After four seasons, Shark Tank viewers might think that the sharks have seen everything.
Not true, say "Queen of QVC" Lori Greiner and technology innovator Robert Herjavec, who insist that the entrepreneurs who enter the "tank" continue to surprise them.
"I think the producers do such a great job of keeping it fresh and new, and just when I think, 'Wow, I'll never see something that tops this,' something new shows up," Herjavec told The Hollywood Reporter during a recent visit to the show's Culver City set. "It's incredible after five years, when someone comes out and I'm like, 'Wow, that was a great idea' or 'I wasn't expecting that.'"
Adds Greiner of one unexpected moment in particular during the course of shooting season five, which bows Friday night: "An entrepreneur asked me to marry him the other day. There are lot of surprises to come."
So what else is new about this season?
For starters, there will be specially themed episodes, including one featuring children, teens and college students, and another spotlighting products with a holiday theme. And in the fifth-season premiere, airing at 9 p.m. Friday, Greiner goes head to head with fellow shark Barbara Corcoran for the first time ever. There are also animals: A goat made an appearance at one point during filming.
And, says Herjavec: "It's a nasty year. We are so much nastier to each other than in previous years. Maybe it's because they don't feed us," he quips. "We're doing deals for smaller amounts of equity because [the entrepreneurs] have real sales. There are much, much better businesses [than in previous seasons]."
He says that's likely due to people having watched the show and coming in more prepared.
For anyone unfamiliar with ABC's Emmy-nominated series, Shark Tank features the six sharks -- the sextet also includes Kevin O'Leary, Daymond John and Mark Cuban -- getting pitched by aspiring entrepreneurs looking to partner with an investor to take their businesses even further. Some get offered deals; many don't.
But that's just part of the story. When THR went on set to view a taping -- during which one of the entrepreneurs was a 16-year-old -- Greiner and Herjavec gave some insight into what viewers don't see on TV, shared their advice on what makes for a really good pitch and revealed what happens after the deals are offered and the cameras stop rolling.
How much do you know about an entrepreneur or a product before it's pitched to you?
Greiner: Zero. We know nothing about them. We see them for the first time right in the tank.
And you're not allowed to do any research on the Internet or elsewhere during the pitch?
Greiner: We either know things already about the market because of our knowledge and experience or we try to ask the right questions.
How much internal debate is there before you make an offer?
Greiner: Well, I have a little thing. I can tell instantly if a product is a hero or a zero. But then I hear certain things about the company, and it helps put my decision one way or another.
What really stands out for you as a good pitch?
Greiner: I think a good pitch has two different things. One, it's a good product or good idea. And two, the entrepreneur -- if they are confident and know what they are doing.
Herjavec [to Greiner]: Would you invest in a bad entrepreneur with a good product?
Greiner I would try to buy the product out or buy out the company. Or I won't do the deal. Nothing ever works with a bad partner. I don't do crazy. If I sense somebody is a little crazy or difficult to work with … I don't need that kind of aggravation.
Herjavec [to Greiner]: That doesn't apply to the sharks right?
Greiner: [Laughs] No, of course not.
Herjavec: For me, for a good pitch, first of all, you have to be engaging. We film a long time, all day long and we get a little irritable. You have to get our attention right away.
Greiner: And know your facts. You should know about your business inside and out. Practice, research, know everything about it. And if you don't, it tells us how serious you are -- or not serious.
Can a bad pitch ruin a good product?
Herjavec: Yes, it's not our responsibility to listen to them. It's their responsibility to tell a good story, to get us engaged.
Greiner: It tells you how good of a business person they are, how organized, how detailed, how caring. Bad pitches tell us they're the opposite.
Is it hard to say no to the entrepreneurs?
Greiner: No, and I'll tell why. We give good advice. If it isn't right for us, it doesn't mean they should quit. Entrepreneurs have spirit, and they will continue. Sometimes you do people a favor by saying no. Maybe it's not the right thing; maybe they should rethink it; maybe they'll do fine without us. It depends on the situation.
