April 15, 2024

Reality TV, Shaking Off Recession, Takes Entrepreneurial Turn

Two networks are betting on shows based on entrepreneurs competing for seed money for their business ideas. NBC’s “America’s Next Great Restaurant” features aspiring restaurateurs trying to impress a panel of judges to win financing for a new chain. And ABC has reintroduced “Shark Tank,” in which entrepreneurs try to get backing from a panel of venture capitalists who bet with their own money — in exchange for a piece of the action.

“We think this area is a gold mine — where business hits reality television,” said Paul Telegdy, the executive in charge of reality programming for NBC. “Wealth creation and the concept of capitalism are things that are inherently top-of-mind in America.”

Three years ago, as the economy crashed, reality television producers rushed out shows about pawnshops and scavenging like AE’s “Pawn Stars” and “Storage Wars” — a reflection of the desperate mood across the country. Are viewers now ready for a more optimistic view?

So far the results are not worthy of a buy order. “Shark Tank” showed improvement over its first year’s ratings in its return last week, but still attracted less than a hit-level audience at 6.1 million viewers. NBC’s restaurant show, which has averaged only about 4.3 million viewers, is being buffeted by other reality competition on Sunday (especially “The Amazing Race” on CBS and another, more heart-tugging money-oriented show on ABC, “Secret Millionaire”), but it showed an unexpected sign of life when NBC ran a repeat on Tuesday night.

Mark Burnett, the most successful reality producer in television, with “Survivor” and another business show, “The Apprentice,” on his résumé, jumped at the chance to produce “Shark Tank” both because he was familiar with the show from British television (where it was called “Dragon’s Den”) and because of his personal entrepreneurial experience.

“I emigrated here from England and started out selling T-shirts on the beach,” Mr. Burnett said. “I can really identify with these entrepreneurs.” He said he had also produced a pilot for VH1 about “business turnarounds.”

Last year, “Shark Tank” was a marginal success on Sunday night. This year, it is playing regularly on Friday nights and has added some celebrity juice to its panel of venture capitalists, in the form of the comedian Jeff Foxworthy and the prominent businessman — and sports franchise owner — Mark Cuban.

Mr. Cuban certainly believes in the concept of putting up his own money for entrepreneurial ideas. He said in a telephone interview, “I get amped up about a lot of things, as people know, but this was exciting.” One of the aspiring entrepreneurs managed to get the bidding up to $4 million, a sum that Mr. Burnett said was probably “the biggest amount ever available in a nonfiction TV show.”

“Dragon’s Den” began in Japan, and the format is owned by Sony. Steve Mosko, the president of Sony Pictures Television, said the format for “Dragon’s Den” had been sold in 38 countries, and had become a hit in many. (The most recent editions are in Poland and Saudi Arabia.) Mr. Burnett changed the title thinking that, in the United States, dragons would not conjure the image of tough venture capitalists as well as sharks would. “Blood in the water and all that,” Mr. Burnett said.

Mr. Mosko said it should be “the perfect format” for American audiences, given the whole “American dream thing.” From a business point of view it has another advantage, as one former reality-show producer noted: it’s cheap to make.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=a0cadfa26628e32aa5c0916ac5815dee

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