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Shark Week highlights, plus alternative options

Shark Week returns to the Discovery Channel with

Shark Week returns to the Discovery Channel with an array of programming to sink your teeth into. Credit: AP

What, no Whale Week? No Octo-week? (Eight days!) No Humuhumunukunukuapua'a Week? (Hawaii's state fish is pronounced humu-humu-nuku-nuku-ah-poo-ah-ah. Start practicing.)

Discovery instead launches its 28th annual Shark Week, Sunday through July 12. The event's mastermind has a personal understanding why that particular fish continues to fascinate fans.

"I come from the 'Jaws' generation," says Howard Swartz, Discovery's vice president for documentaries and specials, overseeing his first big summer splash. "I was a kid when that movie came out [in 1975], and I wasn't able to take a bath for two years."

Now Swartz plunges head first into Shark Week, ordering 19 new hours of prime-time shows for this July week and a just-added August weekend -- all "more research-focused and science-focused," he promises. That falls in line with Discovery's new design to be less sensational, after both scientists and viewers decried entries like the 2013 mockumentary "Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives."

In another smart sign, Swartz joined Discovery from public TV's "NOVA" science series, which takes things seriously indeed. He notes that Shark Week, over the past quarter-century (it was launched before Taylor Swift was born), has grown to such an annual institution that "it's a great opportunity with such a big audience to provide context, to explore behaviors" of an animal the public had mostly feared after director Steven Spielberg's masterful "Jaws" scare.

The vast majority of shark species are actually more threatened by humans than threatening to them. That's the kind of knowledge Swartz wants to share. Yet he knows what draws ratings, and it isn't nice, nice shark nowhere near humans. "Why do shark encounters happen?" he asks. "This year, we've spent quite a bit of time looking at science and research developments and technology designed to help humans and sharks peacefully coexist."

Sunday's "Shark Trek" (8 p.m.) follows the biggest-ever study of Atlantic great whites in Florida, while "Island of the Mega Shark" (9 p.m.) joins photographers at Mexico's Guadalupe Island. "Monster Mako" (10 p.m.) clocks the ocean's fastest fish.

OK, so titles like "Return of the Great White Serial Killer" (Monday at 9) and "Bride of Jaws" (Tuesday at 9) may seem a bit pumped up. Not to mention "Ninja Sharks" (Wednesday at 10) and "Sharksanity 2" (Saturday at 9), another Shark Week greatest-hits collection.

But Discovery seems most excited about its timely trip to a land formerly forbidden to Americans, promoting "Tiburones: Sharks of Cuba" (Tuesday at 10) as exploring "the most remote shark habitat in the world."

To spread the word, Discovery sent TV critics a box with their very own shark fin hoodie and shark fin soap (cardboard fin in a Lush bar, sale price donated to United Conservationists).

Nice try, Discovery. But fellow cabler Syfy simultaneously mailed swag for its July 18-25 Sharknado Week, built around the latest in its schlockfest movie franchise, "Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!" Inside its box the size of a basketball was a jumbo bloody-jawed Sharknado bobblehead.

Discovery has a lot of work to do.

Channeling predators

Discovery's success with Shark Week has other cable channels ready to take a bite out of the topic.

Discovery Shark Week, Sunday-July 12

Premieres run Sunday 8-11 p.m., Monday-Friday 9/11 p.m., Saturday 9 p.m., next Sunday 8 p.m. Airing one hour earlier each night are info-added Sharkopedia editions of previous programs. Also: filmmaker-actor Eli Roth hosts live talkfest "Shark After Dark," Sunday-Thursday at 11 p.m.

NatGeo Wild SharkFest, Sunday-July 12

New Sunday: "Shark Alley" (8 p.m.) tracks huge migration of sardines trailed by sharks; "United Sharks of America" (9 p.m.) charts where and why beachgoers are vulnerable to attacks.

Most other SharkFest shows are encores.

"Jaws" movies: Tuesday noon-7:45 p.m., again 7:45 p.m.-5:30 a.m., AMC

"NOVA" program "Why Sharks Attack": Wednesday 10 p.m., WNET/13.

"Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!": Premieres July 22 at 9 p.m., among seven original films for July 18-25 during Sharknado Week on Syfy.

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