One of the fun things for a spectator and fan of the TV medium (for which I count myself as one) is watching the journey of shows. Some explode on arrival, but many have taken a long path to hit status. In this ever increasingly fragmented entertainment world it’s not as common as it once was for a show to start slowly and then grow into something bigger. One current example that is doing this, is Shark Tank. It’s based on the UK and Canadian show Dragon’s Den and is unlike anything else on TV. It’s fascinating to watch billionaire entrepreneurs invest in everyday people’s idea and in the process make someone a millionaire in minutes. Each pitch is different and hence the drama always changes. It’s quite compelling when a regular joe walks in with an idea and a dream and 5 Sharks are tripping over each other to be in with business with her/him.
Shark Tank was announced to premiere as part of ABCs 2009 Fall schedule. It was slotted for Tuesday at 8. Seeing as it was set to premiere against NCIS, The Biggest Loser, (which was much stronger then), and the one fall edition of So You Think You Can Dance. ABC wisely decided to give it a head start and premiered it in August on Sunday at 9p after the much-anticipated 10th anniversary return of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. I don’t think anyone expected that was gonna be greeted with as low ratings as it received. As a result, Shark Tank didn’t open hugely either, though it improved on Millionaire and mostly held its high 1’s the rest of the summer run. ABC still moved it to Tue 8p for Sep and Oct as planned, before they premiered V in November. Even against strong competition, it still held mid 1’s and built to high 1’s by the end of the Tuesday run.
Clearly encouraged by the fact that it didn’t fall apart, ABC asked the producers to put together 2 more episodes from existing footage for a total of 15 eps for the first season. They aired the remaining episodes on Friday at 9p in the winter of 2010. Once again, the show did pretty well and improved the hour.
While still not a ratings monster, ABC took some time deciding and finalizing a renewal. In late summer 2010 they announced a renewal for 8 eps (plus one holdover from season 1 for a total of 9 eps). ABC and Mark Burnett were clearly looking for ways to entice more viewers, so they brought in 2 guest sharks – Mark Cuban and Jeff Foxworthy for 3 eps a piece, replacing Kevin Harrington in those eps. The show returned in late March 2011, Fridays at 8p, more than a year after the last episode had aired and it immediately began improving on what Supernanny did in the timeslot. ABC renewed it for a 3rd season and it was set to be on their fall schedule at 9 after Extreme Makeover:Home Edition. Somewhere after the upfronts it was decided to make EM:HE all 2 hour eps and Shark Tank would debut midseason with 13 episodes.
An interesting thing happened over last summer as ABC reran season 2 episodes a second and a third time. The reruns were getting close to what the originals got the first time. It was averaging around a 1.2 and coming in at #1. It was likely that the episodes were being seen by new people each time. The truth is, I have seen every episode of the show and I even watch the reruns and I know I am not alone. It’s still compelling even in rerun form and I generally don’t remember the outcomes most of the time. Shark Tank’s drama changes with each pitch and there are generally 4 pitches an episode (plus an update on the status of a successful one). The beauty of the show is that even if one doesn’t come away with a deal, the exposure on the show usually bolsters the business and the show is not shy about showing the success of those that walked away empty-handed.
Seeing how well the show did over the summer, it seemed possible the show could grow even more this, its 3rd season. Marc Cuban really popped on the three, season two eps he appeared in and he was promoted full-time for the entire 3rd season. Producers clearly wanted to feature more entrepreneurs with different styles/success and they had Lori Grenier sit in for Barbara Corcoran for a few eps (likely a day of taping).
Before it returned in January, CBS announced that it was moving its successful Undercover Boss to Fridays. The show had recently returned to a 3.0 on Sunday and this being CBS, it stood to reason that it would be #1 on Friday at 8. This was now a 4 way reality hour with FOXs strong Kitchen Nightmares still in the slot (and that had been the #1 show, usually generating around a 1.6). and NBCs decent performer Who Do You Think You Are. I thought ABC would be better served putting Shark Tank at 9p where it would have the reality slot all to itself and easily win. ABC kept it at 8p but smartly started it two weeks before WDYTYA and about a month before Undercover Boss would premiere.
Shark Tank’s season 3 premiere on January 20th got series highs for the show on Friday nights with a 1.8. It handily beat Kitchen Nightmares, and more importantly for ABC, it vastly improved what EM:HE was getting in the hour and was way higher than what Supernanny was getting the year before. The highest it had gotten in that slot in Season 2 was a 1.5 but most weeks it was around a 1.2. Clearly more people had found it over the summer. It held up over the ensuing weeks and the NBC and FOX reality shows were now behind Shark Tank. ABC ordered two more eps that the producers could cull from existing footage for a total of 15. When Undercover Boss came to the slot mid February it opened huge with a 2.2, a number that Friday nights rarely see anymore. That week Shark Tank dropped a bit to a 1.5 but still was above its season 2 average. It has also been averaging close to 6 million viewers each week and the few reruns that aired (a 4th run of the three season 2 Marc Cuban episodes) were getting close to 5 million and 1.2/1.3 in the demo, basically numbers the originals were getting last year.
Over the last few months the gap has narrowed between Undercover Boss and Shark Tank to only a couple of tenths apart between the two (with CBS winning). But this past Friday, Shark Tank beat Undercover Boss for the first time, 1.7-1.4, and Shark Tank was the highest rated show of Friday night in the demo – pretty impressive for an 8p show in the spring.
This is a show that is still growing and it stands to reason that more new people will find it again this summer in reruns. I can’t imagine ABC won’t have it on its fall schedule and it is sure to keep them a player on Friday nights. But as it grows I can’t help but wonder what it would do on a more viewed night. Could they possibly move it to Thursday at 8p next season? I don’t think they should for a few reasons. Right now, it’s made them a real player on Friday nights. I also think they should attack Thu at 8p with one of their strongest new dramas. It’s important for them to seed the night with the night’s eventual successor (like they did on Sunday this year with Once Upon A Time) and with TBBT likely going to 9p there is opportunity. Plus the show is still in growth mode and if it continues, the opportunity to move it will be there in the future. But I think ABC could possibly get the best of both worlds:
As I have said before, I think ABC should give Shark Tank a large order for season 4. I’m thinking 30 episodes. They produce 15 episodes from a few days of taping, Adding a few more taping days to double the amount of episodes doesn’t seem like a heavy task. Plus this appears to be a relatively inexpensive show to produce. All the money invested comes from the Shark’s own pockets. By producing 30 episodes, ABC can have enough for Friday night but they can also have some extra to use during the week when some of their serial shows need to take a break . For example, I suggested in my ABC upfront post that in order to curb Revenge‘s rerun problem and to run it consecutively as much as possible, all ABC has to do is rest the show in December and January. What if they aired a few new Shark Tanks Wed at 10 in January? Seems pretty win/win to me. They get to test Shark Tank on a more viewed night, expose it some people who probably have never seen it on Friday and also do a ratings number sure to exceed what a rerun would get. Extra episodes can also help ABC in case a new drama fails early like Charlie’s Angels did last year.
Whatever the case, I expect Shark Tank to continue to grow next season and it will be interesting to see where its growth takes it next.