Wisp Was One of The Best ‘Shark Tank’ Segments In a Long Time. It Was Proof There Is Real Risk In Entrepreneurship.

There was something a little odd about the timing of tonight’s new episode of Shark Tank. If you, like me, were trying to balance a series of Sunday night errands between pitches and were expecting the usual four segments to be spread evenly over the hour, you might have been surprised to see that by 20 past the hour two pitches were already over. At first I thought there might be five this time, but once Eben Dobson, the proprietor of Wisp, came out, it became obvious his story was getting a bit more time.

As so it should. Because it gave a rare glimpse into something you rarely see on Shark Tank: that you can have a great product, go viral, convince people to invest in your company, and still end up teetering on the edge of closure.

On the surface, that doesn’t sound too out of the ordinary. There have been lots of businesses that have come on to the show looking for a bailout, althought they rarely say that until there’s been some serious prodding. In the case of Wisp, he also didn’t say he wanted a bailout, and indeed, at no point seemed to think he needed one.

But the numbers got increasingly alarming as the pitch went on. He had investors he had yet to pay back. A hefty amount of debt, substantial inventory, and a modest amount of cash in the bank. He was looking for investment, but he already had 22 other investors. Twenty-two.

Here’s what made the pitch really stand out: at some point, he responded to the panel’s disbelief by saying something along the lines of: “how do you recommend I get out of this?” It was a sincere question, a polite question, from a business owner looking for advice. At that moment, it became clear he’d fallen into a situation he just didn’t know how to get out of. That’s not something you see very often on Shark Tank or even on its sister programs around the world.

If you are in a lousy situation, how do you get out of it? Really, it’s a life question, placed squarely in the entrepreneurial context. And the sharks seemed to want to help. Barbara Corcoran had already given a clever assessment — I’m paraphrasing from memory here — “You get an A for effort and an F for execution, and I think you know that.” At the end, Kevin O’Leary would offer to pony up the money — a not-unsubstantial $500,000 — and Lori Greiner offered to help sell the product (an efficient and easy-to-use broom), although she declined to put up any money.

At the end, that was the death knell of Wisp on Shark Tank. Dobson said yes to O’Leary, but asked him to make sure he “kept Lori’s number,” at which, O’Leary was eventually out — after Lori’s participation was not guaranteed and Dobson asked what else O’Leary would bring to the table (his offer was $500,000 for 50 percent, while Dobson was asking for 10 percent). You have to suspect O’Leary was lukewarm on the deal to begin with — it was a lot of money, and the information they knew about the company was unsettling, let alone what might come up during due diligence. He was maybe looking for a reason to be out. O’Leary didn’t fight too hard to salvage the deal — but then Greiner was pretty adamant she was not willing to risk any of her money, just lend her name. (In exchange for what, exactly?)

The whole segment was a reminder that entrepreneurship comes with real risks. It’s not just devoting your time and passion to an idea. A few crises and you can be financially ruined, and it may be harder than it seems to get your life back on track.

It could be summed up, I assume — I say, “I assume” because I have never started a company but have learned A LOT from being self-employed — by what another entrepreneur on tonight’s episode, Kate Field from The Kombucha Shop, said: “I don’t know what I don’t know.” Not knowing what you don’t know, but still being responsible for whatever comes even if you didn’t see it coming, is both (again) a risk in life — and a risk in entrepreneurship.

Let’s use this first-person account from Inc. as an example. Back in 2013, Laura Zander of Jimmy Beans Wool published a cautionary tale about how you can be in the middle of a business boom and still get into trouble. What happened? When things were going well, Zander and her husband/co-owner reinvested most of their profits back into inventory, which was quickly sold. What they didn’t realize is that the inventory, even though it was only held for a short period of time, was considered taxable income. The tax bill was larger than their available cash, and she and her husband had to use personal savings to pay it off.

A new entrepreneur might not anticipate such a situation. Such an entrepreneur could end up with a messy balance sheet, even though customers are lining up out the door.

That’s why the usual tagline of the Shark Tank updates, how much a company is currently doing in sales, only tells part of the story. The show would be wise to flesh out these tales a bit more, not only because they are instructive, but because the “Decade of Dreams” narrative is a bit stale. The core audience knows it’s more complicated, and it might be worth it for the show to dive a bit more deeply into those complications.


