So this week should have been the start of a wonderful, and almost sacred, tradition for many. Shark week, which started in 1987, has been a week where discovery channel shows more shark programs than you might be comfortable with. The original intention of the show was to raise awareness and respect for sharks through educational programming with just the right amount of creepy music. As the Discovery Channel evolved to add programming like Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs they also had themed episodes of those shows to air during shark week.
This year shark week opened with a fictitious documentary styled show made to look credible and it left a sour taste in many mouths. Sure, I could have gone for the obvious "salty taste" or "something smells fishy" joke, but I am not writing for the Huffington Post. One notable, and in my opinion also well thought out, blog post from Internet Sweetheart Wil Wheton went so far as to claim that Discovery owes their audience and apology.
So last night, I tuned in to watch the first entry in this year’s sharkstravaganza: a documentary about one of the coolest megasharks ever, the prehistoric Megalodon. This thing was freakinghuge,
with teeth the size of an adult human’s hand, and it is very, very extinct. Discovery’s special started out with what appeared to be “found footage” of some people on a fishing boat that gets hit and sunk by something huge … and I immediately knew something was amiss. The “found footage” was shot the way a professional photographer shoots things, not the way a vacationer holds their video camera. There was no logical way the camera could survive the salt water for the footage to be found. The footage was alleged to have been found in April … but then it got so much worse:Discovery Channel started Shark Week with a completely fake, completely made-up, completely bullshit “documentary” and they lied to their audience about it. They presented it as real.
I didn't watch it personally and I will get to the reason for that in a moment. The reason Wil is upset is because he cares about education and he cares about science. I would take a step further and say that I also care about making quality educational and science based television that is accessible to everyone. Back in the Pre-Reality days channels like Discovery and History used to be a place to find quality and credible information. It was a way to passively learn about the world we live and and the history that makes our world what it is today. It's what turned me onto the "boring" subjects in school. It taught me that there are great stories in history waiting to be explored. Those days seem dead now.
Let's take a look at the list of shows on the History Channel - Bamazon which is about panning for gold in the amazon today, Chasing Tale which is about hunting deer today, Counting Cars which is one of the countless spin off shows from Pawn Stars. These are all the ones being pushed with big flashy images on their website. Now to Discovery - Amish Mafia which may or may not be based on real events, Warlocks Rising about a biker gang, and Street Outlaws which is about illegal racing. This stuff all seems like it is about sensational reality crap TV with very little educational value.
There is a reason I cut my cable out completely over a year ago now. The quality of programming seems like it is primarily geared towards mindless television watching. I am not advocating that those shows not be around. There is a lot of value to being able to veg on occasion. What I take issue with is that it shouldn't be a chore to find something educational to watch. It has actually become easier to find educational, and entertaining, programming online than it is on television and that is why I hear of more and more people cutting cable. Sure it isn't a majority, not even close, but there are enough that it has made me pay attention to these industries.
I think that this Megladon faux documentary is a desperate grab for ratings and I think it signals the end of a tradition for many people.
Shark Week is Dead. Long Live Shark Week.