Howard Swartz, senior VP of production and development at Discovery Channel, talks to TV Real about this summer’s Shark Week.
Now in its 33rd year, Discovery’s Shark Week has become something of a TV institution. Packed with shark-centered specials, big-name stars join in on the science and underwater fun, with Discovery’s main aim for the event to inspire curiosity about sharks and interest in their protection. Starting on July 11 and continuing through July 18, programming for this summer’s Shark Week will be featured across Discovery and the recently launched discovery+ streaming platform for its biggest edition yet.
“With the launch of discovery+ earlier this year, we have an additional platform to share these amazing animals with an even bigger audience,” says Howard Swartz, senior VP of production and development at Discovery Channel. “We, in essence, have a bigger boat! And this allows us to create more shark content and tell more stories that our audiences love.”
When it comes to putting together the stacked slate of content, Swartz notes that it’s a matter of balancing three things: sharks, science and stars. “We ultimately let the sharks and shark researchers guide where Shark Week goes. What is the latest science, what are the new breakthroughs, what are the trends the scientists are seeing and pursuing?”
Among the titles that Swartz is most excited for viewers to see are Great White Comeback, Mega Jaws of Bird Island, The Spawn of El Diablo and Air Jaws: Going for Gold, which cover different aspects of great white sharks findings their way back to South Africa after a several-year absence. “It’s exciting to see the biggest, baddest and highest-flying sharks return,” says Swartz, who is also looking forward to the premiere of The Real Sharknado. “The Sharknado movie franchise is a pop culture hit and is equal parts fun and implausible—but it does beg some legit questions,” says Swartz. “For example, how do sharks behave in bad weather? Having Ian Ziering and Tara Reid go on this adventure with our scientists is good fun and great science.”
Discovery’s first-ever Shark Week series, Shark Academy follows eight men and women for six weeks as they compete to earn a spot on the crew of shark scientist Dr. Riley Elliott’s next shark diving expedition. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for these shark enthusiasts with non-traditional backgrounds to leap ahead in the competitive world of shark research,” says Swartz. “With unbelievable shark encounters and a fair amount of drama, the diverse cohort of skilled divers with a deep passion for sharks will put everything on the line for the opportunity of a lifetime.”
The evolution of camera technology continues to play a major role in helping Discovery roll out fresh and exciting new shark content. “Each year it seems we’re able to see these sharks and their world in ways that weren’t previously possible,” says Swartz. “From being able to place high-quality cameras on the sharks (and sometimes inside the sharks!) themselves, to accessing locations and habitats previously unreachable, all of this has allowed scientists to see and study behaviors like never before. And we have the opportunity to ride along with them and experience these discoveries with them in real-time.”
Shark Week’s 360-degree multiplatform experience this year will include Shark Rumble, an original mid-form episode on discovery+ that features WWE Superstar Drew McIntyre on his first close encounter with sharks alongside marine biologist Luke Tipple. Discovery’s TikTok will host exclusive immersive experiences from Shark Week talent for behind-the-scenes content, while bonus videos and more will be available on SharkWeek.com and across Shark Week’s Facebook Instagram and Twitter pages.
Once again, Shark Week has attracted an impressive roster of celebrities—fans of the event themselves—to join in on the learning and fun, including William Shatner, Tiffany Haddish and Brad Paisley. “Our biggest goal is to bring in as many people as we can so that they can fall in love with [the sharks] and be inspired to protect them,” says Swartz. “If you can get more people to feel that way, we can get a lot more done to protect them. The celebs have that megaphone. And often, through their experience on Shark Week, they become fierce advocates for shark conservation efforts.”
As Swartz points out, people are both fascinated by sharks and fearful of the creators, which have evolved to become the formidable predators of the sea they are today over the course of millions of years. Through Shark Week, Discovery offers context for their fearsome reputation. “We’ve been able, for 33 years, to show them as these amazing animals with incalculable importance to the Earth’s ecosystem and do so in a way that is fun and entertaining,” says Swartz. “Shark Week has become a pop culture phenomenon that is now synonymous with summer.”