If It’s True That Robert Herjavec Was a Last-Minute Replacement for Mark Cuban on ‘Shark Tank,’ That Makes a Lot of Sense

'Shark Tank' judge Robert Herjavec

I like Robert Herjavec. I really do. But I always thought it was odd that the folks at Shark Tank had tapped not one, but two, stars of Canada’s Dragons’ Den to sit on the panel of the new program when it started 10 years ago.

If a new article in Vulture is to be believed — that is, if you want to assume Clay Newbill wasn’t kidding in this group interview (with all of the regular sharks except Herjavec) — Robert only got the gig because ABC wouldn’t cast Mark Cuban for season one.

If your memory goes back as far as mine, you’ll recall Kevin Harrington was at the table for Seasons 1 and 2. Mark wouldn’t show up until he was a guest in Season 2, Lori Greiner not until Season 3. In the Vulture piece, the producer said that Herjavec was given the slot in Season 1 after ABC wouldn’t budge on Cuban.

Mark, why were you rejected the first time you auditioned?
Mark Cuban: We won’t go there. [Laughs.]

Clay Newbill: I will say that me and Mark Burnett definitely wanted Mark.

Mark Cuban: Yeah, it wasn’t Mark and Clay. It was ABC.

Clay Newbill: When we found out that we couldn’t get Mark, that is when Robert was plugged in instead in the eleventh hour.

Mark Cuban: What?!

As for O’Leary, he said Mark Burnett called him and asked him to join the US version of the show, because they needed, “an asshole.” Why Herjavec was also considered, it’s tough to say — surveying the Canadian cast at the time, one could say Brett Wilson was just too Canadian, Jim Treliving too “Jim.”

And Arlene Dickinson? Probably my choice if I’d been asked, but as Barbara Corcoran said once, Shark Tank only had room for one woman in Season 1. She revealed in an interview last year (and perhaps before) that she was offered a slot in 2008, only to have the offer taken away because the “lone female seat” had been given to someone else. Corcoran fought for her spot and won.

In a way, the casting folks are to be forgiven, because it’s not easy finding the right mix of people on a show such as this, where it’s really all about the investors, and only tangentially about the entrepreneurs. Of course, it is a bit ridiculous to say there can only be one woman in a cast of five (the rotating group of six didn’t come together until Season 4). One might assume the powers at be looked at it this way: we need a group of potential investors, and we need repesentation. So one woman should suffice. Ten years is not that long ago, but back then plugging in one female was probably considered gender diverse.

On the other hand, casting the Shark Tank panel can’t be that easy — because it’s a big ask. The panelists have to agree not only to a couple of weeks of intense episode filming twice a year, but they basically have to agree to participate in business development off-screen. They have to spend their own money. They trust the show to cast interesting entrepreneurs, and they have to bet on at least a few businesses. There’s an expectation that the sharks won’t be entirely silent partners in those businesses, adding to the burden (or opportunity).

It’s the ultimate “reality” gig, in that way. The sharks even said as much in the interview, with O’Leary noting that they are footing the bill for those investments.

What do you think Shark Tank gets right about the reality-TV experience that other shows can’t always crack?
Barbara Corcoran: A lot of associations with reality television revolve around it not being so real. But not us. Nothing is prompted, nothing is scripted.

Lori Greiner: Genuine. That’s the biggest word.

Kevin O’Leary: And it is our real money. I think this is the only show on TV where the people on the show are actually putting out their own money.

Barbara Corcoran: You can lose more money than you may get paid.

Hopefully, all the sharks have ended up ahead in this deal. Although I wouldn’t feel too badly for them. Ten years in, they have much bigger profiles, even become famous — although at least Cuban was famous already. And as for Herjavec, well, he got a gig on Dancing With the Stars.

In Light Of Cave Shake On ‘Shark Tank,’ Let’s Discuss Incubators

I know nothing about incubators, except the Investopedia definition, and the fact that the word’s been bandied about a lot the past few years since startup culture has become trendy. But the Shark Tank grilling of the proprietors of Cave Shake tonight got me curious as to what, exactly, are the normal parameters of such an arrangement. Judging from the sharks’ questions, one could assume that, just like there’s the possibility of getting a bad deal on an early investment, there’s the chance an incubator may offer less-than-ideal terms on the partnership as well.

