When Shark Week nears, I’ll bet the halls of Discovery Channel nearly vibrate with excitement. I imagine staffers wear foam shark-head hats and chant, ”Sharks! Sharks! Sharks! We’re gonna get ratings with sharks!” as they bustle around the Discovery hallways. Yes, it’s a grand old tradition, and except for the luckless ?interns who are stuck in the basement shipping boxes of Deadliest Catch DVDs, a merry time is had by all.
After so many years of Shark Weeking — they’ve been doing it since 1986, can you believe it? — you’d think the novelty would wear off. But sharks are the Betty Whites of the water: People never get tired of seeing them. Thus the new Shark Week offers a full slate of specials with such titles as Great White Invasion, Summer of the Shark, and, inevitably, ?Killer Sharks.
One special, Jaws Comes Home, suggests an obvious key to shark mania: Steven Spielberg’s 1975 movie, Jaws. Discovery Channel emphasizes whenever possible the Spielberg-like notion that, given the opportunity, sharks will come close to land. In this scenario, they like few things more than human limbs dangling from a belly or surfboard. To watch Great White Invasion, you’d think they’re delicacies, like frogs’ legs are to the French. The Jaws Comes Home hour features a good example of why Shark Week doesn’t get old: footage of a great white cleverly attacking the bright orange buoys that are preventing the ?photographer’s cage from plummeting to the bottom of the sea. (On the Discovery website, they refer to this sequence as the ”Great White Slam Dance” — you’re trying too hard to get on the hip tip, Discovery, but your up-close film footage redeems you!)
Each year, there’s a celebrity host for the week; this time, it’s SNL’s Andy Samberg, who takes to his duties like a — well, not like ? a duck to water, more like chum to a hungry shark. Samberg is ? definitely game, willing to dive underwater as ?voracious-looking ?creatures surround him, and he plasters on that great, goofy grin he uses for his dumb-innocent characters. Despite all the ominous music and statistics compiled to demonstrate that sharks are creatures that would not make good pets, they come off awfully well over the course of Shark Week. They are generally depicted as intelligent, shrewd, clean, and respectful of other predators. The image burnishing that goes hand in hand with the fearmongering is by no means contradictory. Indeed, it makes sense to dig up as many positive characteristics as possible. After all, Discovery Channel knows you cannot bite the hand that feeds you viewers, summer after summer. B+