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Discovery Responds to Shark Week 'Megalodon' Outcry

The network stands by its special and reiterates that three disclaimers aired with the faux-documentary that kicked off its most-watched Shark Week ever.

Shark Week Discovery Channel - H 2013
Discovery Channel
Shark Week

Discovery Communications is standing by its Megalodon faux-documentary.

Shark Week executive producer Michael Sorensen defended Sunday's two-hour special, which included found footage and so-called "evidence" that the prehistoric shark with teeth the size of an adult hand was very much alive. (The Megalodon lived approximately 1.5 million years ago.)

"With a whole week of Shark Week programming ahead of us, we wanted to explore the possibilities of Megalodon," Sorensen said in a statement. "It's one of the most debated shark discussions of all time: can Megalodon exist today? It's Ultimate Shark Week fantasy. The stories have been out there for years and with 95 percent of the ocean unexplored, who really knows?"

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The special, which registered Shark Week's highest-rated entry to date with 4.8 million viewers and a 2.6 rating among adults 25-54, also included three disclaimers:

"None of the institutions or agencies that appear in the film are affiliated with it in any way, nor have approved its contents."

"Though certain events and characters in this film have been dramatized, sightings of 'Submarine' continue to this day."

"Megalodon was a real shark. Legends of giant sharks persist all over the world. There is still debate about what they may be."

Despite the repeated notes, many viewers took issue with Megalodon, considering the opening special to Discovery's biggest event of the year to be fact. Among them, actor Wil Wheaton posted a blog entry calling for an apology from Discovery for the special. He said the "found footage" was shot in a fashion that would come from a professional photographer and called the special a "bullshit 'documentary' " and ripped Discovery for lying to its audience and presenting Megalodon as real.

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"Discovery had a chance to get its audience thinking about what the oceans were like when Megalodon roamed and hunted in them," he wrote. "It had a chance to even show what could possibly happen if there were something that large and predatory in the ocean today … but Discovery Channel did not do that. In a cynical ploy for ratings, the network deliberately lied to its audience and presented fiction as fact. Discovery Channel betrayed its audience."

He continued: "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. 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."

Wheaton called on Discovery to use its live Shark Week aftershow to apologize for "deliberately misleading" viewers and to "recommit" to providing "the highest-quality content this week, and every other week out of the year."

Shark Week continues this week on Discovery.

E-mail: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit