Marcus Lemonis’s The Profit has been off the air since spring of 2020, but he’s been busy in the reality TV space. This summer, he started filming a new show, for HGTV, called The Renovator, on which he “now will help homeowners fix their most valuable personal asset—their home,” according to the network, which says he’ll “transform their homes into ideal spaces and help mend their strained relationships.”
He launched a podcast, One Hundred Percent with Marcus Lemonis, which is one of the strangest interview shows I’ve ever heard, because I’ve yet to hear an episode that sounds like Marcus is actually talking to anyone in real time. (Is the editing hacking up conversations, or constructing them from separately recorded interviews, or something else?)
Behind the scenes, Marcus invested in Zero Point Zero, the Emmy-winning production company that produced Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, United Shades of America with Kamau Bell, The Mind of a Chef, and Somebody Feed Phil, among other shows.
And recently, he announced that, with producer Nancy Glass, he bought Let’s Make a Deal, a deal that RealScreen noted “includes the rights to other game formats that will be rebooted and relaunched, part of an expansion strategy that will see Glass, Lemonis and [Monty Hall’s daughter and TV executive Sharon] Hall utilizing their combined knowledge and experience to create partnerships for the brand as well as global format distribution for live and touring shows.” That means Fremantle Productions, which produces the CBS version starring Wayne Brady, will now be licensing the format from Marcus.
With all of these new projects, and none of them with The Profit‘s original production company, Machete Productions, I was genuinely surprised when CNBC announced The Profit season 8, which will have eight episodes, compared to 12 for the previous season.
The Profit season eight also got a significant makeover: a new, slicker title sequence, and more needle drops instead of the usual cable reality TV music.
The most significant—and welcome—change for me is the increase in on-the-fly interviews. Instead of interviews filmed weeks or months later in front of a green screen, we more frequently hear Marcus’s thoughts in near-real time. That’s an improvement because the studio interviews appeared to be real-time but were actually framed with the benefit of hindsight.
The businesses featured so far on season eight—and I’m not referring to the “segments of this episode were paid for by Zip Recruiter”—have run the gamut of The Profit episodes. There’s been comedy (Marcus psyching himself up to interact with bees on Harvest Lane Honey episode) and an entire episode of crazy made-for-reality TV drama (at Grey Block Pizza, which began with one of the co-owners, Thomas, bringing his girlfriend in to confront his ex and co-owner, Lilia).
The Grey Block Pizza episode was a complete mess, but at least had some interesting fourth-wall breaking. After a tense confrontation (“Let me be super fucking clear. I’m more upset than before I started, so now you’re going to see a different side of me,” Marcus said. “You want me to invest in this shitbox right now? Because I’m not going to do that.”), the owner, Thomas, suggested Marcus buy Lilia out, and Marcus said, “That’s why you called me here, and I’m not falling for that.” But then why go there at all?
Despite being filmed mid-pandemic, the series somehow feels disconnected from time and space, which is both appealing and unnerving. There’s rarely a mask in sight, and barely a mention of the events of the last 18 months or its effects on businesses, which is curious. And there’s something else that hasn’t been mentioned.
Businesses accuse Marcus Lemonis ‘of running an expansive racketeering ring’
Less than two weeks into the new season, Bloomberg Law reported that “[m]ore than 50 former small businesses are accusing Marcus Lemonis, the host of CNBC’s reality show ‘The Profit,’ of running an expansive racketeering ring that ruined their businesses by stealing their intellectual property, trade secrets, and money, according to a new filing in an ongoing case.” That lawsuit was filed by Courage.b clothing.
Forbes first reported—in a story titled “False Prophet”—that an amended complaint in that case claims “Lemonis presents himself as a savior of struggling small business owners, all the while preying on the business he purports to be saving” and “Lemonis strategically and deliberately drowns these businesses in debt to him and his entities in order to foreclose on them and take their assets and intellectual property to expand his own empire.” The story details how they claim this worked.
Marcus Lemonis denied all of this, of course, telling Forbes:
“This feels like a grand shake down from people who are not entitled to anything. In every single business that I’ve ever tried to help, or made a grant to, or made a loan to, or an investment to, specifically related to this show, and the reality releases they signed, I’ve only ever put money into people’s businesses and never once got any form of payment back including expenses, interest, principle, anything.”
By my count of The Profit Updates’ list, 98 businesses have been featured on the show prior to this season. Whatever the legal merits of the claims being made in court or in print, for more than half of those to have a grievance seems, well, high. That’s not as easily dismissed as one or two aggrieved people or a few deals that went bad.
Also, a 2018 Inc. story made similar claims: “Inc. spoke to 20 such small-business owners. Some feel they were exploited to make entertaining television, while others allege Lemonis took advantage of their lack of business savvy and weak financial positions for his own monetary gain, acting more like a callous private equity investor than a small-business savior.”
Since its first season, The Profit has always felt like the most raw business makeover show. Marcus’s involvement is the opposite of, say, Fox’s version of Kitchen Nightmares, which seems like Gordon Ramsay just rolls through, screams at people while his crew puts some paint on the walls, and then the business is left to pick up the pieces.
The Profit has been messier, but in a good, more realistic way. Some early episodes just ended awkwardly, or with deals breaking down, which made it feel more real and less like Ramsay’s charade created for TV.
But while Marcus makes on-camera handshake deals, and the details and contracts are worked out behind the scenes, leaving the specifics out of the TV show. There’s clearly more to the story—whether the claims being made in the reporting I’ve linked to, or in lawsuits by small businesses, are true or not—and that leaves me with lots of questions.
Who’s paying for renovations? Is that included in the check Marcus is writing, or not? Are they actually cashing the check, or waiting for contracts to be signed first? What does “100 percent in charge” actually mean? Is it a TV show line or something written into contracts? How do all of Marcus’s businesses interact with each other? What exactly do the TV show releases demand of the people who appear on TV, and does that affect the business itself in any way?
I love glimpses of how the show is produced on The Profit: An Inside Look, and also appreciate that Marcus often answers questions on Twitter about what happened after certain episodes. If The Profit season nine happens, I’d love to see less time devoted to people screaming at each other and more attention to exactly what’s happening with the deals that are being made.
The Profit: season 8
The Profit is refreshed, but can’t shake the sense that it’s not showing us key parts of the deal. B
What works for me:
- The new look and feel for the episodes
- Marcus Lemonis’s on-the-fly interviews
- The updates over the end credits
What could be better:
- More transparency about the exact nature of the deals being made on camera
- Casting businesses that need help, not just attention or a check