On the Origin of Shark Week

This Sunday evening, Shark Week kicked off its 25th annual marathon. Now the longest-running cable TV programming event in history, Shark Week, like many brilliant ideas, began as a concept on a scribbled napkin. Says executive producer Brooke Runnette on Shark Week’s origins:

“I wouldn’t say stoned, but the idea was definitely scribbled down on the back of a cocktail napkin,” Runnette says with a laugh. The legend, as she tells it, goes like this: In the early years of the Discovery Channel, executives John Hendricks, Clark Bunting, and Steve Cheskin, widely considered the three main primogenitors of the Discovery Channel, were seated at a bar among a group of their Discovery colleagues in what one can only imagine was probably euphemized as a “post-work brainstorming session.”

The next events played out exactly as millions of shark fanatics across the globe have probably imagined. “As I’ve heard it, they were just talking about what kinds of things would be fun to do on Discovery,” the executive producer says. “And one of them said something like, ‘You know what would be awesome? Shark Week!’ And somebody in that nexus scribbled it down on a napkin.

On the specialty of Shark Week this season:

The new programming on this 25th edition of Shark Week, for instance, is all made possible by one slight (or not-so-slight) technological update: In the aughts, Runnette’s teams began shooting with a Phantom, a high-speed video camera that can capture 1,000 frames per second. Just recently, the Phantom’s signature, breathtaking, slower-than-slow-mo shots allowed TV audiences to scrutinize athletes’ every bulging, twitching muscle at the London Olympics, and they’ve worked some of the same magic with Discovery audiences. “

Read the rest of the Shark Week profile here.

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