Thirty-eight summers since “Jaws” made us terrified to swim in the ocean, Discovery gleefully scares us all over again with the 26th installment of Shark Week, its annual marathon of all things pertaining to those deadly denizens of the deep. Launching Aug. 4, this year’s Shark Week will include everything from “Sharkpocalypse,” about the rise in shark attacks; “I Escaped Jaws,” featuring first-hand survivor accounts; and great white-focused specials “Return of Jaws,” ”Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives,” “Spawn of Jaws” and “The Great While Gauntlet” — and even a nightly talk show, “Shark After Dark.”
Mike Sorensen, Discovery’s senior director of development and the man in charge of this year’s Shark Week, gave us some insight into the programming and the shark phenomenon.
MNN: How do you account for this fascination with sharks that has made Shark Week possible, and so popular?
Mike Sorensen: The exact reason is hard to pinpoint, but there is so much mystery around sharks, especially great whites, that there is a natural curiosity to understand them. At the same time, we are terrified of them so this is our chance to get up close to the apex predator of the ocean.
Have you been involved with Shark Week before?
This is my first year working on Shark Week. I’m excited to be a part of an event that has been a TV “must-see” for 26 years. It's amazing that any TV series could go on and remain this relevant for 26 years, so I can't imagine anyone predicting this amount of success for this long. But I know every time someone asks, "What could we possibly do that is different?" or "What's next?" we always find new, incredible shark stories to tell, new ways to capture shark behavior and new mysteries to explore, so each year Shark Week re-invents itself.
Is it a challenge coming up with new angles for programs every year?
It's not necessarily a challenge to come up with new angles; everyone loves pitching and brainstorming new shark shows. The challenge is to be able keep delivering the shark footage the audience comes to see and to keep exceeding their expectations. Shark behaviors are so unpredictable that in order to set a new standard, we need to shoot longer and take more risks to bring the audience closer.
How much in advance do you start planning? Are you already working on ideas for next year?
Shark Week is a year-round job, and we are already in production on shows for next year and working on developing the rest of the slate for 2014 and (gulp) 2015. Shark Week never sleeps.
Talk about some of the new programs we can expect to see in this edition.
This year we have the most original shark week hours in Discovery Channel history, 11 hours of shark documentaries as well as our first live talk show, "Shark After Dark." My personal highlights are "Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives," a quest for a 60-foot-plus killer shark that some believe has resurfaced off the coast of South Africa and "Voodoo Shark," an investigation into the Louisiana bull shark invasion.
Is there a conservation aspect to any of the programming?
In some way all our shows have some sort of conservation message. It is important to understand that while we fear sharks, we need to protect them. Two of our biggest conservation shows this year are "Spawn of Jaws" and "Return of Jaws." "Return of Jaws" is an investigation into the migration patterns of great whites in order to understand why they are returning to the shores of Cape Cod while "Spawn of Jaws" sets out to locate a great white spawning ground for the first time. Discovery also works with conservation partners each year. This year’s partners include NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], Oceana and One World, One Ocean.
Have you ever encountered a shark up close?
I have not encountered a shark outside of the aquarium. We have an incredible stable of shark experts and filmmakers that work year round to capture these incredible moments, so I leave the death-defying shark encounters to the professionals.
What have you learned about sharks that surprised you?
The biggest thing I've learned about sharks is how they migrate and where they can be seen throughout the year. So while there is always a threat they're lurking, it's good to know where they are when I'm stepping into the water.
Are sharks misunderstood?
I believe they are. I think most creatures in the ocean are misunderstood, which is what makes them so fascinating. There is so much we don't know, and sharks are hard to study.
Is there a takeaway for viewers from Shark Week?
I think the biggest takeaway is coming away with a greater appreciation for these creatures; To really be impressed with their power and intelligence; And of course, please don't try to feed them.