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Shark Week's humble start yields carnivorous ratings

Monday - 8/13/2012, 9:07am  ET

Sharks640.jpg
''When Jaws first came out we really knew nothing about them, but now we're finding so much out,'' says Runnette. (Photo courtesy YouTube)

Respect the shark, and have healthy fear

Brooke Runnette, Discovery Channel's "Shark Week" executive producer

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WASHINGTON - An annual television fixture that uses razor teeth and chomped seal flesh to draw in millions of viewers actually had humble beginnings, a Discovery Channel executive tells WTOP.

"Shark Week," the annual festival of all things "Jaws" that drew in 3.3 million viewers in its first hour in 2011, began on a cocktail napkin, says Brooke Runnette, Discovery's executive producer for the spectacle.

"All of us are a little surprised, too," she says.

The series capitalized on the success of the 1975 classic "Jaws," before the public delved into the science behind the ocean's top predator. Innovations such as 1,000-frame-per-second cameras that captured the iconic "Air Jaws" shot off the coast of South Africa, combined with a "crazy bunch of people who want to do this stuff" as staff, have sealed Discovery's position as one of the leading purveyors of shark mania, says Runnette.

"If you can get close enough, you can see something that would never be visible to the naked eye," she says of the resulting footage. "That was a total advance. We didn't know they breached that way.

"It's like you can reach out and touch them."

Learn more about Shark Week here, and check out the original footage:

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)