Shark Week draws big TV audiences

The Discovery Channel's popular shark-infested programming gets comedian Andy Samberg close to the action this year.

Get your toes out of the water, and whatever you do, try not to drip blood in there. Yes, it's Shark Week, the Discovery Channel's annual celebration of big swimming things with sharp teeth; seven days of circling fins, two-note melodies and totally unsettling comments such as "he's more scared of you than you are of him".

Shark Week may not yet have ventured into OSN's regional scheduling waters for the Discovery Channel (perhaps it's the wrong temperature out here), but it's become something of a phenomenon elsewhere around the world. First broadcast in 1987, Shark Week originally intended to help your average Jaws-watching Joe have greater respect for the animals as something more than just killing machines. But given that this year's line-up includes programmes with titles such as Killer Sharks, Great White Invasion and Rogue Sharks, rather than "When Hammerheads Knit", and the voiceovers for each one appear to have been done by the same guy from World's Scariest Police Chases, it's fair to say that it's not going to get your average galeophobe back in a wetsuit. And yes, in case you were wondering, galeophobia is a large and persistent fear of sharks.

Although Shark Week might not really help reduce any concerns about advancing beyond a paddle, it's a huge ratings catch for the Discovery Channel. Last year's event saw 30.8 million tune in to watch the various underwater antics. It's now considered the longest-running event on cable.

For this year's fin-based festivities, Andy Samberg - he of Saturday Night Live and one part of comedy rock band The Lonely Island - has been roped in as the first-ever Chief Shark Officer. Samberg's new role has seen him in some rather uncharted territories for a bespectacled and nerdish comedian. One clip saw him wearing a suit while seated behind a floating desk in the Bahamas with sharks swimming around his feet. In another, he's atop a surfboard wearing chain mail in waters chock-full of rather big reef sharks. For the programme Shark City, he takes to the water on an inflatable shaped like a cartoon shark. "I would say I've always been fairly scared of sharks," Samberg told New York Daily News. "And I'm still fairly scared of sharks."

Of course, it's not the first time a funnyman has been lobbed in shark-infested waters for the show. Shark Week 2010 had Craig Ferguson on hosting duties. "I'm America's third favourite middle-of-the-night entertainer, and I'm about to throw all of that away," he said at the time.

Ferguson eventually emerged with all limbs intact, concluding that "I used to think Oprah was the most powerful thing on the planet. Apparently, I'm wrong".

Blending TV comedians and Great Whites is a fine method of boosting ratings while perhaps ensuring that if there was an unexpected savage attack, at least it might conclude with a punchline. But maybe it's simply a clever ploy by the show's shark-loving creators to highlight the lack of danger involved. Surely, if a weedy stand-up can survive without even a cheeky nibble, it's safe for all of us in there?

In which case, Shark Week 2012 should ditch the funny in favour of the celebrity. It might cost an arm and a leg, but the Discovery Channel should invest whatever it can to ensure Paris Hilton is the next to risk hers. Billions across the world would be clambering to watch the socialite/entrepreneur/whatever tread water in a Tiger Shark-infested area as her (copyrighted) screams of "That's Hot" increase in tempo and pitch. Or imagine Kim Kardashian floating on a surfboard surrounded by circling fins, desperately attempting to promote her latest perfume/skincare/clothing line while at the same time trying to keep her perfectly pedicured feet away from danger. Knowing Kardashian, she'd probably ditch the armour-plated wetsuit in favour of a skimpy item from her latest range of swimwear. It'd be compelling viewing.

Perhaps it should even be the man who transformed sharks from "wonders of the deep" to "public enemy number one" who is tossed overboard. Yes, that's right, see how Steven Spielberg likes paddling with the creatures he helped demonise more than 35 years ago. There won't be a police chief Brody or a handy gas canister this time, Steve.

To be fair, whoever fronts Shark Week it's still likely to be the Discovery Channel's main yearly draw for years to come. Our fascination with enormous underwater creatures that occasionally surface to gnaw an arm off with their razor-sharp teeth won't die down anytime soon. Hopefully, they'll be coming to the UAE soon (the programmes, not the creatures). But if the sharks do emerge, remember that you can scare them off with a sharp punch on the nose. Or so we've heard.

Published: August 4, 2011 04:00 AM


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