After issuing his first verdict on Money Court, CNBC’s new pretend-court show starring Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary as a pretend judge, Kevin summarizes the decision as “a pragmatic, financial way that you’d expect Mr. Wonderful to come up with.”
Frankly, I did not expect him to come up with a reasonable compromise or pragmatic solution. Nor did I expect much from the show, besides expecting it to play to all of Kevin O’Leary’s worst impulses—interrupting people constantly, making sexist comments—that have made him a tired presence on Shark Tank. Every time I saw a promo, I thought, Why is CNBC giving a show to Shark Tank’s most grating personality? And then I realized I’d just answered my own question.
For what it is, though, Money Court (CNBC, Wednesdays at 10) is decent, a better-than-average judge show. That’s not a particularly high bar to clear, considering the many versions of this format and the low quality of many of them. While it may not be new, Money Court uses the format quite well: it has quick cases (three in the first episode) with surprisingly decent resolution.
The case are all “financial disputes,” CNBC says, though there’s obviously personality involved, too. In the first episode, the only one I’ve seen, the cases are focused on products and small businesses, keeping the show very Shark Tank adjacent. One of the first litigants, Karina, even says she learned about selling products at trade shows from watching Shark Tank, and the first two cases involve Hang-O-Matic and #bigfatlunch, products I’d expect to see pitched on the ABC show.
While Kevin, reading from a teleprompter, tells us that “all rulings are final” and “all decisions are mine,” and unclear if the participants are paid in any way. On Judge Judy, The People’s Court, and other court shows, the verdict is typically paid by the show, in addition to compensation for appearing on the show. That explains why people are willing to do this, especially those who know they’re in the wrong: the case is resolved, it costs them nothing, and they might actually make money.
Money Court’s litigants appear on screens—even when they’re in the same house together, they’re in separate boxes—a friction-less use of the virtual format. Each litigant presents their case, super-briefly, and then there’s more open discussion. Kevin does a bit of performative question-asking and declaration, but that’s quickly superseded by broader discussion.
Contributing are Katie Phang, whose site describes her as “a trial attorney and media relations and crisis management consultant,” and a former judge, Ada Pozo, whose website describes her as “an aggressive trial lawyer and a former Miami Dade County Court Judge.” They’re both better with questions and observations in the moment than Kevin is, and sometimes even more willing to just call out what is happening. I so appreciated that, during one deliberation, when Katie said, “How is this not a clear case of: Done. Go away, buddy. You’re wasting our time today?”
Alas, the show doesn’t develop either Phang or Pozo as people or on-screen characters, and they’re introduced by Kevin as just “here to help.” I suppose it doesn’t really do that to Kevin, either, assuming we’ll already know who he is from Shark Tank, but their presence is a strength, and the editing should give them more attention.
While the three talk over the decisions together, Kevin makes the decision. Both of the first-episode verdicts are compromises, and quite reasonable, as is a lot of Kevin’s advice.
One litigant, Jared, insists that he can sell his family’s house and use that money to develop a new product, and says, “Kevin, I’m a sure bet. It’s not a bet.” Kevin says, “There’s not such thing as a sure bet … because not every product works every time.” It’s—reasonable advice! From Kevin “Here, take this shitty royalty deal because you have no other options” O’Leary!
The biggest surprise: When one of the litigants refers to himself in the third person, Kevin even mocks himself for using the third person for his own nickname (which, alas, he unironically uses at other times).
The “Ask Kevin” segment is less successful than the cases. Kevin talks, briefly, to entrepreneur and activist Satvik Sethi, who’s upset that his story has been reported in the book Generation Brave: The Gen Z Kids Who Are Changing the World, without his consent. Kevin mentions the legal principle—Sethi is a public figure, and the facts of his life are not protectable—but then gives some weak advice for him to promote the book. If I wrote The Unauthorized Biography of Mr. Thinks He’s Wonderful, would Kevin really post on social media about that book?
But even that advice is even-keeled, and more reasonable than the kinds of overreactions and tired catchphrases (“you’re dead to me”) I expect from Kevin O’Leary.
That may not be what people watching court shows are looking for; they want Judge Judy to verbally shred someone, or Judge Marilyn Milian to grill a litigant. I suspect that’s what people want from Kevin O’Leary, too, and maybe they’ll get it in future episodes. But I’m glad to have this milder version of Kevin O’Leary, plus two other experts, crafting creative solutions to disputes.
Kevin O’Leary’s Money Court is decent, a better-than-average judge show. B-
What works for me:
- Quick cases
- Creative compromises
- Kevin O’Leary is not as much of a monster as usual.
What could be better:
- More explanation about how they arrived at the compromise decision
- Phang and Pozo need more well-developed edits