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'SharkFest' will portray sharks as underdogs

"They're so much smarter and more strategic than people realize," says a Nat Geo Wild executive.

NatGeo Wild's "Sharkfest" is a two-week  shark-centric

NatGeo Wild's "Sharkfest" is a two-week  shark-centric programming block. Photo Credit: National Geographic/David Doubilet

The great summer shark frenzy is about to attack a TV near you.

First comes Nat Geo Wild's SharkFest, its sixth annual incarnation expanding to nearly two weeks of shark-centric documentaries, starting Sunday and running through July 27.

Then there's the great-white apex event: Discovery's Shark Week, which celebrates its 30th anniversary by "chumming the waters" with countdown goodies (including "Shark Week's 50 Best Bites" Sunday at 8-10 p.m., plus the movie "Jaws" July 21), leading up to its official docu-week July 22-29.

Later comes the pure entertainment play. Syfy's "Sharknado" fiesta of cheesy flicks is also in its sixth year. But Syfy promises the Aug. 19 premiere "The Last Sharknado: It's About Time" will be its final bite.

Where viewers await, TV provides sharks in proliferating numbers. "By picking points in time where the conversation is high, particularly in the summer when families head to beaches and go on vacation, there's a real opportunity to not only entertain but enlighten," says Geoff Daniels, Nat Geo Wild's global executive vice president and general manager, explaining why his channel has jumped into shark-filled waters already occupied by Discovery's long-running ratings net.

"From our standpoint," Daniels says in a phone interview, "SharkFest is an extraordinary celebration of sharks and the role they play in the world's oceans." Daniels has spent 20 years in TV production for National Geographic, the venerable society dedicated to world exploration and education. Rather than spotlighting the animals' fearsome image and supposed danger to humans, Wild wants to show "they're so much smarter and more strategic than people realize. Frankly, sharks are the underdog. It's about flipping the script."

He points to "700 Sharks," premiering Tuesday at 9 p.m. as one of SharkFest's eight new productions. "That's the epitome of everything we stand for," Daniels says. "We're working with cutting-edge scientists, with access to an ongoing study that's looking at shark behavior in a way we've never seen before, with scientists diving in the middle of a shark feeding frenzy in the middle of the night." Except it's not some "mindless melee," he says. "The sharks are actually working together, in hierarchical ways, the way that dolphin pods operate, with individual sharks interacting with each other." (By the way, those divers "are actually safe," he says. "They're not the targets.")

SharkFest extends beyond cable viewing with its "shark takeover" of Natgeotv.com, Facebook pages and other company platforms, offering "the opportunity to real-time engage with some of the greatest experts in the world," Daniels says. "And we're going to tie into National Geographic's 'Planet or Plastic?' initiative, talking about compromising our oceans and the health of our sharks. We want to make sure this isn't just a stunt-y week. It's about opening the door to larger, more relevant and engaged conversations, about what's going on in our world's oceans, about climate change and pollution and overfishing, about things critical to all life on Earth."

Nat Geo Wild 'SharkFest 2018'

Three premieres Sunday:

When Sharks Attack: Mayhem in Mexico (8 p.m.) — Scientists study 2011-13 Cancún attacks. (Previous "Attack" hours run Sunday 1-8 p.m.)

Shark vs. Tuna (9 p.m.) — Yellowfin tuna vs. mako/tiger sharks at Ascension Island.

The Whale That Ate Jaws (10 p.m.) — 1997 faceoff in California's Farallon Islands.

Nightly premieres continue Monday-Friday. Two more hours of Wild's "When Sharks Attack" franchise debut Sunday, July 22. Prime-time encores of earlier SharkFest programs run through Friday, July 27.

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