A Discovery Channel special that speculated about whether a giant prehistoric shark could still exist today has drawn a passionate response from viewers — both good and bad.
The program, Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, opened Discovery’s annual Shark Week this weekend. With an estimated 4.8 million viewers, it had the largest audience of any show in the 26 years that Discovery has made Shark Week a part of its summer programming.
Yet it drew a heated response online from viewers who said airing a “mockumentary” that talks seriously about the existence of a creature known only from its fossils compromises the network’s reputation.
Discovery, for its part, defended the fake documentary. “With a whole week of Shark Week programming ahead of us, we wanted to explore the possibilities of Megalodon,” Shark Week executive producer Michael Sorensen said in a statement. “It’s one of the most debated shark discussions of all time, can Megalodon exist today? It’s Ultimate Shark Week fantasy. The stories have been out there for years and with 95 percent of the ocean unexplored, who really knows?”
The program ran three disclaimers during the airing, including, “None of the institutions or agencies that appear in the film are affiliated with it in any way, nor have approved its contents.”
One prominent blogger, actor Wil Wheaton, said Discovery owes an apology to its viewers.
Megalodon isn’t Discovery’s first faux-documentary: The channel and its sister network Animal Planet earned mega-ratings with the patently fabricated Mermaids: The Body Found and its sequel, Mermaids: The New Evidence.