According to Bloomberg, Cave Shake has operated as a subsidiary of L.A. Libations LLC since August 31, 2018. That would have likely been after the Shark Tank segment was taped, and therefore after the company got a handshake deal with Charles Barkley. (Who, by the way, warmed my heart with his sincerity when he said he invests in people, and “I like you guys.”) So, did the deal with Barkley go through? Can we have a Beyond the Tank update, please?

On the website of L.A. Libations LLC, Cave Shake is prominently displayed. Not surprising given the name, Libations is a beverage brand incubator. It turns out Coca-Cola owns a minority stake in that entity, at least according to this article from Daily Coffee News — my source for all answers to random investment queries — so, if Cave Shake was actually getting the development assistance and marketing push that is the promise of an incubator, maybe they weren’t in such bad shape after all. But then again, the Cave Shake proprietors mentioned the L.A. Libations/Coca-Cola link on the show and the sharks weren’t particularly impressed; more “what did you give up?”

On this point, I wish I understood more about how it works. Any deal where you have deferred royalty payments means you’re in debt to a previous investor, which, although it might not make you toxic to a new investor, it might indeed cause them to think twice.

To me, it is not what I envision of an incubator, although it may meet the definition. It feels more like a marketing strategy, but then, maybe it’s all the same at the end of the day.

As for Shark Tank, let’s give further props to Charles Barkley for that casual statement that he’s struggled with his weight since he stopped playing. What a nice guy. Even if he didn’t invest in Cave Shake, I’ll give him props for being a good addition to the Shark Tank panel.

Why Lisa Bonet Should Be David Letterman’s Next Guest

Cosby Show alum Lisa Bonet

When Lisa Bonet was on David Letterman’s show in 1986, she seemed to really hate Bill Cosby. Of course, she didn’t say so outright; there was just that undercurrent of tension and lack of deferential treatment when it came to her then-boss. If you are old enough to remember when The Cosby Show was at its height, you also probably remember how consistently deferential those kids were. They would call him “Mr. Cosby” in interviews, from what I would recall, with not exactly the respect given to a trusted mentor, but that given to an authoritarian or — as Bonet seems to imply in this interview — a king.

If you’re old enough to remember Cosby, you also remember how incredibly cool Lisa Bonet was. More than 30 years later, she’s still cool and — those of us who have an inherent mistrust of authority figures (or kings) are glad to report — she won. She won the Cosby fight, in the sense that a generation and a half later (maybe two), she’s the one with her integrity intact.

Sure, he kicked her off his show, and apparently condemned her for taking on non-Cosby projects that he didn’t approve. But more than 30 years later, it’s Lisa Bonet who’s the model of sticking to your own truth — even if you have to give up what seems, in the moment, to be a dream opportunity. In Lisa Bonet’s case, it was not falling for the glitter that was the Cosby fame by calling him “Mr. Cosby” and nodding at him sweetly off-set like she was forced to do on.

And 30 years later, Bill Cosby’s reruns were cancelled, denying not only Bonet but her other castmates — Geoffrey Owens among them — the financial benefit of residuals which, as working actors, they were owed. You might say that, given Cosby’s egregious behavior, they were especially owed. What he did is not their fault.

You can watch this 1986 interview with Lisa Bonet and David Letterman and think, “it’s okay, Lisa Bonet. In 32 years, Bill Cosby will be in prison.”

In prison. In prison. Bill Cosby will be in prison.

Of course, that’s not news to me, but the remarkable nature of that statement really hit me tonight when I watched this interview on YouTube. I’d read a summary, knew the details about the Angel Heart controversy from way back then. But watching it reminded me what it was like to be a 12-year-old in 1986, when Bill Cosby was an icon. He was indeed, untouchable. There was no hint anything nefarious lurked under the surface, at least not to us, viewers at home, who dutifully tuned in for The Cosby Show and Family Ties on Thursday nights.

