One of Discovery Channel's most popular summer series Shark Week is set to launch its 26th run Sunday, and TV watchers who relish in the feeding frenzy of the world's most dangerous predator are eagerly awaiting this year's Great White carnage.
But with the waters already chummed up by the campy feature "Sharknado," Discovery execs charted a different course with their programming this year to cash in on an even bigger saw-toothed frenzy.
"It hit right before our 'Shark Week' for us. We are going to ride that wave," Discovery's Senior Director of Development Michael Sorensen says of "Sharknado," the SyFy made-for-TV movie that was such a hit on social media it is being brought to the big screen. "It just signals that it's that time of year again and people are just excited to see more shark content on air. We are absolutely embracing it."
Fortunately, this year's "Shark Week" was already set to embrace its silly side, with much of its new programming planned years in advance. Even ads for "Shark Week" that started playing over a month ago played to the laughs, with an adorable seal named Snuffy being snatched by a shark to the horror of onlookers. The promotions continued with "America's Most Wanted" host John Walsh lobbying for the apprehension of Snuffy's shark murderer and with other similarly tongue-in-cheek spots.
"Last year was our 25th year anniversary and it was such an iconic milestone for us that we really wanted to go back and rediscover our core," Sorensen says. "This year, it's understanding how we move this forward to the next 25 years and how do we do things differently."
Much of the new programming is about capitalizing on new discoveries about shark behaviors and new technologies to record them. But in both tone and in content, Discovery Channel is showing it's not taking "Shark Week" too seriously.
"It's a pop culture phenomena, first and foremost. And it's evolved into that," Sorensen says. "It's time for us to embrace the pop culture of it and that means embracing the humor. Some of the shows have a little more of a camp factor to them and people love that, people enjoy it."
Among this year's new offerings is "Shark After Dark Live," a talk show that will be hosted live by comedian Josh Wolf every night of "Shark Week" after the primetime programming. Wolf is best known as a regular guest on E's late night talk show "Chelsea Lately" (and he says he asked its irreverent host Chelsea Handler for interview advice). Producers compare "Shark After Dark" to "The Talking Dead" – a recap show for the zombie show "The Walking Dead."
"Discovery thought there was a place for an hour show afterwards to keep the party going," Wolf says, promising, "It's going to be funny."
But even the titles of the more conventional new shows – 11 total, the most new programming for a "Shark Week" ever – have names that wouldn't be out of place of SyFy's disaster movie line up, like "Sharkpocalypse," "Sharks Behaving Badly" and "Voodoo Sharks."
Humor aside, Sorensen says Discovery is still committed to working with its conservation partners to make sure they are portraying sharks correctly and to highlight the message of protecting marine life.
Discovery even brought the Snuffy ads to their conservation partners for approval.
"They loved it. They laughed so hard," Sorensen says. "They thought it was one of the best promotions we've ever done."