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Why people aren’t covering one of the highest rated shows on TV


Tonight marks the 2-hour season premiere of one of television’s top-rated, most critically acclaimed shows — one that curiously gets little media…
Tonight marks the 2-hour season premiere of one of television’s top-rated, most critically acclaimed shows — one that curiously gets little media attention.
For nine seasons, “Shark Tank” — a competitive reality program in which inventors pitch to a panel of multi-millionaires (and one billionaire) — has been a consistent ratings winner despite ABC airing it in a Friday night graveyard slot. It’s won four Emmys for Outstanding Structured Reality Program. Last August, the show retained its audience against NFL pre-season games.
The success of “Shark Tank” has surprised even some sharks. “I thought it was going to be a failure,” Daymond John told CNBC earlier this year. “Nobody wants to listen to five businessmen and women talk! Who wants to watch that?”
Turns out about 10 million people do, eager to learn about margins, franchising, licensing, intellectual property and utility patents, amortization and customer acquisition, all of which somehow make edge-of-your-seat viewing.
Most compelling: “Shark Tank” is the American Dream in your living room week after week, a potent counterweight to our ongoing economic trauma. It’s hard to think of a more resonant-yet-aspirational reality show. So why doesn’t it garner as much media coverage as, say, “The Bachelor,” which equals and sometimes lags behind “Shark Tank” in viewers?
This disconnect seems another example of our two Americas: coastal elites forensically recapping and analyzing esoteric ratings losers (most recently “Twin Peaks”) while the heartland’s tastes go ignored. The scant coverage “Shark Tank” does get isn’t in People or Us Weekly but Forbes and Business Insider.
And that’s ridiculous, because it’s the most populist show on the air.
Created by legendary producer Mark Burnett (who toggles high-low, responsible for both “Survivor” and FX’s “Fargo”), “Shark Tank” is based on a Japanese reality show called “Money Tigers.” In a shrewd cultural stroke, nearly all of the judges on the American version are self-made. Two are Canadian; two the sons of immigrants. Each fulfills a type.
Barbara Corcoran, the 68-year-old real estate queen, is the flirty-pervy aunt. FUBU founder John is the streetwise New Yorker. Lori Grenier is the “Queen of QVC”; she and tech mogul Robert Herjavec are “the warm-blooded” sharks. Kevin O’Leary, center-stage, is the villain, and billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban the star. (Guest entrepreneurs this season include A-Rod and Richard Branson.)
The format is simple: Each segment features hopeful entrepreneurs entering the boardroom. They ask for a certain amount of money ($150,000 for 20% of their company, for example) and make their pitch. The early seasons of “Shark Tank” stand out for a considerably wilder casting process.
“The engineer who asked for $1 million to build a water tank in the ocean to turn seawater to gold — that’s great TV,” Corcoran recently told Inc. magazine. “The guy with the Bluetooth device that you put in your ear and have to have surgically removed when the battery ran out — great TV.”
One could argue that the show’s newer breed of entrepreneur makes for even greater TV. “Shark Tank” premiered on Aug. 9,2009, one year after the economy crashed. As Washington bailed out the big banks and left average Americans to suffer, “Shark Tank” promoted a feel-good narrative of American ingenuity and self-sufficiency.
One of the most memorable entrepreneurs was Season 5’s Susan Petersen, who was seeking an investment for her line of baby moccasins. Her origin story sold her: She had the vision but no money, so she asked her brother, who owned a window-installation company, if he would give her the old windows he removed. She then took those windows, broke all the glass, stripped aluminum from the frames by hand and took the material to the scrap yard, where she got $200 for seed money.
Cuban told her it was the best start-up story he’d ever heard and should be in every business textbook. In the macro, it’s about as American a story there is: one of grit and determination, Susan notable for not asking her well-off brother for a loan. (So far as we know: it is, after all, a reality show.)
Forbes reported that as of this year, Peterson’s baby shoes are a multi-million dollar business .
“I love when people tell me that I can’t do something,” Petersen told Forbes. “It ensures that in fact I will.”
If there’s one true flaw in the Tank, it’s this: the male sharks, even in 2017, often talk over, interrupt or dismiss the female sharks.
“Don’t wave your hand down on me,” Corcoran said to Cuban one episode. “I don’t like it. Cut it out.”
Cuban said nothing. Such moments are small yet bracing reminders that even self-made female multimillionaires still encounter sexism in the boardroom.
The show’s overall tone can range from kind — sometimes sharks will encourage nervous contestants to counter-offer another shark, or take a rival deal that’s better — to brutal.
“You are so full of s—t!” Cuban scolded one hopeful, who slunk away with nothing. “You’re an asshole,” O’Leary told another. “Get the f—k out of here.”
Yes, for all its optimism, the Tank can be as savage as corporate America. That’s its magic formula: the average viewer can vicariously experience their worst workplace fears and wildest dreams.
This year, the show self-reported $100 million in deals and 10,000 jobs created as a result. “When you see people come out here and see them be successful, you think, ‘I can be, too.’” Cuban told D magazine in 2014. “And you get advice and get the feedback, and, in aggregate, it’s an education. That’s important in this day and age, in this economy.”
There’s an education to be had here for a media more fascinated by the both the lowbrow and elite tastes, somehow still missing one of middle America’s favorite shows.

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