When Shark Week started 25 years ago "on the back of a cocktail napkin," Discovery Channel had no idea what it had on its hook.
"For a long time, it was super scary biting and all about attacks and psychotic sharks," Shark Week executive producer Brooke Runnette tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Now, with its 25th year kicking off Sunday, the weeklong event that features programming including Sharkzilla (above), Air Jaws Apocalypse and a Mythbusters' Jawsome Shark Special, "The shark is the star," says Runnette, Discovery Channel's director of production and development.
While the allure of the shark has only grown, one thing has remained the same for the past 25,000 years: they still offer the same mystery and sense of wildness that comes with the thrill of knowing that anywhere there's an ocean, there's something out there watching you.
Documentaries, shark attack re-enactments and interviews with real-life victims have continued to join the Shark Week slate, with Runnette noting that the evolution of camera technology has helped evolve the programming block's content. "If you look at all the shots we've been getting, we put the focus back on natural history," she says. "It's not about the people, it's about these amazing animals that make us feel reverent."
The annual event is a boon for the network, Runnette says, noting it delivers an entirely different and, perhaps more importantly, broader demographic than the cabler typically gets for hits including Deadliest Catch and Gold Rush, which remain bigger hits. "We get many more women, younger people, co-viewing, little kids and older viewers; it's a really valuable event in the summer and a brand unto itself," she notes.
This year, fodder includes Shark Fight -- a special focusing shark attack victims who have turned their focus to saving sharks and preserving our oceans -- as well as Shark Week's 25 Best Bites, with the EP noting that she's heard pitches for anything and everything, including one that involved wearing "chum underpants."
And while Shark Week continues to captivate viewers, Runnette is quite content to leave the programming block as is rather than "squander" it throughout the year. "You want to have the moment when everyone sits around the campfire and says, 'It's summer, we're going to the beach and let's talk about what scares us the most,'" she notes.
The shark enthusiast -- who notes she's been in the water "near sharks" but has yet to go in the water "with sharks" citing a hectic schedule -- notes that there's one major Great White mystery that Discovery has yet to tell, mostly because science has yet to explain it.
"The holy grail of White sharks right now is every year they spend nine months -- with three months spent swimming up and down the California coast when there's fat little seal pups here -- they head out to the Pacific and this area the size of Texas where they congregate," Runnette explains. "It's like a giant mixer, all these sharks from different parts of California. It's got to be food or sex, nobody knows."
"But something happens and they dive deep and it's this mysterious thing. I, of course, think there's some kind of action movie going on where the sharks, giant squid and whales are all diving in and eating each other in some big, wild party. They call it the Great White Café. I will make it happen," she vows with a laugh.
Shark Week kicks off Sunday at 9 p.m. on Discovery, check out an exclusive scene from Sharkzilla, premiering Monday at 9 p.m., above.