10 Bite-Sized Facts About Shark Week

Discovery Channel
Discovery Channel

Summer television changed forever in 1988, when Shark Week made its Discovery Channel debut. This week it’s back, for its 30th annual edition, with a host of new specials and guest stars like Shaquille O'Neal, Ronda Rousey, Aaron Rodgers, Rob Gronkowski, and Lindsey Vonn. Take a bite out of these 10 facts about Shark Week.

1. RUMOR HAS IT THAT THE IDEA FOR SHARK WEEK WAS CONCEIVED AT A BAR. (WHICH MAY VERY WELL BE A RUMOR.)

A scene from 'Shark Week'
Discovery Channel

In discussing how the idea for Shark Week came about, former executive producer Brooke Runnette told The Atlantic that “the idea was definitely scribbled down on the back of a cocktail napkin.” She explained that a group of Discovery Channel executives had gotten together for a “post-work brainstorming session” over drinks. "As I've heard it, they were just talking about what kinds of things would be fun to do on Discovery. 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.”

In 2014, former Discovery Channel group president Eileen O'Neill corrected this story, telling The Week: "It started with a scheduler and the founder of the company, John Hendricks, brainstorming. They started with the premise that sharks are such predatory beasts, and rated well, and thought, 'What if [we] took advantage of the August beach time?'"

2. THE VERY FIRST SHARK WEEK NEARLY DOUBLED DISCOVERY’S RATINGS.

Shark Week made its debut on July 17, 1988 with the special Caged in Fear. A total of 10 shark-themed shows aired that year over the course of the inaugural Shark Week, which was an immediate hit. The channel’s ratings nearly doubled their normal primetime average.

3. IT’S GOT A LOT OF CELEBRITY FANS.

Shark Week has become a highly anticipated television obsession for viewers around the world, including more than a few A-list names. Tracy Morgan’s 30 Rock character, Tracy Jordan, famously advised Kenneth the Page to “live every week like it’s Shark Week.” In 2010, Stephen Colbert called Shark Week “one of the two holiest of holidays.” Over the years, several other celebrities have expressed their love of Shark Week.

4. PETER BENCHLEY WAS ITS FIRST HOST.

In 1994, an emcee was added to the Shark Week proceedings. Appropriately, Jaws author Peter Benchley—whose beloved novel was celebrating its 20th anniversary—became the first-ever host of Shark Week. In the years since, MythBusters stars Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe, comedian/late night host Craig Ferguson, former SNL star Andy Samberg, and modern master of horror Eli Roth (writer-director of Cabin Fever and Hostel) have all filled the role.

5. SHARK WEEK WENT LIVE IN 1999.

In 1999, journalist Forrest Sawyer took Shark Week fans on a live underwater excursion of the Bikini Atoll, with camerawork courtesy of award-winning underwater cinematographer Al Giddings (The Abyss, Titanic), for a two-hour special titled Live from a Shark Cage.

6. IT MADE SCIENTIFIC HISTORY.

A scene from 'Shark Week'
Discovery Channel

In 2001, Shark Week premiered Air Jaws: Sharks of South Africa. The program captured the first-ever footage of great white sharks jumping out of the water, in some cases launching themselves as high as 15 feet in the air. New installments have been a staple of Shark Week programming ever since.

7. IT HOLDS A CABLE TELEVISION RECORD.

In 2010, Shark Week became the longest-running cable television programming event—and it shows no signs of slowing down.

8. IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT ENTERTAINMENT; IT’S ABOUT CONSERVATION, TOO.

Though shark attacks make for dramatic headlines, the University of Florida reported that in 2017 there were just 88 unprovoked shark attacks around the world, only five of which proved fatal. Yet more than 100 million sharks were killed as a result of industrial fishing—an issue that hits home with Discovery executives. While Shark Week is meant to both entertain and educate viewers, Discovery Channel also runs a number of PSAs throughout the week to help raise awareness about the dangers facing today’s sharks, and encourage viewers to make their voices heard.

