Discovery Channel's annual "Shark Week" returns with a new face for the programming event: "Saturday Night Live" star Andy Samberg has been dubbed Chief Shark Officer and appears in "Shark City" (7 p.m. Thursday).
"Don't underestimate a great name," Samberg said of "Shark Week." "There's something about those two words together that makes me happy. It's the conceit of an entire week dedicated to sharks. The boldness of that is very appealing. On top of that, sharks are dangerous and exciting and something most people don't see."
The 24th annual "Shark Week" kicks off today with "Great White Invasion" (7 p.m.), followed by "Jaws Comes Home" (8 p.m.). Additional premieres include "Rogue Sharks" (7 p.m. Monday), "Summer of the Shark" (8 p.m. Monday), "Killer Sharks" (7 p.m. Tuesday) and "How Sharks Hunt" (7 p.m. Wednesday).
Samberg, best known for starring in "SNL" digital shorts, appears throughout the week in an on-air marketing campaign and he traveled to the Bahamas in April for four days to film those segments and "Shark City." It was his first encounter with sharks.
"I've gone swimming a lot in the Bay Area and swam with a lot of seals, which I have to say now, seals are a lot more mellow," said Samberg, who grew up in Berkeley, Calif. "They have better vibes."
When he was approached about participating in this year's "Shark Week," Samberg said he was told he'd have the option of getting into the water with some sharks.
"Once I got there, I realized they would much prefer it if I got into the water with sharks," he said with a laugh. "I have to say, giving me such a lofty title gave me strength. It's the theory that if you tell someone they're Superman, they might actually fly, which is a theory I created just now."
In "Shark City," Samberg introduces viewers to a specific group of sharks that live in the waters near Nassau.
"Another part of it is that it's a shark-preservation show about how they're not just cold-blooded killers and there are stakes for them," he said. "They have their own little world down there and them dying off would affect the ecosystem."
Samberg said his primary role in "Shark Week" is to "make it a little sillier" and any information he provides was fed to him: "I didn't go hit the books hard in terms of learning about specific facts and numbers about sharks. I left that to the experts."
His most harrowing day involved wearing something akin to chain-mail armor over his wet suit and floating on a surfboard behind a boat.
"I started off reading cards, saying jokes we'd written and then I said, 'OK, should we chum the water and get sharks out here?,' and everyone on the boat looked down at their shoes and acted all shy and I thought, 'Wait, what's going on here?'ââââ" Samberg said in a phone interview last month. "There had been chum and sharks in the water for at least 10 minutes all around me, but because I said that they decided to throw in a lot more chum around the surface of the water really near me and that's when things got really exciting."
As many as 15 or 20 good-sized reef sharks swam around Samberg as he tried to read copy as sharks fought over pieces of fish meat near him. One shark even bit Samberg's surfboard. After that, he decided to get out of the water.
"When I got in, I asked, 'Is this chain mail going to protect me?' One of the producers said, 'There's no way they can bite through chain mail,'ââââ" Samberg recalled. "When I got out, my buddy John, who helped with some of the writing, said apparently the guy said the shark couldn't bite through chain mail, but it could crush and rip off my arm inside the chain mail. My lost arm would have been a shark's souvenir, I guess."
Despite the risk of shark attack, Samberg said he'd sign up to be Discovery's Chief Shark Officer again.
"I enjoyed it and they took really good care of me in the way that I didn't get eaten by a shark," he said. "It was beautiful down there, and it's nice to take yourself out of your element and remember there's a whole other crazy world out there above and under the water."