Tuned In: 'Shark Tank' hopes to lure viewers

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Even if you decry the reality TV genre, there's no question that some of these shows are better than others. And no producer is better at casting and editing than Mark Burnett, the mastermind behind "Survivor" and "The Apprentice."

His first effort for ABC, "Shark Tank" (8 tonight, WTAE), is decidedly one of his less dynamic with a topic that seems better suited to CNBC. But the casting, as always, is flawless.

The show's concept is this: Entrepreneurs pitch their business proposals to five sharks, multimillionaires who may be willing to fund the entrepreneurs' business dreams. The sharks are real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, infomercial czar Kevin Harrington, technology innovator Robert Herjavec, FUBU fashion founder Daymond John and financial expert Kevin O'Leary.

The show's format is adapted from a Japanese TV show called "Dragons' Den" and features multiple contestants each hour who come in and make their pitches. None of those competing for cash are competing against one another; each episode is self-contained, another departure from Burnett's most popular, serialized shows.

Each entrepreneur pitches his or her product, names the amount of cash needed to bring it to reality and suggests what percentage of the company the sharks will get in exchange for their investment. Sometimes the sharks end up fighting over a good idea. Other times, none of them want anything to do with the proposed project.

Darrin Johnson enters the Shark Tank -- it looks like a cross between the "Dateline NBC" set and a poorly lit CNBC set -- seeking $1 million for a device that would be implanted behind a person's ear, essentially a surgically implanted Bluetooth device for cell phones, complete with charging port.

"I have to be clear on this before I write you off as a nut-job," Cochran says to Darrin before pelting him with questions.

Cochran actually comes off as one of the friendlier sharks. O'Leary plays the Simon Cowell/Donald Trump role of no-nonsense, brusque truth-teller. When sympathetic Tod Wilson -- owner of a pie company, which he hopes to expand -- gets choked up describing how he built his company, O'Leary admonishes him, saying, "Tod, don't cry about money. It will never cry for you."

When another entrepreneur pitches a business that he started using his child's college fund, O'Leary lectures: "Here's how I think of my money: like soldiers. I send them out into war every day, and I want them to take prisoners so when they come home there is more of them. In your army, every soldier dies that you send out every day. Stop this madness!"

It's this interaction that's most interesting, both seeing what product/service will be pitched next -- two guys who started a company called College Hunks Hauling Junk try to sell the sharks on a spin-off company, College Foxes Packing Boxes -- and how the business experts will react, counter-offer, etc.

But the show's look is too inert. "Shark Tank" is mostly confined to that dark studio set with only a few packaged pieces that introduce entrepreneurs before they make their pitches.

Business buffs may love it, but "Shark Tank" lacks the lush visuals of "Survivor" and the star power of Trump. It just doesn't have the same bite.

Contact TV editor Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv.


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