The Discovery Channel held their first Shark Week promotion in 1987. In the 27 years since then, the seemingly educational series of programming has “jumped the shark,” so to speak, and slid into entertainment, and even more recently, into cryptozoology. This year’s Shark Week will begin Sunday, August 10. To get you ready for this year's Shark Week, here are some of the silliest sharks in pop culture history.
1. Land Shark
During the fourth episode of Saturday Night Live, the Not Ready for Prime Time Players did a spoof of the movie Jaws called “Jaws II,” featuring the character Land Shark, voiced by Chevy Chase, who would talk through doors, trying to get people to open up so he could attack. The shark was so popular, it became a recurring skit. Land Shark appeared in eight episodes of Saturday Night Live, mostly during the show’s first three seasons.
Jabberjaw was an anthropomorphic great white shark with his own band (he played drums) in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series of the same name. It aired from 1976 to 1978, although the second season was all repeats. With the help of his four teenage bandmates, Jabberjaw solved mysteries. That basic plot may seem a bit familiar to you.
In the Disney-Pixar movie Finding Nemo, Bruce is the leader of a group of sharks who have pledged to stop eating fish, and have formed a support group. Although he is earnest in his goal of kicking the meat-eating habit, Bruce is sorely tempted by the slightest whiff of blood in the water. Strange as a vegetarian shark may seem, there is an analog in the real world, a shark named Florence who stopped eating meat after a surgical procedure and prefers vegetarian fare.
Lenny, from the 2004 Dreamworks movie Shark Tale, is also a vegetarian. Although many thought Shark Tale was a ripoff of Finding Nemo, which was released a year earlier, both movies were in development at the same time. Still, if you were going to have two animated vegetarian sharks, would you name them Lenny and Bruce? The only way it would have been odder would be if Lenny Bruce had been a vegetarian.
5. The Shark that was Jumped
In the episode of the TV show Happy Days that gave us the now-familiar pop culture term, Fonzie jumped over a shark. On water skis. The stunt was so silly that the phrase “jump the shark” has come to mean the point at which a show is past its prime and begins to rely on stupid gimmicks to retain viewers. Oddly, that particular episode was a big hit and the series continued for seven more years. In retrospect, we can see how Happy Days changed considerably at about that point, but what it changed into was still appealing to the prime time audience of the day.
When it comes to silliness, no one does sharks better than SyFy. Last night was the premiere of the movie Sharknado 2: The Second One, the sequel to last year’s Sharknado, about a storm that carries huge man-eating sharks over land. The A.V. Club has a review of the sequel, which they pronounce as pretty good, considering that it’s a SyFy monster movie. You will be able to catch a repeat showing several times this weekend.
The 2010 SyFy movie Sharktopus was about a genetically-engineered combination of shark and octopus. How this makes the creature any more terrifying than a regular shark only becomes clear when you see it grab people off land and walk on its tentacles. But it’s still silly.
8. Mega Shark
Asylum cranks out monster movies that go directly to home video. In 2009, they released Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, which grabbed our collective consciousness with its trailer showing a giant shark leaping from the water and attacking an airplane. The relative success of Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus led to the sequels Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus and Mega Shark Versus Mecha Shark. Asylum later produced Sharknado for SyFy. Other, non-Asylum shark films that followed include Snow Shark, Sand Sharks, and Swamp Shark.
Now, there’s nothing silly about the ancient shark megalodon. According to fossil evidence, it could grow up to 60 feet long and thrived until about 1.5 million years ago, when it became extinct. I’m talking about the 2013 show Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives that anchored Shark Week last year. The show was labeled as fictional in a short disclaimer at the beginning and the end, but presented material in the form of a documentary, hinting that there is evidence of surviving megalodons existing in the wild. Many in the audience missed the disclaimers, and the scientific community responded with criticism for the Discovery Channel in that they were not only misleading their audience, but the whole idea of airing a fictional documentary was irresponsible and cheapened the educational tradition of Shark Week. However, it was the most-watched Shark Week show ever. You can see Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives in segments on the Discovery Channel’s site. This year’s Shark Week lineup has quite a few educational shows, dressed up in rather provocative names, and then down at the bottom you see a show called Megalodon: The New Evidence.
We’ve had a lot of articles about real sharks you should check out here at mental_floss.