‘Shark Week’ at 25: Evolution of an event

As Discovery Channel continues its 25th annual 'Shark Week,' executive producer Brooke Runnette (pictured) reflects on how the show has changed over a quarter of a century.
August 13, 2012

As Discovery Channel continues its 25th annual ‘Shark Week,’ executive producer Brooke Runnette (pictured) reflects on how the show has changed over a quarter of a century. ¬†

This year’s ‘Shark Week’ is offering up more programming than ever before, with 10 premieres, including Sharkzilla and How Jaws Changed the World, as U.S. net Discovery Channel celebrates 25 years of shark fascination.

Brooke Runnette, ‘Shark Week’ executive producer, tells realscreen the reason why audiences have been fanatically tuning in for a quarter of a century is simple: “Because of the sharks. The sharks are cool.”

Those audiences, which have been steadily growing – 26.6 million people tuned in for last year’s edition – are the broadest and most gender-balanced during ‘Shark Week,’ which is now one of cable’s longest-running programming events.

Runnette, who commissions and executive produces all of the shows, says that this year’s 25th edition is celebrated on screen with more specials, comprising a mix of natural history, straight documentaries and lighter fare. There are also live premieres at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California and downtown in Silver Spring, Maryland; and a number of social media events.

As for programming, Discovery has enlisted a number of production companies¬† for premieres, including Jeff Kurr’s Shark Entertainment for Air Jaws Apocalypse, which aired on August 12; Creative Differences’ Sharkzilla; Beyond Entertainment’s MythBusters’ Jawsome Shark Special; Waddell Media’s How Jaws Changed the World; Nutopia’s Adrift: 47 Days With Sharks; CBS Eye Too and Beanfield Productions’ Shark Fight; True Blue Films’ Great White Highway; and Gurney Productions’ Shark Week’s 25 Best Bites and Shark Week’s Impossible Shots.

Runnette says she often turns to the same prodcos for each ‘Shark Week,’ because they know how to work with sharks and shoot underwater, although she is always looking for new ideas.

“‘Shark Week’ shows are a little different because the shark is the star,” she says. “It’s not really a people show. When [producers] come to me and say ‘I’ve got this thing with a great team of people,’ if it’s not really illuminating something new about the sharks, that’s for a different week of TV.”

What started in 1988 with a show called Caged in Fear has led to a total of 143 shark programs, as well as stunt programming with live shows (Live From a Shark Cage), 3D titles (Sharks 3-D) and countless celebrities and personalities, including Jaws author Peter Benchley, the event’s first host, in 1994.

The biggest change that Runnette has noted in her four years heading up ‘Shark Week’ is the impact of camera technology on the films and shark science.

“This new-found camera that shoots at 1,000 frames per second [used in Air Jaws Apocalypse] gets such a different look, and now there’s underwater housing for it. We can actually see these animals, see them breach and see them going by underwater in a totally different way,” she says.

“It’s been a really happy convergence with science too, because the scientists can see things they couldn’t see before, figuring out new things, being able to identify new sharks [and] figuring out the markings on them.”

However, there is one thing that stays the same, according to Brunnette: “The deep primal awe that a shark instils in you. That never changes.”

  • ‘Shark Week’ runs from August 12 to 16 on Discovery Channel.
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