Animal Planet is known for "aww"-inspiring programs about cute and cuddly pets, but if you'd prefer to be scared witless by dangerous creatures that could bite your head off, they've got that too, and will run nine days of programming starting on May 18.

In addition to special episodes of "River Monsters," the third annual Monster Week includes "Man Eating Zombie Cats" (May 20), "Devoured: Man-Eating Super Snake" (May 22), and the channel's first made-for-TV movie, "Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys," starring Shannen Doherty and Christopher Lloyd (May 25).

"Monster Week is Animal Planet's kick-off to summer. We drive a platform with 360-degree content to grow our audience and introduce viewers to what Animal Planet has to offer during this mammoth week and the summer ahead," says Rick Holzman, the network's executive vice president of programming and strategy, calling it "a celebration of the unimaginable and unbelievable mysterious monsters that still inhabit our planet. Viewers flock to Animal Planet and tune in for a full week of programming, which transports them to the farthest corners of the globe and brings them face-to-face with monsters, both real and imagined, all from the safety of their sofas. We satisfy our loyal viewers and attract new audiences with this vast array of programming."

This year's lineup, a day longer than last year's, ups the ante by going "full-throttle into scripted-film territory with 'Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys,' a two-hour feature-length B-film (from the producers of 'Sharknado')," says Holzman. "This film embraces the campy, over-the-top, CGI-laden genre of the B-film. We're giving new meaning to the term 'creature feature.'"

Andy Berg, Animal Planet's vice president of development, says the movie idea was sparked by two fictional pseudo-documentaries that were a hit with viewers. "We premiered two different 'Mermaids' specials in the last two years of Monster Week to great success. This year, we wanted to try something different. We know there's a passionate audience for B-movies and we thought the traditional tone and content of B-movies would be a good match with some of our other Monster Week programming. We worked closely with The Asylum, creators of 'Sharknado' to come up with a real creature that was just creepy enough to work. Shannen Doherty and Christopher Lloyd being attacked by toothy monsters that crawl through the plumbing? What's not to be excited about?" says Berg. "It's a fun, campy take on a real creature turned horribly hungry. For Animal Planet, it's a chance to try a new genre, and hopefully bring some new viewers in to sample our programming."

And, he notes, audiences might learn something as well. "There are a lot of true facts about lampreys embedded within the film: How many teeth they have, how many eggs they lay, different methods to control populations, how they use their mouths to move rocks. But the real take-away should be a couple hours of pure entertainment and fun."

Holzman believes there's a place for these kinds of shows alongside warm and fuzzy pet programs. "In a typical week, Animal Planet explores all facets of human/animal interactions, be they awe-inspiring, visually stunning, or fantastically terrifying. Monster Week gives us permission to indulge the darker, intriguing, fascinating side of the Animal Planet in a deeper way."

As one of the channel's most popular shows, "River Monsters" is a natural centerpiece of Monster Week. "Jeremy [Wade] is a uniquely passionate and authentic talent, taking viewers on a first-person exploration of a murder mystery in an exotic foreign land. And it also happens to be the best damn fishing show ever made for television," Holzman boasts. "We never know what is going to rear its head on the other end of Jeremy's line, but we can be relatively certain it will be terrifyingly large."

Besides providing some pre-summer escapism, Berg believes Monster Week puts nature in perspective. "We all live what we think are very controlled and scheduled lives. We set our alarms, commute to work, shuttle kids here and there. But throw a wild animal in the mix and you never know what will happen. The internet is full of videos — some funny, some not — of human animal interactions," he says. "Monster Week is a great time to remind ourselves that the human world and the animal world are intimately connected, and that people aren't always in charge."

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