Goodness Gracious! Shark Week Executive Producer Talks Air Jaws Going Full Top Gun

A great white shark breaching in South America in Shark Week's Air Jaws: Top Guns.
(Image credit: Discovery)

Shark Week is officially back on Discovery for 2022, with plenty of new shark-filled specials packed into primetime for the next several days. One of those specials is the latest installment in the long-running and fan-favorite Air Jaws series, which began in 2001 and has followed teams of researchers and photographers traveling to South Africa to photograph great white sharks breaching the surface of the water. This year’s is called Air Jaws: Top Guns, and creator and executive producer Jeff Kurr explained why Shark Week embraced Top Gun this time around. 

Top Gun is of course one of the iconic films of the 1980s that has stood the test of time, and may or may not be why many fans can burst into a rendition of “Great Balls of Fire” and/or “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” at the drop of a hat. Top Gun: Maverick finally hit theaters earlier this year, so the timing couldn’t be better for a Shark Week special embracing the theme. But how does that work for Air Jaws? Speaking with CinemaBlend, Jeff Kurr explained:

Me and another guy named Chris Fallows were sort of the original Air Jaws talent, if you will, using the word 'talent' loosely, but we were sort of the main characters all these years filming breaching great white sharks and getting up close and personal with these animals in South Africa. I just decided this year was time for some new blood to come in. So kind of like the movie Top Gun, it reminded me of Maverick, and then you got the younger pilots coming in? Well, we got a couple of new guys, Dickie Chivell and Andy Casagrande, who are basically on a mission to try to outdo what Chris and I did for twenty years. They're trying to get the biggest breaching great white shark ever on film. So that was their mission, and it was really a lot of fun to do.

Goodness gracious, fans are in for something new this year with Air Jaws: Top Guns! Andy Casagrande and Dickie Chivell may not exactly be Tom Cruise and Miles Teller, and photographing sharks is about as far from dogfighting in the sky as can be, but they are some of the standouts of Shark Week year in and year out, so who better to take the reins of Air Jaws to try and outdo the originals? Whether or not they succeed, the special should definitely be interesting, and Kurr’s preview reveals that they caught something spectacular on camera in South Africa. He continued:

The shot that they ended up getting is probably going to go down in Air Jaws history as one of the most iconic breaches ever captured. It's amazing and beautiful. And those guys, Andy and Dickie, had the advantage of these incredible new cameras they have now too, because for the original Air Jaws, which I shot 20-plus years ago, we did that in standard definition on videotapes. Nowadays, it's 6K and 8K and just incredible cameras out there. It just makes the sharks look amazing, beautiful.

The technology for Shark Week certainly has advanced over the years, and Air Jaws will be taking full advantage of that. Casagrande and Chivell undoubtedly needed all the advantages they could get, since – as fans saw in previous years of Shark Week – orcas have been killing a lot of the great whites on the coast of South Africa, so finding breaching sharks has become harder.

So, what are Andy Casagrande and Dickie Chivell like as partners, and will viewers get some Top Gun vibes from their dynamic as well as the format of the special? Everybody will have to wait until the special airs on July 25 to find out whether Casagrande or Chivell truly is a Maverick, but EP Jeff Kurr promised that they’re “funny” and “have great energy” together. He also had a long history with both before bringing them into Air Jaws in this new way, as he shared: 

In fact, I discovered both of those guys. Dickie, when he was a kid used to bring us lunch out on the boat when we were filming. I think he was about 17 or 18 years old. I said, 'Now, this kid's got some charisma and he is awesome with sharks. He's like a fish, he'd be good on Shark Week.' And well, the rest is history. And Andy Casagrande – I was in South Africa, and he came up to me and said, 'Hey, I'm really interested in sharks, I have this shark song that I came up with. Would you like to hear it?' I had no idea who he was. So he played the shark song, and I thought that was pretty good. Anyway, that was a long time ago, almost twenty something years ago and look where he is now.

Andy Casagrande has been all over Shark Week for many years, so his origin coming at least partly from a shark song is a fun bit of trivia. As for Dickie Chivell, he and Kurr actually collaborated on another special for Discovery’s 2022 shark celebration, called Shark House and airing on Thursday. Kurr continued:

That's been part of the fun for me, working on Shark Week for 32 years. It's just discovering new talent, people that have amazing abilities with sharks and have charisma that can really help tell a story, and putting Dickie together with Andy – it was just great chemistry. Those guys are funny and they're fun. They both have an amazing passion for sharks, which really comes across, so it's a really entertaining film.

Luckily, the wait for Air Jaws: Top Guns is almost over. The latest Air Jaws installment of Shark Week premieres on Monday, July 25 at 8 p.m. ET on Discovery, following the Stranger Sharks special featuring Noah Schnapp of Stranger Things fame at 7 p.m. The night continues at 9 p.m. with Great White Serial Killer: Fatal Christmas, also produced by Jeff Kurr.

With Tops Guns and Fatal Christmas just one night after Great White Open Ocean tells the story of one man’s shark attack survival with a new format, Shark Week 2022 is opening strong when it comes to great white sharks. That may not be great news for any seal fans, but Shark Week always tends to be a bad time for seals! For some more viewing options now and in the coming weeks, check out our 2022 TV premiere schedule.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).