“Shark Week” producer sheds insight into TV phenomenon

By Heather Mongilio

Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” is about more than just shark bites.

Shark Week Executive Producer Brooke Runnette spoke about the balance between maintaining the show’s 30-million-strong audience and promoting the conservation of sharks during her speech at American U. on Feb.7.

“That is really 30 million opportunities to create change and we can use this week to move the people, affect them so that they actually have some feelings,” Runnette said.

Professor Chris Palmer and Justine Schmidt, executive producer at media consulting firm Blue Tribe Media, invited Runnette as part of the Seventh Annual Spring 2012 Film Series hosted by Filmmakers for Conservation and AU’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking.

As executive producer, Runnette’s job depends on her grabbing the audience and entertaining them.

“The big picture is: ‘How do we make these shows so the most people will watch them’?” Runnette said.

However, she strives to do more than just entertain. Runnette said she tries to create a relationship between the audience and sharks to further conservation.

“What you want to do is get that other person who’s watching your shows to feel like they want to do something,” Runnette said.

Runnette explained different techniques of creating this relationship, such as humor and storytelling, and showed clips from three episodes of “Shark Week” to the packed audience to highlight these techniques.

One clip featured comedian Craig Ferguson.

Runnette used Ferguson’s appearance to bring in new audience members to the show through Ferguson’s humor.

“One of the things I want to try to do is try to use that sense of fun to make the turn that I wanted to do in the week of people being scared of sharks to people being amazed by sharks,” Runnette said.

One self-proclaimed conservationist audience member questioned the use of dramatic music with great white sharks, saying it did not help the public’s perception of the shark.

“The truth is the ocean is in danger. Sharks are in danger. How do we tell the story and get them [the audience]?” Runnette said in reply.

Runnette cannot produce a perfectly conservational show, as it would not draw in the required audience, she said. However, she encouraged audience members to support shark protection and hopes to create a donation match toward shark conservation through Discovery Channel.

“We are going to put a spectrum of actions you can take because everyone does want to do something concrete, small that they can execute,” Runnette said.

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