Despite widespread backlash over fake documentaries, supposedly educational networks are turning to them more and more in efforts to net viewers and in the process are making people dumber.
Last year's two-hour special on Discovery, called "Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives," convinced 70% of viewers that the giant prehistoric shark still existed even as outraged scientists insisted that the show was ludicrous and almost entirely fictional. It didn't help that Discovery made coy comments about the documentary being a legitimate contribution to scientific debate.
This summer, Discovery followed it up with "Megalodon: The New Evidence," which became the highest-rated episode of Shark Week with 4.8 million viewers.
The network recently also aired a fabricated documentary called "Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine" and reportedly lied to scientists to get them to appear in another documentary, "Voodoo Sharks."
The similarly bunk "Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives" aired on the channel in early June. The special follows a filmmaker as he researches footage apparently showing the deaths of nine hikers killed in 1959, but perhaps the bigger mystery is how the doomed hikers got access to a high-quality digital camcorder in the late '50s.
Discovery-owned channel Animal Planet has aired two other fake documentaries in recent years — replete with actors, fabricated events, CGI, and faked footage — which explore the apparently scientific evidence for mermaids.
Although Animal Planet admitted in a subsequent press release that its "documentary" was science-fiction, the show presented itself as rigorously scientific.
Many viewers seem to take them at their word, with children being especially vulnerable to deception.
Mermaids are real. Okay. Okay. Just watched the second documentary of mermaids. Yes they are real guys.