Discovery Channel has responded to the backlash that it misled viewers about its much-promoted show Phelps vs Shark: Great Gold vs Great White. Post-show reactions reveal viewers expected a nail-biting competition between Michael Phelps and the oceanic beast, when the swimmer, in reality, raced against a CGI.
Following criticism from viewers, the network was forced to release a statement that said it did not promote a race between a living great white and the multiple Olympic gold medallist. "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 channel's statement to Us Weekly said.
The channel said it had no intention to mislead viewers and right from its first promotional campaign it talked about the smart use of science and not about a "side by side race".
"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," the statement added. "During Michael's pre-show promotion, as well as within the first two minutes of Phelps vs Shark, this message was clear and we are thrilled with the audience and the engagement around the world."
Soon after the special documentary was aired on Sunday (23 July), Twitter was abuzz with disappointing tweets and memes lashing out at the show-makers for keeping viewers in the dark about the core content of the show.
Phelps, however, was excited about the unusual race and told Good Morning America on 20 July: "This has been something I've wanted to do my whole life. This has been on my bucket list a long time and you know, being able to see these animals up close and personal in their own environment is something that was just such a treat."
This is not the first time Discovery network has faced flak over its over-the-top hype for a documentary. In 2014, the network promoted a similar man vs beast documentary titled Eaten Alive where it was said that a giant green anaconda would devour film-maker Paul Rosolie live on camera.
On the show, the film-maker donned a specially designed snake-proof suit and slathered pig's blood on himself to attract the huge reptile. The snake did coil around Rosolie, but the film-maker gave up and called for the rescue team to help him out of the coils of the slithering creature before he became the reptile's food.