It’s shark time again, which sort of makes our season complete.
“I don’t think you can have summer without Shark Week,” said Jeff Kurrm, producer of the “Air Jaws” films (shown here) and more.
Yes, the competing Shark Fest has been running for two weeks on National Geographic, with more to come. But Shark Week on Discovery (and now Discovery+) is the original, going back to 1988.
“We used to do seven or eight new films a year,” Kurr said. “Now how many are there?” Well, 28 new ones, starting July 24 (7 p.m. to midnight) and concluding July 30 (8-11:30 p.m.). Add the reruns and this goes from 2 a.m. July 24 to 4 p.m. July 31; that’s 182 straight hours of sharks.
Alongside the quantity, Kurr said, there’s a jump in technical quantity. “Many of the images are 8K, which is amazing …. It really looks like the shark is jumping into your living room.”
Yes, jumping. His “Air Jaws” films rerun during the week; a new one, “Air Jaws: Top Guns” debuts at 8 p.m. Monday (July 25), repeating at midnight and then at 6 p.m. Tuesday, 7 p.m. Saturday (July 30) and 1 p.m. July 31. This is a specialty that came by accident.
Kurr grew up in California, at a time without drones and such, when beachgoers were mostly unaware of nearby sharks. “If there was a great white sighted, people would go out and try to kill it.”
Their anger may have seemed reasonable back then; Kurr recalls watching “Jaws” (1975) as a young teen: “I was scared to death.”
Now flash forward 16 years. After being a TV newsroom director in Indianapolis and elsewhere, he had returned to California in 1991. “I saw an ad looking for an editor for this thing called ‘Shark Week’ …. I knew nothing about sharks, but I immediately began learning.”
He got the job and was soon in a cage, close-up with the sharks he’d feared. “Once you’re there, all of that goes away. You see how beautiful they are, how intelligent they are.”
His favorites became the great whites – larger (“big enough to eat someone with one bite”), stronger and smarter than the others. Then he heard stories that ones in South Africa leap out of the water. “I didn’t believe it, but I had to go and see.”
Scientists now say this is a hunting strategy. Sharks build speed (up to 25 mph) as they near the surface, leap up to 10 feet in the air and descend on the prey.
Soon, he was tossing out fake prey and filming. “I spent 70 days there …. Tapes were scattered all over the boat. I kept ordering more tapes to be sent to the hotel room.”
“Air Jaws: Sharks of South Africa” became a hit in 2001; “Top Guns” is its 13th sequel.
Much has changed in these decades, including the equipment and the locations. The original site hasn’t had great whites in recent years, Kurr said, because of the arrival of killer orcas.
His staff also changes. He’s working with Andy Casagrande, an Emmy-winning cinematographer, and with skipper/diver Dickie Chivell, “a kid I discovered (in South Africa). The guy just loves sharks.”
A lot of people do, apparently. Kurr (who was then divorced with twin sons) recalled someone spotting him in a store. “She was a big Shark Week fan. She said, ‘You’re the shark guy, aren’t you?’”
Now they’re married and she’s the still photographer, capturing soaring shark moments.
— NEW FILMS: They start at 7 p.m. Sunday and Monday (July 24-25), 8 p.m. Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; on each night, they continue to midnight. Also, new ones Saturday (July 30) are at 8 p.m. and 9-11:30 p.m.
— RERUNS: They start Saturday night (July 23), from 10 a.m. to midnight and then at 2 a.m. After that, it’s non-stop sharks until 4 p.m. July 31.
— SOME KEY SPECIALS: Johnny Knoxville’s second shark special is 9-10:30 p.m. Sunday. “Impractical Jokers” is 8 p.m. Tuesday, Tracy Morgan is 8 p.m. Thursday. Also, “Air Jaws: Top Guns” is 8 p.m. Monday and “Island of Walking Sharks” (viewing the evolution to a land species in New Guinea) is 8 p.m. Wednesday. Each of these then reruns at midnight.
— ALSO: From 10:30 p.m. to midnight Sunday (July 24) is “Great White Open Ocean,” a movie about Jim Partington’s return to shark territory, after almost dying in a 2020 attack.
— ONCE MORE: On the final full day (Saturday, July 31), several specials will rerun. It’s Morgan at 4 p.m., “Impractical Jokers” at 5, Knoxville” at 6 and “Air Jaws: Top Guns” at 7.