10:33 AM EDT, May 30, 2013
It's a tantalizing concept—do mermaids really exist?
Small wonder the TV show called Mermaids: The New Evidence was a big hit. But if the whole thing smelled a little fishy, there's a reason—it was a hoax.
That's right. The Animal Planet program that drew a record-setting 3.6 million viewers last Sunday night was a "mock-u-mentary" about creatures that do not exist. But apparently, a lot of people believed what they were watching was real.
TV Guide Business Editor Steve Battaglio told INSIDE EDITION, "The program aired on Animal Planet, where you're supposed to see programs about the natural world, not something that's largely mythical."
The mermaid mockumentary included a scientist identified as Dr. Paul Robertson, formerly of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In the program, he discussed the discovery of a mermaid's body, saying, "All six scientists who analyzed the remains, myself included, all of us believe that this was a new species."
But INSIDE EDITION has learned he's really an actor named David Evans. He was so convincing that the NOAA actually felt obliged to issue a statement: "The person identified as a NOAA scientist was an actor."
The 1938 radio broadcast by the legendary Orson Welles about a martian invasion sounded so convincing, it actually caused panic in the streets, with this front-page headline declaring: "Fake Radio War Stirs Terror Through U.S."
Animal Planet's mermaid broadcast did not cause panic at the beaches, and they did issue a fleeting disclaimer at the end of the show, saying in part: "certain events in this film are fictional."
The events may have been fictional, but the ratings were historic, earning the cable network the largest ratings in its 17-year history.
The phenomenon of mermaids has truly been a watershed—and a watercooler moment for Animal Planet.
Battaglio said, "I think when you can take a romantic fantasy and a myth, and add a little scientific theory, you can come up with a very compelling program."