ABC’s “Shark Tank”

About “Shark Tank”

“Shark Tank” is a Mark Burnett produced reality TV series perfectly timed for an audience suffering under the heel of America’s Great Recession. Despite the name, “Shark Tank” offers more than a shred of hope to basement inventors and small business entrepreneurs yearning for their slice of a once attainable American Dream promising capitalism for all. “Shark Tank” also offers viewers an inside look at the venture capital process.

“Shark Tank” is an Americanized version of the BBC television series “Dragon’s Den”, which was an adaptation of the Japanese game show “Money no Tora.” “American Investor“, produced by Simon Cowell, was an earlier ABC series that explored the same thematic arena as “Shark Tank.” Cowell’s series, however, came and went in 2006, only a few years before the current economic downturn. In 2009, “Shark Tank” was an easier pitch to ABC due to the times that most people have been facing.

Unlike “Idol” and “America’s Got Talent”, “Shark Tank” has no glitzy set, no cheering or jeering studio audience, and there is no added on-location footage. The “Shark Tank” set is a no-frills business conference that one might find at a venture capitalist’s office.

“Shark Tank” Panelists

Like many of the other television reality series, it has a panel of judges. There are five panelists on “Shark Tank” affectionately (or not) dubbed “sharks.” Although Mark Burnett is a British producer, there are no British “villains” like Simon Cowell on “American Idol” and Piers Morgan on “America’s Got Talent” serving on the panel of sharks. The panelists are described as “real life multi-millionaires”, each a success story in their specialized area of the business world. Note that on each episode the sharks invest their own money at their own discretion. While “Shark Tank” judges can be blunt in their criticisms of a contestant/entrepreneur’s product and/or business concept, their bluntness only rarely reaches the level of cruelty of “Idol” or “America’s Got Talent.”

“Shark Tank” panelists include Manhattan real estate magnate Barbara Corcoran; security software multi-millionaire developer Robert Herjevec (“BRAK Systems”); pioneering and leading infomercial producer Kevin Harrington (“OmniRadiant Holdings”); hip-hop fashion mogul Daymond John (“FUBU”); and business takeover wiz Kevin O’Leary. It is O’Leary who comes closest to “Idol’s” Simon Cowell in bluntness and derision toward show participants. Note that, with the exception of Ron Popeil, Kevin Harrington is credited with producing the first television infomercial.

The most interesting parts of “Shark Tank” are the panelist negotiations that occur after an offer is made to a contestant/entrepreneur. On occasion, panelists also negotiate with each other if more than one wants the entrepreneur’s product and/or company. Also note that not all financial offers are necessarily accepted by the entrepreneurs. The money offer may be too low, or the shark may want too much decision-making control over the entrepreneur’s company. Or a shark may even require that the entrepreneur completely step away from their company for a price.

“Shark Tank” Participants

Examples of products or business plans offered by “Shark Tank” entrepreneurs have included a delicious one-of-a-kind pear jam and a musical CD series of classroom education products. Other pitched products can be as ridiculous as a surgically implanted mobile communications Bluetooth device. Another compelling element is each individual entrepreneur’s tale of personal and financial sacrifice. Some have gone into steep debt to finance their product or business concept. A few have even caused themselves to be homeless.

Unlike “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent”, each participant offers a product or business concept pitch or presentation as opposed to a performance. After a pitch, each panelist may immediately say “I’m out!” or just as immediately make a financial offer. On occasion, several of the judges make offers either in tandem or separately.

Some media critics, such as Tom Shales of The Washington Post, claim that “Shark Tank” offers false hope to the entrepreneurs. Other media critics, such as David Hinckley of The New York Daily News, state the “Shark Tank” participants aren’t subjected to the same level of humiliation as participants on other TV reality shows.

Mark Burnett

Mark Burnett is among the first of the wave of British producers to invade American television. He is best known as the producer of “Survivor”, the first breakout primetime hit TV reality series, and “The Apprentice.” For a youngish 42-year-old, Burnett has had an adventurous life. He is a former British Army paratrooper, serving two tours of duty in Northern Ireland and during the 1982 Falklands War. When he came to the United States, Burnett’s first job was as a nanny in Beverly Hills. In 1991, Burnett led the first participating American team in the “Raid Gauloises”, dubbed “the world’s toughest race.” Burnett filmed the team’s entire progress during the race and sold the footage to ESPN. This was his entry into the television industry. His entertainment industry breakthrough success was the 2000 first season of “Survivor.”

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