For 2018, according to a press release, "Discovery Channel is encouraging all fans and shark enthusiasts to share their passion and insight about sharks online—including the issues our finned friends face. The Shark Week Instagram will feature top shark scientists, filmmakers, and advocates, who will connect with fans through photo and video takeovers to highlight their work in the field and provide a platform for the shark conservationist message."

9. ONE YOUNG FAN MADE A BIG DIFFERENCE.

A scene from 'Shark Week'
Discovery Channel

In 2014, Sean Lesniak—a 9-year-old Shark Week fanatic from Massachusetts—was so moved by a special on the declining shark population that he wrote a letter to his local representative, David M. Nangle, asking him to help put an end to shark finning. Nangle agreed with Lesniak's stance and pushed a bill forward to ban the trade of shark fins in Massachusetts. On July 24, 2014, then-governor Deval Patrick signed the bill into law.

10. SHARK WEEK 2018 WILL BE THE BIGGEST EVENT YET.

To celebrate its milestone 30th year, this year's Shark Week will be its biggest ever—with more than 20 hours of exclusive programming featuring shark experts, celebrity fans, and plenty of biting surprises.

10 Timeless Facts About The Land Before Time

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Five years before Jurassic Park roared into theaters, a gentler, more meditative dinosaur film endeared itself to audiences of all ages. Initially met with mixed reviews, The Land Before Time is now regarded as an animated classic. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the Steven Spielberg-produced film, which arrived in theaters 30 years ago.

1. IT WAS CONCEIVED AS A DIALOGUE-FREE MOVIE.

Gabriel Damon and Candace Hutson in The Land Before Time (1988)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the mid-1980s, executive producer Steven Spielberg began toying with the idea of a Bambi-esque dinosaur film. “Basically,” he later said, “I wanted to do a soft picture … about five little dinosaurs and how they grow up and work together as a group.” Inspiration came from the “Rite of Spring” sequence from Disney’s Fantasia (1940)—a scene in which prehistoric beasts wordlessly go about their business. At first, Spielberg wanted his own dinosaur characters to follow suit and remain mum. Ultimately, however, it was feared that a non-verbal approach might bore or confuse the film’s intended audience. As such, the animals were given lines.

2. DIRECTOR DON BLUTH WAS AN EX-DISNEY EMPLOYEE.

Don Bluth grew up idolizing Disney’s work, and began working for the studio in 1955. Over the next two decades, he did various odd jobs until he was brought on as a full-time animator in 1971. Once on the inside, Bluth got to peek behind the magician’s curtain—and disliked what he found there. “I think [Walt Disney] would’ve seen that the pictures were losing their luster,” Bluth said. Frustrated by the studio’s cost-cutting measures, he resigned in 1979. Joining him were fellow animators Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy. Together the trio launched their own company, Sullivan Bluth Studios, and began working on The Land Before Time in 1986.

3. OVER 600 BACKGROUND PAINTINGS WERE MADE FOR THE FILM.

Most of these depicted beautiful but barren wastelands, which presented a real challenge for the creative team. As one studio press release put it, “The artists had to create a believable environment in which there was almost no foliage.” Whenever possible, Bluth’s illustrators emphasized vibrant colors. This kept their backdrops from looking too drab or monotonous—despite the desolate setting.

4. LITTLEFOOT’S ORIGINAL NAME WAS “THUNDERFOOT.”

This was changed when the filmmakers learned that there was a triceratops in a popular children’s book called Thunderfoot. Speaking of three-horned dinosaurs: Cera evolved from a pugnacious male character called Bambo.

5. THE FILMMAKERS HAD TO CUT ABOUT 10 MINUTES OF FOOTAGE.

“We compromised a lot with The Land Before Time,” Goldman admitted. Nowhere was this fact more apparent than on the cutting room floor. Spielberg and his fellow executive producer George Lucas deemed 19 individual scenes “too scary.” “We’ll have kids crying in the lobby, and angry parents,” Spielberg warned. “You don’t want that.”

