I have been watching the unfolding industry talk and growing awareness surrounding Discovery Channel and Shark Week programming - which by all accounts and by our industry standards, has reached new lows.
What began as a clarion call this spring by Da Shark in Fiji, over a production that had approached him that described an anti-shark, anti-industry production has gone much further with industry members and shark conservationists asking the question "how do we change this?".
Beqa Adventure Divers also went one step further by making everyone aware a toxic production was in the region looking to do questionable things with sharks for television ratings.
A bold step by a regional shark operator and one we have called "industry leadership." For other less charitable members of our industry they have been called "meddlers."
Changing The Game
This is not solely a Discovery Networks problem and it cannot be solved by simply boycotting DC or even protesting DC - though a protest will generate media interest. As with all issues this is more nuanced with several players involved.
DC networks purchase show ideas from production companies. These shows are pitched to network execs who then say "great idea, here's some money, go out and make that show." The ball is then passed back to the production company who make a few calls eliciting help from regional players such as dive operators and shark researchers.
These regional players "enable" the production to move ahead by providing the access to sharks.
The production is wrapped, edited, and then goes back to DC for distribution aka Shark Week. If the show gets high ratings, the production company is often tapped for another show and the process repeats.
That's how it works in most cases. This is also how production values spiral downward as production companies "build on" last years show ratings, tailoring new shark shows on that metric and little else. Ratings.
So, as industry folks we have a choice. To look at a proposed shark script and say yes, no, or in our case "please modify". We have turned down quite a few shows in the past 5 years, we have also done quite a few and even modified a few with terrific results. Many production companies will seek guidance and it is up to us to offer it up, guiding the show to better quality.
If we as an industry want to see change at DC, then change must start with the operators and "enablers" who make productions happen. In some cases you have to "eat a production" or two - passing on productions today in the hopes that there will be better productions tomorrow.
Good productions are not hard to do, but it's a solution everyone has to be involved in. As an operator you can do your bit by turning down productions that refuse to modify story lines and who seek to portray all sharks as little more than killers.
The world needs and wants shark productions, and operators are willing to offer them up. Breaking the cycle of formulatic "killer shark" programming is something we all need to work on for better programming in the future.
Patric Douglas CEO