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Why Shark Tank changed its sharks’ seats and set

Mark Cuban wraps something around Kevin O'Leary's face during episode 21 of Shark Tank season 9. (Photo by (Eddy Chen/ABC)

The ninth season of Shark Tank started airing in October, and is already approaching its final episodes, ending its its season early thanks to American Idol arriving on ABC’s Sunday nights in March.

Besides its modified schedule and the addition of five new guest sharks, the major change for Shark Tank season was both visual and functional: a new set and new seating arrangements for the six permanent sharks. I like both changes a lot: the show feels refreshed in multiple ways, even though nothing has changed in terms of entrepreneurs pitching to potential investors.

Why make those changes now? I asked Clay Newbill, the show’s executive producer and showrunner—who’s responsible for its production, and who’s produced shows ranging from Road Rules to The Mole.

“We felt it was time,” he said. “Every season we talk about, what can we do, how can we improve upon what we’ve done in the previous year? Changing the set, making modifications to the set is something we always talk about. And we actually do make minor changes—we’ve made minor changes to the set every year, but not noticeable, probably, to the average viewer.”

“This year, we wanted to really do something. We were going into our ninth season. It’s almost a decade, and we thought that now was the time to make the set more modern, more contemporary,” he added.

The set was designed by Anton Goss, the show’s production designer, who’s also designed sets for Match GameThe Voice, The Wall, The Bachelor franchise, and Ellen’s Game of Games.

The first concept he presented for the new set is the one that’s now on screen. Newbill said Goss “and his team came up with an incredible design for us right out of the gate,” and “the first set of renderings he gave us, that’s what you see, pretty much, which is amazing.”

I asked if the non-stop repeats of Shark Tank on CNBC had any effect—whether it was a way to make the new episodes stand out from the older ones.  “That didn’t weigh into the set or changing,” Newbill said. He said the popularity of those repeats “speaks to the longeivity of the showa nd the interest people still have in it. A lot of my friends outside of the industry will talk to me: Yeah, I was watching it the other night on Tuesday, and I’ll say, You must have been watching on CNBC.”

Why the sharks changed seats

Instead of Robert always being on the right, next to Lori Greiner, and Mark Cuban being on the left, and so on, their seating arrangements have been shuffled—and that’s even included some episodes without Kevin O’Leary, which was a wonderful, overdue change.

Were the sharks shuffled because of schedules, or for creative reasons? “A little bit of both,” Newbill told me.

It was also “something the sharks had asked for as well,” he said. “We thought that switching them up from their regular seating arrangements would give the sharks a little bit of a different dynamic. If you and I are sitting next to each other in school every day, we become really tight and close and we have a shorthand with each other. We thought, let’s swap that out a little bit. I still know you really well, but now you’re sitting on the other side, and I’ve got somebody else here that I’m going to have to deal with.”

That affects both the interaction and possible deals, he said, “because the sharks that sit next to each other, their relationship is different from a shark that sits on the other side of the panel. And when it comes to competing for something you’re both interested in, that’ll impact that.”

The sharks can’t just sit anywhere they want, however. “They can ask, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be a producers’ decision,” Newbill said.

Shark Tank’s 200th episode will air next season, its 10th, and the production will soon meet to talk through this past season and plan for any changes that’ll be made for season 10, including a celebration of that milestone.

As for now, the changes are working for the producers: “It was a very big year for us in that we had five new sharks. All five performed fantastic for us,” Newbill said. The old sharks “welcomed them, and it really clicked for us. That, and with the new set, I think the sharks showed up ready to go.”