But in this interview, Letterman is being Letterman, asking quite good questions that got to the heart of life as a young, female actor on a popular show where she was (allegedly) at odds with the namesake king. Dave asks if she shouldn’t stay put where she is on “the gravy train” of Cosby instead of being spun off into a (then unnamed) new show (which was later called A Different World). Bonet said she’d basically been told to do the spinoff. Does she get a cut? Letterman asks. No, Bonet — then, one week away from her 19th birthday — said, but she was allowed to come back to The Cosby Show if the new show didn’t work.

And Dave, in his usual bluntness disguised as comedy, asked whether she didn’t think Bill was getting a cut of the show, and shouldn’t she be making the same demands.

David Letterman, for this part, expressed no particular love for Bill Cosby in this interview, but you could write that off as just Letterman being Letterman. Dave was rarely deferential to anyone, except his select mentors or comedians he really admired. In 2017, he told GQ that comedy was now about storytelling instead of jokes, and the best at that had been Bill Cosby. It was Letterman, not the interviewer, who brought up the then-shunned actor.

How are we supposed to think of that material now?”

“Jeez, I don’t know. I’ve known Bill Cosby since before I had my own show. He’s a part of American culture. And yet I hesitated before telling that story about Louis C.K. So there’s a taint there. If he’s guilty of everything he’s accused of, that’s a ruined, broken individual.”

A ruined, broken individual. While his once television daughter is cooler than she ever was, at age 50. And victorious, a prime example of living your truth.

David Letterman has this show now, of course, on Netflix: My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. My vote is for his next guest to be Lisa Bonet. They could reflect on this old interview — or others they did over the years — and how the world is very different three decades later. As for her introduction, although she needs none, Dave could say this: “She was always true to herself, and trusted the universe to do its work.” And to the delight of those of us who like to believe in things like karmic justice (even though some of us need karmic forgiveness, no doubt), it has.

3 Reasons ‘Shark Tank’ Will Make Matt Higgins Part of the Permanent Cast

This is purely speculative, of course, because I have no inside knowledge of how the corporate minds behind Shark Tank actually work. But it’s clear that Matt Higgins, an unknown to most of us non-sports folks until his guest appearance Sunday night, fits the program, and if one of the Super Six decides to make a graceful exit — or welcome another, to make it a rotating cast of the Super Seven — Higgins might just be perfect for the slot. Here’s why.

1. He’s Young

That’s not to say that the other sharks are old, exactly — the two youngest, Daymond John and Lori Greiner, are both 49 this year if Wikipedia to be believed — but at age 44 Higgins can be seen as young enough to make a fresh transition into a television career. It’s a new phase; far be it from me to say anything has an age limit, but Higgins feels like new blood, who would be willing to put in a few years of time on the program. Unlike, say, Richard Branson, who might pop in for tea and then retreat to his private island.

2. He’s Smart

Did anyone see that look on Lori’s face when Higgins was peppering the proprietor of Beyond Sushi with those detailed questions? It was either, “well, you’re here to play,” or “s–t, you’re my competition on this deal,” or “maybe I should partner with this guy.” It’s true that Higgins isn’t just a sports guy, or a politics guy: he’s also an investor, an experienced one, in the real world. So he comes to the show with a bit of heft behind him, not just because he built his own company, but invested in others.

3. He’s Nice

Higgins was intensely likeable on the program, not just because of his compelling back story. He was nice to the entrepreneurs, supportive without gushing. Kevin O’Leary’s well-trodden line about “why are you encouraging them?” fell flat in the face of Higgins, who seemed to have no problem demonstrating that a few kind words are not the same as advising someone to sink their entire life savings into what is a dying endeavor. He was nice without being television-charismatic nice; he doesn’t come across as a schmoozer, even if in real life, he may be exactly that. It’s hard to argue with a guy who took care of his ailing mother.

I’ve said repeatedly I don’t want any of the permanent sharks to leave anytime soon, but with Matt Higgins I feel like I’ve seen a guest shark I actually hope comes back on the program. This year, or even more frequently, next.

‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ Is Film School Material. It’s A Piece To Be Studied.

New movie Bad Times at the El Royale

I almost didn’t see Bad Times at the El Royale because I heard it was violent. And a bit creepy. Those are two elements that don’t sit well with me — and it was enough to make me hedge a bit at the theater, where I opted for the safer — although undoubtably more boring — First Man instead. It only took a few minutes of Ryan Gosling mourning his toddler’s serious illness, and her death, for me to ditch that film and duck into El Royale, which was just starting in the theatre next door.

(I don’t know why the daughter sub-plot bothered me so much, especially in those early scenes, but perhaps I had an intuitive hunch of what was to come and how it might not be completely grounded in reality. When it comes to dramatic license for emotional effect, it was a particularly low blow.)

It was Dakota Johnson’s interview with Jimmy Kimmel that made me particularly interested to see El Royale — she said it was original, unlike anything you’d seen. A quick search revealed that Drew Goddard, the writer-director, was also behind some of my most favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was put off by the idea of violence, but it turned out to be less grotesque than I expected.

There’s an element to Buffy, one of the things that makes it such an enduring piece of fiction, that seems to be at the heart of El Royale, and to me it’s why the new movie works so well. It’s perhaps true that the movie borrows genres, maybe it’s Tarrantino-like (I’ve never been a fan, which means I’m not up on his catalogue), but for me it just works. Because, like with Buffy, the movie seems to have a memory, and it unfolds appropriately.

In one of the Buffy commentaries — on a DVD, I assume, although I’m running completely from memory (speaking of which) here — Marti Noxon said that they didn’t lose information on the show. In other words, there’s no important detail that is just forgotten or deliberately omitted if it doesn’t neatly fit into a future plotline. Also, there were always consequences in Buffy. Everything that happened had an effect.

Buffy, therefore, was inherently, or subconsciously, karmic. Cause and effect was the rhythm of the entire series. Faith and Willow were good, then bad, then good again, but they had to work towards redemption. Their forgiveness and welcome back into the Scooby fold had to be earned, and even after that process things were never quite the same as they had been before.

That, in my estimation, is the central idea behind Bad Times at the El Royale. There are always consequences, and opportunities for redemption. Power is short-lived, especially when it’s fear-based power, which collapses as soon as the subjects find an escape. At the end of this movie, the two who make it out alive are 1) blameless and 2) almost blameless, respectively, and the one who has something for which they must atone gets a kind of absolution through a kind act.

It takes awhile for this movie to get going, but the build-up is essential for the climatic scenes when the group finally comes together, almost all experiencing trauma at the hands of Chris Hemsworth, whose cult-leader villain is terrifying in his ability to simultaneously disarm and perform brutal acts of violence. Dakota Johnson’s Emily is too hardened, and her ability to inflict damage too pronounced, that her apparently well-intentioned reason for being at the El Royale quickly loses its luster. It’s tough to be sympathetic towards her, even if she ostensibly has good intentions. Meanwhile, Jeff Bridges’ aged crook has an unexpected vulnerability that, true to that claim of originality,  is of the type that has never been shown on-screen in this particular context before, as far as I know. His vulnerability is a daring and poignant choice.

And the hotel manager. He’s at once the most, and least, responsible for his moral burdens, which turn out to be perhaps the baddest of the bunch. It’s a challenging human analysis, which doesn’t shy away from complexity.

Someone wrote somewhere, or posed in an interview to Goddard, that the El Royale is a kind of purgatory. Indeed, I expected the place to have supernatural elements, if only to explain the strange coincidence of this combination of characters meeting in this deserted place all at once, and none of them being able to leave (cue my favorite episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, actually not written by Drew Goddard). It turns out not to have anything spooky going on (spoiler alert) except what could be pulled out of the depths of the human psyche. But it nonetheless is a kind of metaphoric purgatory, where the characters have to face death and, in so doing, the checks and balances of their own moral codes.

It was in that roulette wheel scene where Bad Times at the El Royale reminded me of something that could be analyzed in a film class. It suddenly pieced together so well, really without warning. It’s a study of filmmaking that actually says something, or forces the audience to question their assumptions about who’s right and wrong in this scenario. Because at the end of the day, even the blameless one decides to partner with a bank robber to get the cash. But then, after what she’s experienced, she sort of deserves it, too.

I plan to see this movie again, because I missed the first few minutes. I had been in the theatre next door, after all, getting upset at the spectacle of Ryan Gosling’s moon-trotting hero going through a family crisis. The rest of that one I think I’ll forego, because unlike El Royale, it’s just a cheap movie trick designed to make us feel without making us think.

