I forgot ABC’s Shark Tank was live for its season 14 premiere. I don’t know why Shark Tank was live for its season premiere.
What I do know is that Shark Tank never needs to be live again.
The episode was, at times, surprisingly similar to a regular episode, from the entrepreneurs’ walk down the hallway to the assortment of products (underwear, baby booger picker, a pizza storage container) and people (two couples, the return of a rejected entrepreneur now selling something new)—though definitely not the most-interesting set of pitches I’ve ever seen.
The rest of the time, it was a total wreck.
I love Shark Tank, so let me try to be positive here: I was thrilled to have an episode of Shark Tank where the six core sharks are all together, and the producers aren’t just swapping out the women and keeping the most-annoying men.
My favorite part was seeing the announcer, Phil Crowley, who’s usually off-camera (and presumably just recording everything in post-production), now in his own booth, giving a face to the voice. He did a lot of heavy lifting that made it feel like a real episode.
And live Shark Tank made me so, so grateful for Shark Tank’s editors and story producers who make these episodes coherent. The second pitch’s negotiation devolved into a screaming, shouting mess that was impossible to follow.
One regular Shark Tank episode takes about eight hours to film, with pitches often lasting 45 minutes to an hour, which allows time to dig into the weeds of finances and really negotiate. Of course, the editing cuts that down to the key parts.
For their live episode, the sharks—Mark Cuban, Daymond John, Barbara Corcoran, Kevin O’Leary, Lori Greiner, and Robert Herjavec—seemed to have been primed to keep things moving and be more disciplined, and that sometimes worked and other times devolved into total chaos.
But racing through the pitches left little time for nuance or discovery, and instead led to a lot of shouting. And the one potentially dramatic moment—when Mark Cuban offered to buy a company—was interrupted by the “uh we really have to go to commercial now” music.
The focus is usually on the product, service, or company; the people who made it; and the sharks’ interest—or not—in that. The live format did not allow for that same focus, in part because there was something else drawing attention.
Shark Tank’s live studio audience was just annoying
One thing I am absolutely sure of is that a live studio audience added absolutely nothing to Shark Tank, and definitely made the show quite annoying.
Okay, yes, in general, I find live reality TV studio audiences to be annoying, mostly because they are coached and/or sweetened into being more annoying.
Sweetening refers to adding sound, and far too many reality shows add screams, cheers, and wild applause to even the smallest audience, which looks and sounds ridiculous, and distracts from the reality of whatever’s actually taking place.
And coached audiences, like the weird zombie audience Big Brother had for years and years, are the worst for unscripted shows, because they’re not acting organically.
On Shark Tank, the best part of the live audience was its applause and cheers for an entrepreneur’s success, though it was hilarious when the camera would cut to the audience and some would be clapping and others just looked like they’d been dragged there against their will, or promised free ice cream and were waiting for it to show up.
The worst part of the live audience was giving Robert Herjavec more to pander to besides the camera.
He booed other sharks, he stood up and screamed at the audience, he just screamed. Robert’s enthusiasm is well-documented—give him a sample of something and it’ll be the best ever!!—but it was quite grating live.
For example, when Mark Cuban dropped out, Robert screamed boo, trying to get the audience to join in.
The live audience did have the good sense—or was instructed—to be quiet during the actual discussion, though that discipline slipped away as the hour moved on. “Here’s my offer,” Barbara said, and the audience cheered before she could actually give her offer.
I am not tuning in to Shark Tank to hear people clap and scream, I’m tuning in to hear what Barbara is going to offer, and then whatever lewd flirtatious comment she’ll follow that with.
Usually it’s Kevin O’Leary who drives me absolutely nuts—I honestly think the show should drop him—but he was relatively sedate compared to his usual obnoxious persona, so there’s that.
However, Kevin did get the audience to cheer “royalty! royalty!” for his usual shitty deal that benefits him and no one else.
One thing the episode added were live polls, and there’s maybe an interesting idea there, trying to gauge just how useful or interesting a product is by asking us to text our answers to questions such as, “How often do you buy new underwear?” But the implementation was awkward.
The questions were obviously written in advance, and then the sharks had to make it sound organic. “I’m wondering, what does America think?” Lori said awkwardly mid-pitch. “Are baby boogers a big problem for you? Do you have that problem?”
The Sharks are good at what they do. They’re not, however, hosts who know how to manage live television or throw to commercial, and putting them in that position did not work.
I will give Shark Tank’s producers and/or ABC credit for trying something new, but I hope it’s a one-time-only experiment. Dancing with the Stars makes sense as a live show; Shark Tank does not.
I do wish the show had ended with one last question: “Do you think Shark Tank should do this again?” I would have texted my “no” answer several dozen times. Because of those reasons, I’m out.