13 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Shark Tank

ABC
ABC

By the standards of reality television, ABC’s Shark Tank (Fridays, 9 p.m. EST) plays it pretty straight. Entrepreneurs with promising business ideas are shuttled to a sound stage in Los Angeles where they pitch a panel of investors—including Mark Cuban, “Queen of QVC” Lori Greiner, and the occasional Guest Shark—hoping to convince them their product is worth their time and venture capital.

Even if the Sharks decline, getting a chance to display a product in front of the show’s estimated six million viewers is invaluable. We asked some former contestants and one Shark deals curator about the pressure to perform, the merchandise with the best chance of succeeding, and why every segment taping begins with a very awkward moment of silence.

1. YOU WILL PROBABLY NEVER APPEAR ON THIS SHOW.

Owing to the allure of getting 10 minutes to advertise your product on network television for free, Shark Tank can receive more than 100,000 applications every season. Some are submitted via the show's website, while other entrepreneurs appear during open casting calls to “audition” for casting agents looking to fill the 100-odd slots for the show’s 31-episode cycles. “Watching people on television gives everyone a sense of, ‘I could do that,’” says TJ Hale, the host of Shark Tank Podcast, which follows up on contestants and keeps a log of show statistics. “But the odds are against you.”

2. CONTESTANTS CAN SPEND OVER AN HOUR IN FRONT OF THE SHARKS.

While product pitches are typically aired in 10-minute segments, business owners are often hashing out details with the Sharks for an hour or more. “The first time, I was in there 45 minutes,” says Aaron Marino, who appeared in a season four episode with his Alpha M image consultation business and will appear a second time in this season’s finale on May 20. “The second time was an hour, hour-and-a-half. When you get into the minutiae of business numbers, they cut a lot of that stuff out.”

3. ONCE YOU’RE ON SET, YOU CAN’T SPEAK FOR 30 SECONDS.

Business owners who walk through the twin doors and onto the area rug in front of the Sharks don’t get to begin talking immediately: they have to stand in silence for 30 seconds while the production crew adjusts their cameras for establishing shots. “You’re just standing there,” says Eric Bandholz, whose Beardbrand line of facial hair products vied for a deal in season six. “The Sharks are smiling awkwardly. The whole thing is pretty intense.”

4. THERE’S NO ONE YELLING “CUT.”

Once a pitch starts, it’s rarely (if ever) interrupted for anything, with the Sharks firing off questions and talking over one another to create a perfect storm of faux-boardroom anxiety for the contestant. “There’s no stopping,” Marino says. “If you mess up, you have to keep going. You have all these very dominant personalities going after you, talking over themselves. It’s sensory overload.”

5. HAVING A KICKSTARTER HELPS A LOT.

According to Hale, approximately one in four contestants wind up being “scouted” by producers, meaning they’ll be contacted by the show with a cold call. That interest often stems from having a Kickstarter that helps spread word of your product. “It’s kind of like validation,” Hale says of raising capital through crowdfunding. “You might be looked upon more favorably.”

6. THERE’S NO GUARANTEE YOUR SEGMENT WILL AIR.

Even though Shark Tank films over 100 pitches per season, the show offers no promises when it comes to airing taped segments: a handful will wind up unused. That means contestants who sink money into advertising or inventory expecting a “Shark Tank bump” could put themselves at risk if they don’t make the final cut, which they might not find out for up to a year after taping. “You get notice you’re going to be on air about two weeks before the episode,” says Bandholz. “You don’t want to invest too much into your business because you could wind up sabotaging yourself if you don’t make it on.”

7. THERE’S NO FRATERNIZING WITH THE SHARKS.

Entrepreneurs are taken from their hotel to a waiting area, and then to the set. No Sharks are introduced to them prior to their segment. “There’s no access to them whatsoever,” Marino says. “They just film one right after another. I did get to pee next to Robert Herjavec one time, though. All I said was, ‘Hey, see you soon!’”

8. EVERYONE HAS TO SEE A PSYCHIATRIST.

Once entrepreneurs are done filming, they’re immediately whisked off-set and into a meeting with a show-appointed psychiatrist for an off-air evaluation. “They just want to work through how you’re feeling,” says Bandholz. “I’ve heard from other contestants that they can be devastated by their performance, or by what the appearance might mean for their business. It’s a very intense emotional roller coaster.”

9. MOST OF THE ON-AIR DEALS DON’T GO THROUGH.

While contestants who accept an offer from one or more of the Sharks seem to have it made, it’s little more than a handshake deal. Owing to the due diligence process, Hale estimates that more than two-thirds of deals that are agreed upon in the show fall through. “It’s more like a first date,” he says. “You go back and find things you don’t like. Sometimes the deal terms change.”

10. REPEATS CAN NET BUSINESSES A BUMP IN SALES.

While most of the business boost from appearing on Shark Tank comes during the first run of the episode, the show’s presence on CNBC in repeats doesn’t hurt. “It’s never the same as the initial airing, but we do see a bump,” says Bandholz. “Sometimes they’ll show it overseas. We’ve seen orders from when the show is airing in Spain and Portugal.”

11. WANT A DEAL? THINK FOOD AND FASHION.

While contestants have demonstrated everything from construction site amusement parks to bed warmers, Hale’s numbers point to the food and beverage industry as being prime Shark bait. Out of the 107 deals Hale has logged, nearly half have been in either the food or fashion and beauty categories. But, Hale cautions, each Shark has his or her own preferences that might not align with the numbers. “Daymond John isn’t so interested in apparel anymore,” he says. “And Mark Cuban is probably not going to do pet food.”

12. THEIR COMPETITORS CAN BENEFIT, TOO.

When he received notice that Beardbrand would be featured on the show, Bandholz discovered a surprising—and unwelcome—side effect of the publicity. “Competitors will see that and start advertising more,” he says. “They’ll buy ads on the show for competing products.”

13. PEOPLE MATTER MORE THAN PRODUCT.

Hale recently interviewed the inventors of the Slyde Handboard, a swimming apparatus that can surf waves using only the wearer’s hand. “They applied for the show three times, and they told me that both times they focused on the product, they didn’t make it,” he says. “The third time, they made themselves the narrative, part of the product. You need to have suspense, intrigue, humor, tension. You can have the cure for cancer and if you’re boring, it doesn’t matter. In the end, it’s reality TV.”

All images courtesy of ABC unless otherwise credited.

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

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