NEW YORK — Deep in the ocean, surrounded by sharks, Tiffany Haddish stayed cool. She drew on her land-based survival skills.
“I was as frightened around them as I am around like a pack of pit bull dogs,” she said in an interview. “I feel like animals pick up on your energy. If you’re in there being scared, they’re like, ‘Well, what you got? Why are you scared?’ It’s like being in the ’hood.”
Haddish is among the celebrities signed on for this year’s Shark Week, with a record 45 hours of programming on the Discovery Channel and streaming on discovery+ between July 11-18.
Joining Haddish are Brad Paisley, William Shatner, Eric Bana, Snoop Dogg, Eli Roth, Robert Irwin, Ian Ziering, Tara Reid and cast members from “Jackass.” For Shark Week’s 33rd year, there are documentaries, many specials and even a reality series for shark fans to sink their teeth into.
Howard Swartz, a senior vice president at Discovery Channel, said Shark Week was born as a counterpoint for those who developed a fear of sharks and a desire to eradicate them after seeing “Jaws.”
“What has evolved over the last three plus decades is to show that they’re not these mindless killing machines, that sharks are amazingly intelligent animals,” Swartz said. “Equally important is how critical they are to the ecosystem, how critically important they are to the health of the oceans and therefore to life on our planet.”
“Star Trek” star Shatner boldly went where he really didn’t want to go — diving with sharks. He suffers from galeophobia, a persistent fear of sharks, but he overcame it in “Expedition Unknown: Shark Trek.”
“I think it’s very healthy to be afraid of an animal that has an 18-inch jaw with three sets of teeth,” he said in an interview. “It’s designed to eat, not you necessarily, but to eat. And if you’re mistaken to be part of its food chain, that’s your problem.”
Eli Roth, the horror filmmaker behind the bloody classic “Hostel,” joined the documentary “Fin” to explain why millions of sharks have died to feed the continued demand for shark fin soup and other dishes. Bana narrates the doc “Envoy: Shark Cull,” which focuses on official controversial shark control programs used in Australia.
Noah Schnapp from the sci-fi series “Stranger Things” suits up to search for the strangest sharks in the ocean, while Irwin comes face-to-face with a Great White for the ﬁrst time. Even the online television and video star known as Dr. Pimple Popper is getting in on the act: Dr. Sandra Lee will explore the world of shark skin and see if it can help human skin issues.
Paisley puts his musical talents to the test to see how sound can attract or repel sharks, and Snoop Dogg narrates crazy shark moves — like the beasts making eye-popping leaps out of the water, prompting the rapper to call them “thirsty as hell” — in “Sharkadelic Summer 2.”
For Haddish, her special about the reproduction of sharks — did you know female sharks have two uteruses? — will hopefully show how important to the planet sharks really are.
“We all need each other. It’s like ‘The Lion King’ — the circle of life. We keep each other alive,” she said. “No one on this planet for no reason.”
Swartz says inviting celebrities onto Shark Week is a bit like when “Sesame Street” has on famous guest stars — they help attract a wider, intergenerational audience.
“At the end of the day, what the celebrities do for us is to bring people into the tent who might not normally come to Shark Week,” he said. “Having said that, I will say you might be surprised at how many celebrities are fans of Shark Week.”
Dr. James Sulikowski, a professor at Arizona State University, has been on Shark Week before but this time does something no one has ever done — perform an ultrasound on a wild tiger shark.
It was necessary since scientists are still trying to pinpoint where in the Bahamas tiger sharks give birth and how humans can protect the area. But first they needed to find a pregnant shark and that’s where Sulikowski came in, calmly pushing his sonogram onto a shark’s belly at the bottom of the ocean while dozens of her friends came to inspect.
“It was so many emotions all at once,” he said in an interview. “It’s chaos. It’s terrifying. It’s exhilarating. You’re doing something that no one has ever done before. You’re pushing the envelope. And right in the back of your mind it’s like, ‘You know what? I could be eaten.’”
“Mothersharker” — Sulikowski’s wonderfully titled show — reveals another side to the often misunderstood animals. “These sharks are moms,” he said. “These are animals that are nurturing their young, they’re carrying them, they’re protecting them. It’s an aspect that most people don’t realize.”
Other shows include a special about an attempt to tag the last known South African Great White breeder and another that attempts to answer why in 2017 an entire Great White population disappeared overnight around South Africa’s Seal Island. If you’ve ever wanted to see a submersible mechanical shark in action, you’re in luck with “MechaShark.”
Discovery is also marking the debut of its first Shark Week series. In “Shark Academy,” eight men and women begin a six-week crash course to secure a crew spot on a shark expedition. And it wouldn’t be Shark Week without a scientific look at “Sharknado” – Ian Ziering and Tara Reid explore whether a shark tornado is really possible.
Discovery’s “Shark Week” has a rival — its programming coincides with National Geographic’s “SharkFest,” which has 21 hours of new content and 60 hours of enhanced and archival footage over six weeks, with Chris Hemsworth the biggest draw.
Both ventures share a common theme: To tease out at least a grudging respect for sharks. Or, as Shatner said, “These animals require our respect and an intelligent fear, but not the panic.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits