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Geoff Daniels on Nat Geo’s Biggest-Ever SharkFest


Kicking off on Sunday, July 19, SharkFest 2020 will encompass 17 original premieres across National Geographic and Nat Geo WILD over five weeks, plus a raft of library shark content. “The success of last year motivated us to supersize it even more this year,” says Geoff Daniels, executive VP of global unscripted entertainment at National Geographic.

“We are in such a fortunate position with National Geographic being connected to so many amazing scientists around the world doing extraordinary real-world research with these magnificent creatures. We realized that if we wanted to increase our investment in the content, we certainly had a platform and an audience for it. It was a strategic decision to continue to expand it. And to be honest, with the Olympics moving and summer pastimes sidelined, we realized there was an opportunity here to give our audience a gift—the must-see event of the summer. There’s a legion of shark fans out there. We thought, supersizing it, making it bigger, bolder, giving it more bite, if you will, was the way to go.”

Over the years, Nat Geo has prioritized a “shark-first” approach to its SharkFest slate, while every year making the shows “bigger and more epic,” Daniels says. “Each year we have been able to gain greater access to a wider variety of shark scientists who are now making us their first port of call, recognizing that we’re Nat Geo and we always make the shark the star. We always elevate the science; we don’t do schtick and shlock and stunting. By becoming the hub for real shark science and real shark storytelling, and demonstrating that the truth is more thrilling than fiction, we’re getting these guys coming to us with their stories, asking us to follow them and their exploits. You mesh that with the new technologies coming online, which can get access into the shark world, like the fin cams and all these other kinds of devices that can film in 4K. That combination gives you a more entertaining, cinematic, almost movie-like experience.”

And the 2020 lineup does not disappoint, Daniels says. “In prepping for this call, I rewatched some of the episodes, and I had a big, emotional reaction because there was something breathtaking and inspiring and hopeful in these shows. From the comfort of my own living room, I was able to go to the South Pacific, to these beautiful lagoons and these breathtaking locations. We went to something like 30 locations on five continents, capturing thousands of hours of footage. It was breathtaking, it was refreshing, and it just made me happy!”

Among the highlights is World’s Biggest Tiger Shark?, in which Emmy Award-winning cinematographer Andy Casagrande and marine biologist Kori Garza journey to a remote lagoon in French Polynesia in search of the world’s largest living tiger shark. The special takes advantage of a range of tools to capture the behavior of these sharks in ways that don’t disturb them, Daniels says, “allowing us to peer into their world in ways we haven’t seen before. And some sequences are the most thrilling, edge-of-your-seat diving I’ve ever seen.”

Daniels also highlights Sharkcano, in which Dr. Michael Heithaus explores the how and why of sharks being attracted to active volcanos. “For the first time, we were able to capture footage of an underwater volcano erupting thanks to a remote robotic ROV that was on the surface that captured evidence of sharks living inside a boiling volcanic caldera.”

Shark vs. Surfer, meanwhile, is a “mystery thriller,” Daniels says, that delivers insights on sharks “from those who have the closest encounters with them: surfers. They have these harrowing and gripping tales, yet when they come out, they still have this amazing awe and love and appreciation for the ocean and for sharks. You go on this journey that leaves you feeling well informed. It demystifies and takes demonization out and replaces it with inspiration and respect.”

Delivering access and insights, of course, is not easy. “You do have to go further and further afield to find those pristine places where shark populations are healthy and where the ecosystem is in balance. You can use the tools of science to look back in time to see what these environments should be and could be again in the future with our protection.”

Indeed, the entire SharkFest slate connects with the National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas initiative devoted to the health of the world’s oceans. “At a time during COVID-19 when we talk about the interconnectedness of our planet and how much our health depends on the health of the planet, not only is SharkFest going to be an amazing and fun event, the underlying messages people will be receiving are inspired, important and impactful,” says Daniels. “For more than 130 years, National Geographic has been exploring the farthest reaches of Earth’s oceans and is recognized worldwide for its unparalleled conservation efforts of Earth’s last frontier—the ocean. We will use the Pristine Seas initiative and the PSAs and the calls to action that we put around this event to drive that home in a meaningful way, as you would expect National Geographic to do.”

And with Nat Geo now fully integrated into The Walt Disney Company, there will be even more opportunities for audiences to interact with SharkFest content. “After eight years, we have a pretty deep library of shark content. Hulu, Disney+, all those platforms are now at our disposal in terms of being able to increase the reach and allow people who can’t get enough shark content to see it at any point.”

There will also be a range of content on social media with ESPN anchor Kenny Mayne. “He is going to be the lead face of our promotions and our social digital experience, where shark superfans can go to the SharkFest hub to learn everything they want to know about these sharks [and access] behind-the-scenes material. These experiences will allow people to look at these sharks as the superb athletes that they are, the ultimate survivors, and engage with the content at an entirely different level.”








About Mansha Daswani

Mansha Daswani is the editor and associate publisher of World Screen. She can be reached on [email protected]

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