What's the longest pitch you've ever heard?
Herjavec: Our longest one was two hours.
Greiner: That was my deal, and it never closed.
How hands-on are you with the people you invest with?
Greiner: I'm majorly hands-on. I've always been that way in business; that's the person I am. I'm used to working 24/7. I've found that many of them, I like who I've picked, and all of them have become friends. They're great business partners, and I really enjoy everything I'm doing.
Herjavec: Well, that's because Lori had no friends before the show started [laughs].
Greiner [to Herjavec]: I might have to hurt you later [laughs].
Herjavec: I have a pretty big company that I run, and my time is consumed, so I try to be really invested in the beginning and then bring in more people to help out.
When do you start working with them?
Herjavec: That's a great question. In the first couple of seasons, we used to finish filming the show and then kind of get to the deal. Now it's immediate. This year, we follow up on the investments we've done within the season. It makes the show fresh and exciting. You see somebody get the deal, and three episodes later we follow up on it.
Greiner: I already talked to several of the people I made deals with last week.
Obviously, the show is great exposure for these products, so even if there is no deal, the entrepreneurs still get some free publicity. But isn't it better if they actually make a deal with a shark?
Greiner: It's a double-edged sword. If they think, "Oh, I'll go on Shark Tank with no interest of really making a deal and get so much publicity and sales." Of course, it doesn't work that way. You might get a blip that evening, but it doesn't sustain. Doing the deal with the shark is what's sustainable.
Herjavec: But they do get a blip that evening. But what's hard is I have to take them at face value to a certain point because the show is real. We [recently] met a guy who Mark and Lori said, "This guy is taking advantage of this show." It was obvious after the fact, and they called him out on it. They two of them were right, but how could I know that? I take someone at face value.
Greiner: Sometimes you can tell. I can kind of sniff it out easily because I've been in this industry a long time. When somebody comes in with no intention of doing a deal, I can smell them out. As can Daymond; we're in the same industry. … [Those people] might get a little blip [in sales], but they're not getting the success of Shark Tank and the power of the sharks, getting the product to retailers and follow-up on the show. You have to be right and fair in life, and when you're not, it comes back around.
What if you offer a deal to someone, and then later realize it's not a good fit?
Greiner: We talk about it.
Herjavec: We negotiate, depending on what it is. Sometimes people come on the show and they're very nervous and make mistakes. Sometimes they have positive feedback from buyers, but no order.
Greiner: We have to be sleuths to figure it out. That goes back to what makes a good pitch. Come in with something concrete and honest and good. Hand us a purchase order from a big store that says you've sold 25,000 units, and we're gonna be happy.
Herjavec [to Greiner]: But don't you think there's a consistency with what the pitcher says and the way they act afterward? I find I can always see the seeds of destruction if I look back onto the pitch.
Greiner: It makes us sharks smarter and savvier for next year. We do learn.
Herjavec: Every day.
Greiner: We're in a little war zone. We learn how to put on armor and take it off, depending on what happens.
Do you feel a lot of competition with your fellow sharks?
Herjavec: I think the first thing I feel is, is it a good business? Do I want to be invested with this person? That's always a guiding force for me. I don't see it as conflict with the other sharks; I see it as do I want to be invested with this business. Having said that, I'm a guy, so absolutely people will piss me off and there are times when it gets competitive.
Greiner: And me, I'm cool all the time [laughs].
Shark Tank premieres at 9 p.m. Friday on ABC. The episode's entrepreneurs include two guys from Dallas who pitch their savory cake balls, two doctors who claim they have a social-media cure for doctor-patient communication, two sisters-in-law who run a gourmet-pickle business and another pitcher with a mobile app that sends postcards. Viewers also will get updates on some previous entrepreneurs whose businesses O'Leary invested in during season four.