6. “ROOTER” WAS INTRODUCED AT THE URGING OF CHILD PSYCHOLOGISTS.

In Bambi, the title character’s mom dies off-screen. The same cannot be said for Littlefoot’s mother, whose slow demise goes on for several agonizing minutes. Naturally, there was some concern about how children would react to this. “A lot of research went into the mother dying sequence,” Pomeroy said. “Psychologists were approached and shown the film. They gave their professional opinions of how the sequence could be depicted.” Thus, Rooter was born.

One scene after Littlefoot’s mom passes, the wise reptile consoles him, saying “You’ll always miss her, but she’ll always be with you as long as you remember the things she taught you.” Sharp-eared fans might recognize Rooter’s voice as that of Pat Hingle, who also narrates the movie.

7. JAMES HORNER DID THE SOUNDTRACK.

The late, Oscar-winning composer behind Braveheart (1995), Titanic (1997), and Avatar (2009) put together a soaring score. Along with lyricist Will Jennings, he also penned the original song “If We Hold On Together,” which Diana Ross sings as the end credits roll.

8. THE ACTRESS BEHIND DUCKY PASSED AWAY BEFORE THE MOVIE’S RELEASE.

Judith Barsi’s career was off to a great start. By age 10, this daughter of Hungarian immigrants had already appeared in 70 commercials and voiced the leading lady in Don Bluth’s All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989). For The Land Before Time, Barsi voiced the ever-optimistic Ducky, which was reportedly her favorite role. Then tragedy struck: In July of 1988, Barsi’s father József murdered both her and her mother before taking his own life.

9. IT HAD A RECORD-SETTING OPENING WEEKEND.

From the get-go, The Land Before Time had some stiff competition. Universal released it on November 18, 1988—the same day that Disney’s Oliver & Company hit theaters. Yet, for a solid month, Bluth gave Oliver a box office beating. The Land Before Time enjoyed the highest-grossing opening weekend that any animated film had ever seen, pulling in $7.5 million to Oliver & Company’s $4 million. Since then, of course, The Land Before Time has long been dethroned; today, Incredibles 2 (2018) holds this coveted distinction with a $182.7 million first-weekend showing.

10. THERE ONCE WAS TALK OF A LAND BEFORE TIME STAGE MUSICAL.

“The time has come for dinosaurs on Broadway,” the late theatrical producer Irving Welzer told The New York Times in 1997. Emboldened by the recent cinematic success of Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1996), Welzer expressed an interest helping Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, and the rest of the gang make their Big Apple debut. Soon, however, the idea faded.

Billie Lourd Shares What (Very Little) She Can About Star Wars: Episode IX

Frazer Harrison, Getty Images
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

​Nearly nothing is known about the final film in the latest Star Wars series, except that J.J. Abrams, who helmed The Force Awakens, will be returning as director, and many of the cast members from both Abrams's earlier effort and The Last Jedi will be reprising their roles. Even the late Carrie Fisher, who sadly passed away on December 27, 2016, will be included in Episode IX, through unused footage from the previous two films.

Though all the stars of the upcoming film are sworn to secrecy about it, Fisher's daughter, Billie Lourd, is spilling what she can. Lourd, who played the minor role of Lieutenant Connix in the last two films, teased what it was like being back on set.

"I gotta watch myself because the Star Wars PD is going to come get me, but it is incredible. I’ve read the script and I’ve been on set," Lourd told ​Entertainment Tonight. "I was on set for, like, three weeks back in September, and it is going to be magical. I can’t say much more, but I’m so excited about it and so grateful to be a part of it. Star Wars is my heart. I love it."

A lot of things are riding on Episode IX, especially considering how divided fans were over The Last Jedi. Though with Abrams back in the director's chair, it seems likely that the new film will be a return to form. The as-yet-untitled film hits theaters on December 20, 2019.

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