TV

Countdown to Shark Week: the shark-human relationship

All week, senior writer Lindsay Gibb has been counting down the days until Discovery's next Shark Week. Today, in the final installment, she talks to executive producer Brooke Runnette about what the broadcaster is looking for when it sets out to program the week. Also, realscreen takes a sneak peek at some of the programs that will premiere in this year's edition.
July 30, 2009

All week, senior writer Lindsay Gibb has been counting down the days until Discovery’s next Shark Week. Today, in the final installment, she talks to executive producer Brooke Runnette about what the broadcaster is looking for when it sets out to program the week. Also, realscreen takes a sneak peek at some of the programs that will premiere in this year’s edition.

When Discovery sets out to program Shark Week, it does so using the same filter as it does for the rest of its programming, according to Brooke Runnette, executive producer for this year’s edition. ‘We’re looking for something that’s going to be on Discovery’s brand and the most fun you can have while learning,’ says Runnette. ‘It’s going to be an immersive experience, both exciting and informative.’

In addition to that criteria, another key element for Shark Week content is combining human stories with the science of the shark. David Alter, director of Sharkbite Summer, had worked with Discovery in previous years for Shark Week and knew what they were looking for. He approached Summer, the story of the increase in shark attacks in the United States during the summer of 2001, by forming relationships with some of the key characters in the story to build their trust and embark on a collaboration. For some of the stories Alter filmed the victims back in the water, while for some of the more sensitive stories, they shot a limited amount of reconstruction, sharing an animatronic shark with another new Shark Week production, Blood in the Water. Both programs are from UK prodco Brook Lapping. ‘I’m a firm believer in using the visual tools at your disposal to make the most of what’s fundamentally a powerful story from first person accounts,’ says Alter. ‘There’s always the danger that in trying to overdramatize that, you can undermine the impact.’

Runnette says that even in attack-based shows, such as Sharkbite Summer, Discovery wants to bring the content back to what they feel viewers are most interested in: ‘What happens when humans are in shark territory, and what is it about human behaviors that might trigger a shark to take a nibble, or even worse?’

Other programs premiering during this year’s edition include Deadly Waters, where ‘Survivorman’ Les Stroud goes into five different shark-infested waters to see which is the most dangerous; Day of the Shark 2 which covers a number of famous human encounters with sharks; Great White Appetite which follows former Force Recon Marine Charles Ingram as he travels the world and consults with shark experts in an effort to find out what makes great whites tick; and Shark After Dark which investigates the behaviors of sharks at night.

While many of the titles debuting during Shark Week involve shark attack stories, the essential nugget within each program is discovering what makes these creatures tick and how we can prevent being in situations where we become bait. ‘[It's] like a bunch of campfire tales; what did a person do in a situation that was probably the wrong thing to do?’ says Runnette, who points out there is also a message of conservation in Shark Week’s content. ‘If it’s you against the shark, the shark has a pretty good chance, but if it’s all people against all sharks, the sharks aren’t doing very well.’

Discovery’s Shark Week runs from August 2 to 8.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.

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