Animal Planet’s faux documentary on mermaids still fooling people

Over Memorial Day weekend, Animal Planet aired Mermaids: The Body Found, a clever if obviously fake documentary about mermaids. There was even an accompanying marketing campaign with shocking video and fake evidence of a government cover-up.

The Discovery Channel re-aired the documentary Sunday, and the presumably wider audience prompted everything from an increase in Google searches to an Us Weekly article. As an Examiner article noted, the subsequent flood of comments on Discovery’s site included grammatically challenged posts by everyone from angry purists to conspiracy theorists.

The film was written and produced by Animal Planet senior vice president of development Charlie Foley, who is actually the same person responsible for creating Whale Wars, which is, of course, on the opposite end of the spectrum of reality. (Interestingly, when he was approached to return to the network, he agreed to take the job only if its new president, Marjorie Kaplan, would let him develop Whale Wars. The full story of the show’s creation is in my Playboy article.)

In an interview with the New York Post, Foley said the mermaid special “is certainly using real science to inform, to ground the story and as a springboard into imagination.” If there’s any doubt about its veracity, the NOAA even released a statement insisting, “No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found.”

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.