Sharks haven’t evolved for 100 million years, yet the Discovery Channel insists on updating us on the species every summer. Starting last Sunday, Shark Week kicked off its 24th year of shark-themed programming. And for the 24th consecutive year, it was a solid week of gurgling underwater sound effects and repeats of shark shows from previous years. The most recent, fresh Shark Week show to premiere, Shark City, aired last Thursday. Not only is Shark Week boring, it’s not even an entire week.
Ratings for Shark Week have been solid, although slightly down from last year. The Discovery Channel has little competition in the late July doldrums; network programming is almost completely in reruns and the only sport being played is mid-season baseball. Still, Shark Week seems to hit all the right demographics and someone with a limited understanding of culture or phenomena would dub it a “cultural phenomenon.“
Tracy Morgan’s character from 30 Rock, Tracy Jordan, famously said, “Live every week like it’s Shark Week.” It’s a funny line and it seemed to lend the Discovery Channel’s depot for old shark footage some invaluable hip cache. By being only one week (or, more accurately, 5 days), Shark Week is able to renew its relevancy by simply not existing for 358 days every year (again, more accurately, 360 days every year).
Getting drunk at a bar and screaming the Tracy Jordan line is one thing, actually sitting down and watching Shark Week is a completely different animal.
You are subjected to a carousel of regurgitated shark facts: Sharks have rows of teeth and they never run out of them! Most sharks can’t stop swimming! Sharks can sense one drop of blood in a million drops of water! Every. Single. Year. It’s like taking third grade biology with the guy from Memento as your teacher.
It isn’t just the facts that are repeated: Shark Week seems to rely more and more on old shows as each year passes. There were only eight new shows this year for Shark Week, and eight shows hardly constitutes a full week of programming. One of these premieres included the third installment of When Fish Attack.
Sharks themselves are fascinating and terrifying creatures, but on television you always get the sense that they aren’t being served justly. No matter how many times the narrator says, “This Great White is two tons!” on TV it just looks like a stuffed grey tube sock with a tapered end. HD helps about as much as when it’s used for the local broadcast of 4th of July fireworks.
There is the constant reminder during all Shark Week programming that they are doing this to “raise awareness” and “save” endangered sharks. The most absurd example of this was on this year’s rebroadcast of Dirty Jobs: Jobs That Bite…Harder (originally aired 2007), when, after killing a shark to make a fiberglass mould to donate to a school, host Mike Rowe said that doing this would “save the lives of thousands of sharks.” Even though my elementary school lacked a life-sized fiberglass replica of a blacktip reef shark, I somehow managed to make it through life without massacring thousands in its stead.
Next year marks the 25th anniversary of Shark Week, which will inevitably drum up more excitement. They’ll probably get another comedian-on-the-rise to host and they’ll probably buy another trending topic on Twitter. They’ll also probably show 10 Deadliest Sharks again, as they have every year since 2006.
(NOTE: The list of 10 deadliest sharks hasn’t changed since 2006. The last revision of that list came approximately 100 million years ago).