ABC’s reality show Shark Tank is currently in its 11th season, and considered must-see TV to the show’s fans. With its panel of investors – Barbara Corcoran, Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John, and Kevin O’Leary – now on-air celebrities, it’s hard to imagine that the show was ever in danger of being cancelled.
Yet John, CEO and Founder of FUBU, revealed in an interview last year that the popular program was once on the chopping block in its early days.
Why he decided to jump into the tank
John shared the story of how he was recruited to be on the panel of Shark Tank, admitting he had reservations at first. “I believe it was our executive producer, Clint Newbill. He said they were calling from Mark Burnett’s office,” John told Innovation & Tech Today last year. “We got on a Skype call in our conference room, and it was the producers of Shark Tank on one side and myself and three of my executives on the other. They told me about the show’s idea. I asked, ‘Who else is going to be on the show?’ and they said, ‘Well, you know, we can’t take everybody, but one of them is Mark Cuban.’ I almost fell out of my chair laughing. ‘I can’t believe you Hollywood guys,’ I told them.”
At first, John wasn’t thrilled with the producers’ proposition of him flying out for an interview on his own dime. “They told me that I would be spending my own money to travel out there, and I really started laughing hard,” he shared. “’You know what you guys are?’ I said. ‘You’re the sharks, you’re the pimps.’ Why would I ever want to do this? They just told me to come out and shoot and see if I liked it.”
Eventually, John agreed to give it a try due to the street cred of the ABC exec and brand names backing the show. “First of all, it was Mark Burnett. Second, it was shot by Sony and ABC. The brands don’t get any bigger than that,” John said. “I had to go to L.A. anyway, so we shot the pilot, and the pilot got picked up right away.”
After the meet-up with Burnett, John decided he was in. “I loved the format of the show. Then I realized all the opportunities the show provided me that I normally didn’t get because people were only pitching me clothing companies,” he said.
Secrets to ‘Shark’s’ success
John credits creative editing as part of the reason for the show’s popularity. “I think that first of all, the producers cut it up, put some music with it, put some drama in it, and make it look interesting. Otherwise, I’m just yelling at Mr. Wonderful (O’Leary) all the time,” he said with a laugh. “So, their ability to create something is really amazing.”
The millionaire investor also identified what is a common thread for contestants and viewers of the series. “I think the attraction is that everybody has an idea. Not everybody can necessarily sing, but people can put themselves in the position or place of the entrepreneur,” John explained. “When are you ever going to see millionaires and billionaires in a room and see what they’re truly going to ask you? We’re all going to be in that position when we’re going to be pitching something to somebody.”
Ratings were tanking at first
Surprisingly, Shark Tank did not start off too swimmingly when it premiered in 2009, in part due to its name that was similar to a popular adventure show.
“The show was on life support for the first two seasons because people didn’t get it,” John revealed. “If you ask somebody, ‘Hey, do you watch Shark Tank?’ If they didn’t think it was Shark Week from Discovery Channel, then they would say, ‘Well, who wins?’ Nobody wins. ‘When do they get the money? And who comes in second?’ They just couldn’t grasp it. So, it was crawling for a while.”
Eventually, the show caught on due to its weekly success stories that were making the American dream a reality. “What happened is you have all these entrepreneurs who pitched on the show, now becoming millionaires, their dreams coming true,” John said. “They’re going out to the local TV’s and local magazines and starting to talk about it. It started to create this cult following for the show.”
The FUBU founder also sees Shark Tank as a family show, prompting conversations between parents and kids. “I’m noticing after nine years of being on the show is the kids are starting to come out after watching Netflix or something in their rooms,” John commented. “They’re debating with mom and dad over whether a product is cool or something they would buy, usually saying mom and dad don’t get it (laughs). And mom and dad are saying their kids are missing certain things, so it’s creating dialogue within families.”
Watch ABC’s Shark Tank on Sunday nights!