As is only fitting, it took a while for me to warm up to Shark Tank. After all, a reality show featuring corporate fat cats deciding the fate of small-business owners and inventors can be both anxiety-inducing and infuriating, neither of which fits my idea of a good time. However, relatives, friends, and colleagues have been touting Shark Tank and the show has become a ratings force, recently drawing a series high of 7.4 million viewers so I settled in for a marathon. I emerged a Shark fan, a sensibly wary one, to be sure. But there's an undeniable allure to this show the allure of filthy lucre, well earned.
The premise is devilishly simple: Entrepreneurs line up to pitch their new products to a panel that this season comprises prosperous business folk Mark Cuban, Daymond John, Robert Herjavec, Kevin O'Leary, and Lori Greiner, who alternates with Barbara Corcoran. Dressed, for the most part, in sleek office attire (Cuban occasionally goes upscale-casual), with the camera lights making their manicures glimmer, the shark panelists listen and frequently bare their teeth, often in delight at a well-pitched product (they were overjoyed when the smiley-faced inventor of a scrubbing tool essentially performed an infomercial for their pleasure). But sometimes the pearly whites appear in sheer avidity at the idea of wresting profits from one another.
The competition is three-tiered on Shark Tank. The first resides in whether the panel finds the product worth an investment. The second is whether the guppy offering his or her shiny new object will accept one of their offers. And the third is how competitive the moguls are with one another high- or low-balling offers to snatch up a prize or fake out a fellow shark. When it comes to Shark snark, it's hard to beat venture capitalist O'Leary, who has bare knuckles for teeth he calls some entrepreneurs idiots, tells them to ''shut up'' when they gas on too long for his liking, and ridicules his fellow pashas when they bite on a product hook he deems unsavory. Greiner, the queen of QVC, is most apt to make an offer, but it would be a mistake to perceive her as the pushover. She's also one of the quickest to snap, ''I'm out!'' when a potential partner doesn't accept her bid fast enough.
One takeaway from Shark Tank is that no matter how coolly confident these big cheeses appear, emotion and instinct play important roles in capitalistic adventurism. And here's a lesson for you would-be sharks: Make your case, and then clam up. In the Nov. 2 episode, an arrogant guy gabbed and dithered himself out of John's $1 million offer for his inventive PlateTopper (he ended up accepting $90,000 from Greiner). As the Warner Bros. titan Bugs Bunny would say, ''Whatta maroon!'' B+