One of the unexpected by-products of the boom of reality TV is a new-found interest in entrepreneurship. Reality TV might have grown popular thanks to exotic locales and hair-raising stints – as anyone hooked in by the first few seasons of Survivor will attest – but interestingly, as budgets have become constrained and program ideas more democratic, producers have begun put entrepreneurs under the limelight – and are reaping ratings success.
TV viewers will, of course, remember ABC’s popular program American Inventor, which ran for two seasons. Another sign of a boom in entrepreneurial TV is news that ABC has teamed the don of reality TV, Survivor creator Mark Burnett, to produce a show called ‘The Shark’s Tank’, which is based on the successful British show ‘The Dragon’s Den’. The Shark’s Tank concept, which has already proved itself popular in Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Canada, the Netherlands, Finland, Nigeria, and the UK, allows entrepreneurs to pitch their new concepts to a group of investors with the hope of receiving capital investment.
So how do you explain network television’s sudden interest in the experiences of entrepreneurs? First off, programs like American Entrepreneur make for good, entertaining television, otherwise they wouldn’t last in prime time. Still, the growth of entrepreneurial television seems to speak to something deeper in the American experience. Certainly, these programs celebrate the value and spirit for entrepreneurship. But the small business owner, who was quite common in 1950s television, has been somewhat phased out of prime time in recent years. This trend directly goes against the perceived political value of small business owners---who became the centerpiece of John McCain’s flailing campaign in its final days. Joe the Plumber, as none of us will forget, emerged as a national phenomenon.
At a time of great economic uncertainty in America, these programs reinforce the notion that it’s America’s innovative businessmen and businesswomen who got the country to where it is today and will guide it in the future. Time will tell if reality shows like American Entrepreneur help mold the next generation of entrepreneurs, but for anyone passionate about small business, it is refreshing to turn on the television and see the entrepreneurial spirit being celebrated. And, who knows, there might be a profitable idea or two to be promoted as well…