I’ll Let You Lead

For a long while now I’ve wanted to write a post about Kate and Allie, the barely-laugh-out-loud comedy that was too quiet to embed itself too deeply into the memories of those of us who grew up in the 1980s. You think of 1980s comedies, you think of the more gregarious fare like Family TiesGrowing PainsNight CourtThe Cosby Show… the NBC lineup that was filmed on large sets and ran on plenty of stunts (of the jumping-the-shark, sitcom kind).

Up until a few weeks ago, when I stumbled upon Kate and Allie on YouTube, I wouldn’t have recalled the show as part of my childhood. Except, as it turns out, it was, and significantly so. Everything about this show had stirred in me a kind of envy and, even years later, a perhaps unrealistic ideal of what life as an adult woman could be. I, too, wanted to be an ultra-urban kid who lived in New York (having a rich dad in Connecticut, to boot, was not a bad bonus). My favorite book at that time was Remember Me to Harold Square, a New York-set young adult paperback that was really my first introduction to travel guides (in this case disguised as a light novel).

In retrospect, those who remember Kate and Allie see it as a feminist statement, one of the few shows then or since to focus exclusively on the lives of women, both at work and at home (although in this case, home was the primary setting). And it was, of course, although some bits and pieces still make me cringe — specifically that one episode, which I remember so clearly from my youth, when Emma is bothered relentlessly by a boy at school, even after she tells him repeatedly she doesn’t want to date him. Her family is won over by his advances, and as a viewer, now (and maybe then), all I want them to do is say to him, “Dude, back off. She said no.”

What’s remarkable about Kate and Allie is not just the absence of men — it’s the fact that the women’s dating lives were not a priority for the show. Sure, the women had social lives, but their main focus was on the children, their home, their jobs, paying the rent, and looking after one another. They seemed to have more important things to do rather than date, and there was also a subtle “been there, done that” feeling to their romantic encounters, as if — as two divorced women — they looked at the possibility through the lens of experience than giddy, youthful idealism.

It’s why, “Landlady,” Season 2, Episode 2, is so effective. In the episode, Kate’s landlord insists she pay higher rent because, with Allie and her children living there, it’s no longer a single-family dwelling. The women eventually pretend to be a lesbian couple to avoid the rent increase. To their surprise, it turns out the landlord/lady is herself in a relationship with a woman. Quickly, the landlady and her partner want to become friends with Kate and Allie and to introduce them to the local queer community. The rent increase, of course, won’t apply since they are one family (as long as they can keep up the lie). The lie is a point of contention between Kate and Allie, the latter of whom says she “doesn’t want to play ‘Three’s Company.'”

I’d never seen “Landlady,” or even heard of it, until I went Googling for something to say about Kate and Allie a few nights ago. The show was there in my memory, all right, its intelligence, its reality — but I found it hard to describe what the hook was, why, upon reflection it seemed so important to me years later (even if I wouldn’t have listed it as an 80s sitcom of my childhood, like I would have, say, Family Ties.). I came across this article about the episode (I haven’t watched the video on this article yet, so if I repeat some of his observations, that’s accidental) and that was my introduction to “Landlady.”

Watching the episode in its entirety, I was struck by its sensitivity. It was progressive as hell to be that sensitive and aware in 1984. The show’s plot is driven by Allie’s guilt at lying to the landlady (Janet), and then, Janet’s feelings of hurt and betrayal when the ruse is exposed. There’s an expected throwaway line about “what makes a family,” but have no doubt — this was not an episode about single motherhood, or any other deviations from the nuclear family. This show was about gay equality, when it was still perfectly acceptable to socially and legally harass and exclude queer people.

At  17:45 in the episode, while Allie is telling Kate she feels bad about lying to Janet and doesn’t want to go to the gay dance to which they were invited, Kate responds by saying, “I’ll let you lead.” It reminded me immediately of that scene in Friends where Susan, Ross’ ex-wife’s new wife, says the same line. She says it to Ross after the women get married (at 3:50 in the clip below), while thanking him for stepping up to give Carol away after her parents decline to come to the wedding. It may have been mere coincidence, but it seems now like a deliberate reference, from one sitcom where a lesbian couple could form part of an ongoing plotline to an earlier sitcom where just one episode was probably groundbreaking.