'Shark Week's' ready to shred 'Sharknado' as it returns for 26th year

Image: Great white shark
Discovery's "Return of Jaws" program features a shark cam that tracks these predators of the oceans, including great white sharks off Cape Cod.Today

Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
By Rob Owen

If you’re not among the “Shark Week” faithful, it’s easy to wonder: How many TV shows can possibly be made about sharks before this programming event threatens to jump the shark? After all, Discovery is kicking off its 26th year of shark-centered programming on Aug. 4.

But recent buzz about the cheesy Syfy movie “Sharknado” proves there’s an unending appetite for shows that star these predators of the seas. The campy made-for-TV flick starring Ian Ziering and Tara Reid debuted to just 1.4 million, but repeated airings have drawn more and more viewers, with the third delivering 2.1 million sets of eyeballs.

But compared to the sensation that is Discovery's "Shark Week," that's peanuts.

“It’s our biggest week of the year and brings in a lot of people who are not your core, common Discovery viewers,” Nancy Daniels, executive vice president of production and development for the network told TODAY.com. “It’s a pop culture phenomenon people talk about.”

Ratings for "Shark Week" 2012 in the 25-54 demo were 39.6 percent higher than the network's prime-time average. The premiere event also reeled in more than 21 million cumulative viewers, according to Discovery. In addition to high ratings, the TV event also blew up on social media last year, with 2.6 million @SharkWeek tweets and 17.5 million people reached on Facebook.

"Shark Week," which kicked off in 1988, has since featured more than 150 shark-centric programs. This year, Discovery will add 11 more to the list, including, "Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives," about a search for a species thought to be extinct; "Return of Jaws," which features a robot submarine that tracks the deadly fish; "Voodoo Sharks," about bull sharks in the Louisiana bayou; and more.

Of the new offerings, Daniels said she’s especially excited about “Megalodon.”

Trending stories,celebrity news and all the best of TODAY.

“For years we’ve found teeth of megalodon and we know they used to exist and we think they might still exist in ‘Megaladon,’ ” she said.

If it sounds like the cheesy Animal Planet programs about mermaids, “I think you might need to watch it to check it out,” Daniels teased.

This year's "Shark Week" will also feature a first for the network: “Shark After Dark,” a late-night talk show hosted by comedian Josh Wolf, best known for his regular appearances on “Chelsea Lately.”

The live, one-hour show will be “shark-centric” with shark experts as guests, Wolf told TODAY.com, but it will also feature celebrity guests, including “Sharknado’s” Reid.

Launching a late-night talk show on Discovery is something network executives had been considering before settling on testing the chum-infested waters during “Shark Week.” Daniels said “Shark After Dark” will serve as a learning experience for the network as it considers a more permanent late-night program.

“Shark After Dark” will include some mentions of the night’s prime-time shows and previews of the next night’s offerings, but Wolf said it’s not a recap show like other after-shows. (Think AMC's "Talking Dead.")

“I’m gonna assume people tuning in have just watched ‘Shark Week’ so it’s only smart to comment on it,” Wolf said. Besides, he’s a fan of shark shows too: “I’m one of those guys who’s always been obsessed with watching it.”

Wolf said he gets geared up for “Shark Week” each year, but he’s hesitant to actually swim with sharks.

He’s not alone in his armchair enthusiasm. By mid-July, Twitter was lighting up with anticipation:







Discovery jump-started interest in “Shark Week” this year with a promotional campaign that showed a shark snatching Snuffy the Seal as he was being returned to the ocean. (Slogan: “It’s a bad week to be a seal.”)

Daniels credited Lara Richardson, Discovery’s senior vice president of marketing, for coming up with a campaign that plays off the frequent “Shark Week” image of sharks breaching the ocean’s surface to chomp on seals. (Daniels revealed what viewers often see on “Shark Week” are sharks attacking fake, decoy seals dragged behind boats in an effort to capture dramatic footage.)

The spot shocked some viewers with how dark it was, but it did the trick in drawing attention to "Shark Week" 2013. Just one month after the spot premiered in late June, the video already had more than 1.3 million views on YouTube.

As for competing networks trying to steal Discovery’s shark thunder, Daniels said she’s not concerned.

“(Syfy) figured out something we’ve known for a long time: Sharks are awesome and people love sharks,” she said. “('Sharknado') just reaffirmed what we do every year for ‘Shark Week.’ ”