Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.
"I'm pleased and happy to repeat the news that we have, in fact, caught and killed a large predator that supposedly injured some bathers. But, as you see, it's a beautiful day, the beaches are open and people are having a wonderful time. Amity, as you know, means friendship." – Mayor Larry Vaughn, Jaws
That statement, made by a fictional seaside-town mayor, kickstarted a phenomenon that many, including yours truly, have capitalized upon over the past 46 years: our underlying fear of sharks.
Jaws started it all in 1975. Many sequels and knockoffs followed. Fonzie took his infamous leap (thank you, Henry). And in the late 80's, someone at the Discovery Channel realized they were sitting on a gold mine of shark footage and put together a themed week to air during the summer. According to Discovery, that week has become the longest-running television event in history.
Shark Week began as an idea scribbled on the back of a napkin during an executive chat about fun things Discovery could do. The original week was dedicated to conservation efforts and correcting misconceptions about sharks. The first program, Caged In Fear, focused on testing motorized shark cages. Everyone's heart was in the right place.
Once the marketing department realized what they’d tapped into, all bets were off. Sharks get eyeballs… so put out anything shark-related and give the people what they want. Ratings grew year after year, and Discovery made the most of the tens of millions who get their shark fix every summer. Nat Geo now offers its own SharkFest, and others are attempting get into the game as well. There's plenty of chum out there to be consumed.
Celebs still line up to be part of traditional Shark Week. This year we'll see William Shatner, Tiffany Haddish, Brad Paisley and the cast of Jackass to name just a few. They're not just capitalizing on a devoted audience, they actually want to be part of the phenomenon.
Which isn’t to say there’s anything highbrow about Shark Week in its current form. Contrast that original week in 1988 to a sampling of titles debuting this week on Discovery:
Monday - Jaws Awakens: Phred vs Slash
Tuesday - MotherSharker
Wednesday - The Real Sharknado
Thursday - Dr. Pimple Popper Pops Shark Week
Friday - Ninja Sharks: Mutants Rising
Saturday - Return To Shark Vortex
Sunday - The Great Hammerhead Stakeout
Nat Geo's programming isn't much different, and it's too bad. Shark celebrations don't require the all blown-out hype. The networks don't need to be in on the joke anymore. The blood is in the water… the audience will feast regardless.
It's reminiscent of when other shows from the past tried stunt casting or something completely out of context in hopes of improving ratings. We all know what happens next. Just ask the Fonz.
THIS WEEK’S SPTINAFOBYMB!
(Shows Premiering That I'm Not A Fan Of But You Might Be!)
Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes (HBO) – Six-part adaptation of Ronan Farrow's book/podcast investigating Harvey Weinstein. Creeps Monday.
Miracle Workers (TBS) – Daniel Radcliffe and Steve Buscemi take to the Oregon Trail as the comedy anthology returns for its third season. Embarks Tuesday.
My Unorthodox Life (NETFLIX) – Reality show about a former Orthodox community member who belongs on Bravo. Sacrifices Wednesday.
American Horror Stories (FX ON HULU) – Anthology spinoff of Ryan Murphy's FX hit with different stories and casts each week. Frightens Thursday.
Schmigadoon! (APPLE TV+) – Backpackers stumble upon a town that believes they're living inside a 1940's musical. Curtain rises Friday.
The End (SHOWTIME) – Dark comedy about three generations dealing with the end of life in different ways. Arrives Sunday.
THIS WEEK'S PICKS
Real-life robberies, deadly surgeries and a Beatle gets back…
Wednesday, July 14th
Armored cars, planes, bourbon – millions of dollars have been swiped, and the thieves themselves tell us how they (almost) pulled it off. And it's not as easy as knowing the Lufthansa security guard.
This is the next level of the Netflix true-crime craze. Six real-life heists are broken down with candid explanations of crimes and captures. These are thefts, not murders, which makes this docuseries a little lighter than other Netflix fare.
Dr. Death (PEACOCK)
Thursday, July 15th
I vividly remember riding the subway incredulously devouring this podcast. I asked myself how could this not be a movie or TV show? My trip began at 30 Rock, so maybe someone upstairs was listening.
A Texas neurosurgeon is accused of malpractice after more than 30 of his patients are left seriously injured or dead. Joshua Jackson and Alec Baldwin lead the top-notch cast in this eight-episode series. No spoilers here – but keep reminding yourself that this isn't a fictional tale. Watch trailer.
McCartney 3, 2, 1 (HULU)
Friday, July 16th
All six episodes drop as Paul McCartney explores his musical career with the help of Rick Rubin. Most Beatles fans can't get enough of Sir Paul. Count me in.
If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you..
Get vaccinated. Stay healthy and safe.
Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.
TOPICS: Shark Week, Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Tubi