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Swimming in the Shark Tank

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Last night, ABC premiered its first show of the new season.  I'm not entirely sure I'd call it the new season yet with it only being the second week in August, but it sort of is and I'm not terribly interested in quibbling about it.  I'm going to give them this one. 

Anyway, the show, Shark Tank, premiered last night.  It is from a format that is already successful in a number of countries around the world where, more often than not, it is known as Dragons' Den

A Shark, nee Dragon, is a venture capitalist who has decided to fork up their own cash to help would-be entrepreneurs with their businesses.  Entrepreneurs appear on the show and ask for "x" amount of money for "y" percentage of their business and the Sharks – there are five on the show – either shoot them down or offer up a total of "x" amount of cash for something like "2y" percentage of the business (sometimes more than "2y" sometimes less, only "y").

Avid, perhaps obsessive, readers of this column will know that I was initially very high on the show when it began airing on BBC America and that over time my feelings soured.  There was too much cut out of the series.  It's unclear whether it ended up on the floor of a cutting room in England for the original airing or whether it was cut here in the States to better work with the added commercials we have in this country, but it was exceedingly frustrating.  Every time the show was starting to get really good, the show would jump and on a regular basis, the announcer would come on to try to move things along, badly.  The announcer would regularly say something like "So-and-so has heard enough and wants out," and then Dragon So-and-so would say "I've heard enough, I'm out."  It become incredibly repetitive and lost my interest.

Outside of a much more expensive set, there was an instant noticeable difference between the British version of the show and the U.S. version – we got a background story for several of the entrepreneurs here.  They were unnecessary, all the relevant information given in the field pieces on the entrepreneurs/businesses is stuff that came out in front of the Sharks again, the stuff that didn't get repeated was could have been never mentioned to begin with without any loss.

As for the more expensive set, I was not a fan.  Putting the Sharks behind a desk with a terribly fake-looking cityscape behind them didn't work as well as having the Dragons in a dingy-looking loft without a desk to block them off from the entrepreneurs.  Some may think it more intimidating to put the Sharks behind a desk, but it was an artificial sort of intimidating.  Putting the Sharks on a riser behind a desk helped them look down on the entrepreneurs but not through any sense of superiority the Sharks contained within themselves, and that's where their superiority needs to emanate from – within themselves – not from the set their using.

On the upside, the narrator was no longer interrupting things during a pitch.  There was no longer that unnecessary slowing of pace, there was no longer that disjointed, awkwardly strung together, feel.  He spoke from time to time, but never said what was about to happen before it did.  Hopefully that continues down the line.

The jury is definitely still out on some of the crazy entrepreneurs who were on last night and the show's selection of them.  There was one guy who wanted to surgically implant Bluetooth devices into people, devices that would have to be charged via the insertion of a Q-tip sized thing into one's ear every night.  The Sharks laughed it off, recognizing it as the insanity that it was.  Unfortunately, it was obviously a setup, the producers had to have been aware that there was no way any Shark was going to take the pitch seriously.  No, the producers put the poor guy out there in the tank just so they could see the Sharks rip him apart.  It was foolish and shouldn't have been done.

Shark Tank wasn't great, and it will only ever be as good as the entrepreneurs, the ideas, and the level of feistiness the Sharks possess.  Last night showed two very different version of the shows – the one in which the Sharks and entrepreneurs are serious and trying to work things out and the one in which the entrepreneur is a joke and the Sharks laugh them off.  If the series forgoes the latter in favor of the former it could be a lot of fun, but the fact that they put the Bluetooth guy in there is worrisome.  He belonged in a completely different sort of reality show, not what Shark Tank needs to be if it will last.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • howard roark

    you’re right: the show will only be as good as the entrepreneurs. but because mark burnett requires the contestants to give up 3% of sales – in perpetuity (!!!), no decent entrepreneur would ever be on the show. none of the other shows in japan, uk or canada had this. actually, it make the show a farce because no investor would ever give money to such an encumbered business. it will be canceled soon.

  • whiteshark0121

    This idea is getting popular now a days, as I am browsing through the internet I found this website that provides financial assistance and expert’s advice to small entrepreneurs, which is great for the economy. I hope more marketing experts exert efforts like this to help people with great ideas.