TV Review: “Shark Tank Live” is a Fun Experiment that Doesn’t Really Need Repeating

Tonight, the 14th(!) season of ABC’s Shark Tank kicked off by trying something it had never attempted before. While past season premieres have featured celebrity guest sharks or all six core Sharks together at last, this time around, they took a page from Bill O’Reilly and did it live — and with all six Sharks once again. So, how did it go? Well, it was… interesting.

First, I should note that I’m a pretty big Shark Tank fan, having watched new episodes of the show with some regularity for years while also often catching reruns on CNBC. Truth be told, I’ve also purchased more than a couple of products featured on the show in the past. In turn, I’ve always taken an interest in how Shark Tank is produced. That’s why I had major questions  when the live format was announced for this premiere episode. After all, producers have famously explained how the pitches we see aired are heavily edited down, with some presentations even going on for more than an hour. Thus, unless we were only going to get one pitch during this whole program, I figured they’d have to make some changes.

Indeed, this live episode did have fewer products featured overall, with only three pitches during the hour-long show. Still, I have to suspect that the Sharks were more prepped on the companies they’d be seeing than they normally were given the time restraints. Granted, I have no proof of this — but, hey, it’s reality TV, folks.

One aspect of the live show I was not expecting was the accompanying live audience. I guess this is a good thing to have for energy reasons and I like how each Shark was introduced to roaring applause, but the crowd also managed to get in the way at times. While chants of “Take the deal!” or, under the lead of Mr. Wonderful’s, “roy-al-ty” were humorous, applause breaks during pitches must have been distracting for those presenting their businesses. At least they weren’t quite as bad as the pair of text polls the Sharks threw to commercials with. Which number do I text to get my Crazy Frog ringtone download again?

Another part of the episode that felt off in the live format was the dynamic between the Sharks. It was pretty clear from the get-go that they felt rushed, leading them to all want to jump in at the same time. This led to plenty of cross-talk and some seemingly overwhelmed entrepreneurs. Then again, this could very well be what it's like in the Tank all the time and just edited out — only a handful of people know for sure.

For all of my nitpicks and complaints, I do want to share something I enjoyed and give a shout out to announcer Phil Crowley. After all this time, we finally got to see the man behind the voice! As silly as it may sound, this was one of my favorite surprises from the show.

Despite what it may sound like, I didn’t hate this episode of Shark Tank. In some ways, it was fun to see behind the curtain just a bit and to witness the show being placed into a different arena. However, my take away from the whole event was that the Tank just isn’t fit for this form. Perhaps another try or two might allow them to make tweaks and improve the output, but I’d be fine if they left this experiment behind.

The good news is that, as far as we can tell, this was, indeed, a one-off. Looking ahead to the rest of Season 14, the Tank will welcome new guest Sharks such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Tony Xu. Of course, we’ll also be introduced to plenty of new products — some of which will surely end up in my apartment (side note: the Pizza Pack featured on tonight’s episode is already a likely purchase for me). So, while this live version of Shark Tank may have floundered a bit, there’s no reason to believe there’s actually blood in the water. Instead, Season 14 seems as promising as ever… now that it’ll return to its normal format.

Shark Tank airs Friday nights on ABC.