These are part of the core questions that underpin Shark Tank, TEN’s adaptation of the US series which itself was a reworking of Dragon’s Den.
Seven flirted with a local Dragon’s Den hosted by Andrew O’Keefe back in 2008. ABC and Pay TV have also been screening the UK edition. But Survivor producer Mark Burnett revamped the format with more zing, more aggression and drama.
The dragons are now sharks but they circle the pitch -an invention or business proposal- with as much fire, albeit sometimes with searing precision rather than open flame.
The sharks in TEN’s series are showcased as self-made success stories, Janine Allis (Boost Juice), Andrew Banks (Talent2), Steve Baxter (internet pioneer), John McGrath (McGrath Estate Agents) and Naomi Simson (RedBalloon). Between them they oversee properties worth squillions of money. I guess Murdoch, Packer and Rinehart declined an offer to step out from the Board room to being on camera (yes ok, technically none of them are actually on the Board anymore).
Shark Tank is like The New Inventors on steroids. Instead of gadgets being presented and scored, here everything is a business proposition. Will you put $20,000 into my company for 10% equity? Each candidate presents an invention or scheme that has promise but needs investment to go to the next level. How much they ask for, and what they offer in return, is up to them.
Crucially, the sharks are all playing with their own money. This gives the format enormous credibility, as opposed to simply giving away network cash. But the drama doesn’t end there. While you’re watching the candidate sweat over whether someone will back them, the tables are turned when more than one shark wants in. A “feeding frenzy” begins when sharks begin to outbid one another, with more cash, less equity, simply because they believe in an idea. The inventor suddenly finds themselves playing the sharks off against one another, or counter-offering to get a better deal. The first episode has some great knife-edge moments, maximised by MasterChef-style music (and commercial breaks, dammit!).
There are four cases in the first episode. Without giving anything away one idea will make you laugh in delight, another will leave you scratching your head because of its lunacy, and another will leave you awe-struck at how cool the invention is -the latter triggers a feeding frenzy. On more than one occasion I had a smile on my face, and several times I was infuriated that my streaming video preview was pausing because I was so drawn to seeing who would blink first in the negotiation poker game….
The sharks have been well-cast. They are articulate, open, and sometimes deceptively devilish. It’s hard to know who will emerge as a breakout star but John McGrath may well give Apprentice boss Mark Bouris a run for his money with female viewers.
Sarah Harris narrates at arm’s length distance, rather than being present with the cast. In what is an increasing genre trend to let the drama tell the story, it’s a bit ancillary to warrant much more enthusiasm. There are also those cliche recaps that 95% of the audience must endure in case another 5% joined in after the last commercial break. I really wish TV would make them catch up and not slow me down…
Shark Tank isn’t like anything else being produced in Australia right now, and that’s what makes this an energetic addition to TEN’s schedule. You’ll find yourself asking what you would do in the shoes of the sharks or the fishermen getting most creative with their bait.
Either way the first episode had me hooked.
Can we have a format with producers pitching shows to TV execs next, please?
Shark Tank premieres 8pm Sunday February 8 on TEN.