniversary of Shark Week to the Blu-ray release of Jaws, the most famous shark movie of all time, was inspired. It instantly connected the two mediums and ensured American viewers became excited for the landmark release of this landmark movie. Plus, whether researchers and biologists like to admit it, Jaws has had more of an impact on the public’s view of sharks than any other form of storytelling. Just about everyone has a memory of “their first time” experiencing the mayhem and terror of Steven Spielberg’s creation.

Shark Week not only ran constant promos for the Blu-ray release, but also devoted an entire hour to the film: “How Jaws Changed the World,” one of Discovery’s better programs during the week. Piecing together interviews with people personally and professionally affected by the movie, the documentary was a finely focused exposé on how the real world can be forever tied to the fake one.

The north Pacific Ocean in ‘Great White Highway’ — Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel / Scot Anderson

The Jaws special came on the third night, when the fire was already ignited after “Air Jaws Apocalypse” and “Shark Week’s Impossible Shots” aired on the first night.

Do we have to mention the second night?

Monday’s programming was certainly the weakest. The “Sharkzilla” and “Mythbusters’ Jawsome Shark Special” were just plain odd. Exploring the ins and outs of megalodon, the largest shark in the history books, is absolutely warranted. The case of a married couple finding the fossils of a whale that may have had its head bit off by the shark is downright fin-tastic. But coupling this enticing information with a re-creation of the actual shark, and then proceeding to have the fake “jaws” chomp down on strange objects, had the feeling of a gladiatorial battle in the Colosseum. With all the amazing footage of real sharks to use, why focus on a model that can snap a kayak in half? Are we this hellbent on destruction?

Don’t get me wrong, my 11-year-old self was in the back of my head shouting, “Will he actually chomp through that large object?” But with only one week devoted every year to Shark Week, let’s move on from the theatrics and get back in the ocean.

“Adrift: 47 Days with Sharks” returned the programming to its worthy excellence. The reenactment special told the real WWII story of three soldiers stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with only the sharks and enemy bullets to keep them company. It was an engaging history lesson, and the reenactment scenes were well-acted.

By far, the best nights of programming were Wednesday and Thursday, when Discovery premiered “Shark Fight,” “Great White Highway” and “Shark Week’s 25 Best Bites.” To learn more about “Shark Fight” and one’s man struggle against a tiger shark in Hawaii, click here for our interview with Mike Coots.

Discovery Channel celebrated its 25th anniversary of Shark Week — Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel / Scot Anderson

“Great White Highway” was the best program of the week, focusing in on the migratory patterns of great whites in the Pacific Ocean. Not only did it present the scientific information in an easy-to-understand, interesting manner, but many new revelations surfaced. This was the most research-based of the programs, and the homework paid off. By the time the hour was over, “Shark Week’s 25 Best Bites” served as mere icing on the cake.

Forgetting about “Sharkzilla,” the 25th anniversary installment of Shark Week made good on its promises. This was a family-centric week, where everyone could sit down after an evening meal and watch our finned cousins in the ocean swim around to our collective delight (and terror). There were many lessons learned, especially about the prevalence of shark finning for shark fin soup. Now the ball is in the viewer’s court: It’s up to us to save these sharks, otherwise they’ll be a distant memory, and Shark Week would become mere archival footage.

By John Soltes / Publisher /

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at, among other publications. E-mail him at

One thought on “SHARK WEEK POST-MORTEM: Which shows swam? Which shows sunk?

  • August 18, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Why wasn’t Shark Week, you know, an actual week this year?


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