Discovey Channel went on the defensive after taking heat over a special that aired as part of its “Shark Week” programming. Viewers griped about Sunday’ night’s “Phelps vs. Shark” special that they expected would pit Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps against a great white shark in a swimming race.
The special, which helped kick off “Shark Week,” instead featured Phelps swimming against a CGI shark simulating the top speed of a great white shark based on scientific data.
“Viewers were upset, believing that Phelps was going to get into the water with a real shark,” Variety reports. “CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish wrote on Twitter, ‘Turns out “Michael Phelps races a shark” was really just “Michael Phelps swims alone and then compares his time to a shark’s time.”‘ Others chimed in as well, saying they felt ‘robbed’ or misled about the special.”
In a statement to Variety, Discovery said: “In ‘Phelps vs Shark’ we enlisted world class scientists to take up the challenge of making the world’s greatest swimmer competitive with a Great White. The show took smart science and technology to make the challenge more accessible and fun. All the promotion, interviews and the program itself made clear that the challenge wasn’t a side by side race. During Michael’s pre-show promotion, as well as within the first 2 minutes of ‘Phelps vs Shark,’ this message was clear and we are thrilled with the audience and the engagement around the world.”
Phelps lost the race by two seconds, but the special did well in the ratings. TVbytheNumbers.com reports that “Phelps vs. Shark” delivered a 1.9 average rating in the key 18-39 demo along with 4.782 million total viewers to place second in both measures among Sunday’s cable programs behind only “Game of Thrones” (4.3 in 18-49, 9.27 million total viewers).