With the History Channel speculating about aliens and The Learning Channel (a station initiated by NASA), going the way of the flatulent Honey Boo Boo clan, the last bastion of science-related television was the Discovery Channel. We say "was" because the channel betrayed its good name on Sunday night with a fake documentary on a giant shark, thus alienating some of its most loyal fans.
"Discovery Channel betrayed that trust during its biggest viewing week of the year. Discovery Channel isn’t run by stupid people, and this was not some kind of mistake," wrote Will Wheaton, better known to many of us as Star Trek's Wesley Crusher, on his very popular personal blog. "Someone made a deliberate choice to present a work of fiction that is more suited for the SyFy channel as a truthful and factual documentary. That is disgusting, and whoever made that decision should be ashamed."
The target of Wheaton and other fans' ire is the channel's mockumentary Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, which garnered around 5 million viewers—a record for the 26-year-old Shark Week programming event. And part of the reason for those ratings is that the show teased the notion that this massive shark was still alive today, when, in reality, fossils of the frightening Megalodon stopped showing up around 2 million years ago.
This isn't the first time the Discovery Channel has aired a mock-doc. It aired one on mermaids and received the same criticism in 2012. Apparently, execs there didn't learn their lesson.
Wheaton wasn't the only fan who was upset. "You choseto mislead your viewers with 120 minutes of bullshit. And the sad part is, you are so well trusted by your audience that you actually convinced them: according to your poll, upwards of 70% of your viewing public fell for the ruse and now believes that Megalodon isn’t extinct," writes blogger Christie Wilcox at the Science Sushi blog over at Discover. Shark Week's Facebook page is littered with posts like: "Not happy with Megalodon! Show the truth not a SyFy Mocumentary!" and "Megalodon — Terrible scripted 2 hour show that really insults the genuine shark enthusiast."
Obviously, people feel that they have been fooled. Wheaton eloquently explains:
An entire generation has grown up watching Discovery Channel, learning about science and biology and physics, and that generation trusts Discovery Channel. We tune into Discovery Channel programming with the reasonable expectation that whatever we’re going to watch will be informative and truthful. We can trust Discovery Channel to educate us and our children about the world around us! That’s why we watch it in the first place!
Unfortunately, passionate arguments like Wheaton's may not matter to execs overjoyed with record-setting viewership.