This Season, 'Shark Tank' Seeks to Humanize Its Sharks

Clay Newbill, Robert Herjavec, Barbara Corcoran, Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Kevin O'Leary (Todd Wawrychuk/ABC)
Clay Newbill, Robert Herjavec, Barbara Corcoran, Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Kevin O’Leary (Todd Wawrychuk/ABC)

In its eighth year and, as of this past week, over $100 million of the hosts’ own personal money invested, Shark Tank is stronger than ever.

Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Kevin O’Leary, Lori Greiner, and Robert Herjavec recently joined executive producer Clay Newbill for a breakfast with press at L’Ermitage in Beverly Hills to talk about the show, its legacy, and its future.

Shark Tank changed — literally — our country,” Greiner said. “From six-year-olds to 97-year-olds, everybody watches the show.” It’s inspired a “cultural revolution,” she insisted, by making the language of entrepreneurs understandable to laymen.

“We had somebody come on this season. He was in his 20s,” Herjavec continued. “He said, ‘I used to watch Shark Tank when I was young.’ And we were all, ‘What? Are we old?!’ It was very humbling.”

Corcoran leapt in: “Humbling? What was humbling? It was depressing!”

New This Season

Corcoran revealed two new things two watch for. One: The introduction of the show is changing. “To emphasize how [the Sharks] started from rags and worked their way to riches,” she said. “So people are going to see us in a different light, and I think people are going to relate in a different way.” Two: They’re going to do a profile on each Shark. The first one — of O’Leary — airs this week, and Corcoran is looking forward to it. “I understand that he actually cries on set,” she said, sounding incredulous. “I hear that his story is so touching. And I can’t believe he’d touch me on anything!”

Will this be the best year ever for the show? Some say yes. “We did a deal this season… This is the best thing I’ve seen in eight seasons,” Herjavec said. But Cuban quickly jumped on the statement: “You say that every day!” So the jury’s still out.

On Their Influence

“Recently,” said O’Leary, “in San Francisco airport, an 11-year old girl came running up to me — her mother was in tow back there — and she said, ‘Are you Mr. Wonderful, that guy on Shark Tank?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ ‘Listen, last night, you should have done that deal with the convert up 20%.‘”

The idea of the show has reached the mainstream educational system. “Any parent I meet,” said Greiner, “almost every single one of them, says, ‘Oh, we have a Shark Tank thing in our school.’ All of them are having Shark Tank classes, they’re having Shark Tank projects, they’re having Shark Tank contests.”

Cuban emphasized that their reach extends to every age. “The reason I do the show is Shark Tank tells everybody the American Dream is alive and well. Like everybody was saying — 6-year-olds, 8-year-olds, 90-year-olds — we give them confidence that if we can do it, they can do it. It’s hard to impact that many people any other way.”

The Casting Process

“We have over 40,000 apply every year, and about 180 of them make it actually onto the rug,” Newbill said.

“Is it a wow idea?” is the first thing they ask. “The magic happens when an offer is made, so we want everybody that comes in there to get to that point,” he said. Next, they look at the person. “Are they energetic enough? Do they have that fire? Do they have that passion? Do they have that drive that we know works for television, but also is something that a Shark will be looking for?”

“That’s just scratching the surface,” he continued. “We spend weeks, months working with them.” The pitch might get practiced hundreds of times with the producers offering advice, but, he said, “it’s a take it or leave it-type of advice because, at the end of the day, it’s their businesses.”

The show itself requires less direction. The Sharks all fuel each other, so, what does Newbill really have to do? “I tell them, ‘Okay, it’s been an hour.'”

On Celebrity

Like so many before them, the Sharks have found fame to be a double-edged sword. O’Leary cold-called the executive of a money center bank — the kind whose funds start at a billion dollars — and was greeted with an, “Oh, Mr. Wonderful!” and invited right through multiple layers of security because the executive’s daughter loves his show. “Shark Tank opened the door,” he said.

On the other hand, it can be difficult to be recognized and hounded everywhere — literally everywhere — in the world. Many years ago, recalled Corcoran, “I’m in a boat at a dock where there’s no people, virtually, that live there. And our boat pulls in and people crowd around the boat screaming Shark Tank! We just sailed right out of there!” But despite early misgivings, she now says she’s addicted to the attention. “I’ll never retire,” she said. “I’m gonna work until I just drop dead. And I’m planning to drop dead in the goddamn red seat so it helps the ratings!”

Shark Tank airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on ABC.