It’s business as usual at Animal Planet channel. It’s Monster Week. You know, it’s not that bad to air shows like The Cannibal in the Jungle for one week or on occasion. But AnPlan has gone too far in the past several years by suggesting that mermaids, Megalodon and cryptids exist by co-opting bad or outright FAKE science to make people think there is more support for these claims than there really are.
Animal Planet and Discovery channel (both of Discovery Network) often share shows so you may have seen a variety of strange offerings on both. (A complete list of paranormal programming in English, go to my list here.) For AnPlan in particular, fiction began to overtake nature programming in 1997 with the show Animal X about mystery cryptids. Then, they got into the Pet Psychic shows from 2002-2004 and again in 2010. But seriously, pet psychic shows are not even interesting and are kind of ridiculous even to the average person who believes in psychic abilities. River Monsters began in 2009 and is still going. It’s not exactly an unnatural program but occasionally does hype up the drama and lead viewers to misleading ideas. This hinted at what was to come – actual cryptid hunting.
Finding Bigfoot was a ratings success at AnPlan starting in 2011, becoming its top-rated series (for a time – I think River Monsters may now hold that spot). Then, in 2012, the shit really began to hit the TV screen. Mermaids: A Body Found was a fictional show that was made to look like an actual documentary. The two-hour special used fake footage, CGI, fake “underwater sound recordings”, and had actors portray scientists to discuss the thoroughly dismissed “aquatic ape theory”. There was an immediate response. People who expect to see science on AnPlan thought this was science! There were some who actually believed mermaids were real and the government was hiding the truth! The NOAA had to issue a public statement to assure the nation that, no, mermaids were NOT real. The network had gone off the deep end but took the position that ratings were more important than information about real animals. After the raging success of Mermaids for Monster Week 2012, a sequel came in 2013 with even more misleading content and fake scientists. Also included in the 2013 Monster Week were programs that sounded like Roger Corman movies: Man-eating Squid, Invasion of the Swamp Monsters, and Invasion of the Mutant Pigs. Discovery Channel meanwhile was basking in the glow of confusing the public again with a fake documentary on an extinct giant shark that they wanted you to think was still around. Cue fake footage and doctored photos. This was the end of association with the network by many scientists who had had enough.
AnPlan execs were sky-high on their success, bragging that 2013 was a huge year for them and they were obviously giving the audiences what they wanted. 2014 Monster Week was a chance to re-air the Mermaids and Megalodon programs and mis-educate thousands more viewers. In addition, they produced a feature length movie called Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys. I kid you not. Since this starred some known actors, I don’t think people thought it was real. However, what is it doing on a channel that is supposed to be nature/science? Did they run out of science? No, they sold out for cash. The monster they created was starting to bite back. Man-Eating Super Wolves was pulled from airing when 80,000 wildlife activists complained that it unfairly demonized wolves. Shark Week – a former ratings grabber for Discovery Channel was warped into man-eating terror week. Discovery Channel programming was probably more dismal overall than AnPlan. Check this program list for Shark Week 2014:
- Lair of the Mega Shark
- Zombie Sharks
- Alien Sharks: Return to the Abyss
- Monster Hammerhead
- Spawn of Jaws 2: The Birth
- Great White Matrix
- Air Jaws: Fins of Fury
- Jaws Strikes Back
- I Escaped Jaws 2
- Shark of Darkness: Submarine Returns
- Megalodon: The New Evidence
Shark scientists boycotted the Network since presenting animals as “terrifying monsters” was detrimental to their public image and efforts to discourage shark kills. It all blew up, rather like the ending in Jaws.
Discovery Network execs had a crisis moment. It seems like things had gone too far. Scientists and animal welfare advocates had had enough – maybe the man attempting to be eaten by a giant snake in Eaten Alive was the last straw. The new head of the Network said those days were gone. “We won’t actively lie to viewers anymore”.
I didn’t follow what was going on for 2015’s Monster Week. I’d cut the cable cord because there was nothing good on these 300 cable channels worth watching. But it appeared to be similar fare if a bit tamer: killer tigers, monster reptiles, giant hornets from hell (yeah, I gotta give them props for that because those things really are terrifying). But there was this stinker:
I WAS BITTEN: THE WALKER COUNTY INCIDENT, the townsfolk try to uncover unexplained daily phenomena plaguing their small southern town of Jasper, Alabama. Daniel, a man who has been diagnosed as “Patient Zero,” claims to have been attacked in the woods by something unspeakable.
I missed it… oh well, so I can’t tell you how it was. But people weren’t too impressed and remained angry that this sort of stuff was still on the station. It does appear that there is confusion about the program – if it was real or faked. It’s TV – it was faked.
This year’s Monster Week includes marathons of River Monsters and Monsters and Mysteries in America and reruns of several other shows including Mermaids. Yeti or Not appears to be a re-packaging of the Sykes documentary from 2013 first aired in the UK and then transported to the US in shortened form (presumably for our shorter attention span).
So, it does look like the Discovery Network has toned the sensationalism down a few notches. But I fully expect that they will continue to push speculation, because it sells. That’s too bad. For me, that means not paying for programming any more. It wasn’t worth it. It still isn’t.