CULVER CITY, Calif. — For the first time ever, ABC’s “Shark Tank” had a live feeding frenzy.
The long-running reality-TV competition – in which entrepreneurs pitch products to investor “sharks” Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John and Kevin O’Leary – kicked off Season 14 Friday with its first live broadcast, in front of a studio audience at Sony Pictures Studios. USA TODAY was there, and talked to the sharks afterwards in an exclusive interview.
Over the course of the hour, the sharks heard three different pitches (down from the usual four) and had about 15 minutes to propose an offer, negotiate and strike a deal (or not) for each.
The stakes were high, as the audience cheered, booed and made clear which deals they wanted the entrepreneurs to take. In the end, each set of entrepreneurs walked away with a deal in hand.
“Oh my God, it was crazy,” Greiner says, flanked by her fellow sharks in the studio less than 30 minutes after the show wrapped. “I felt like we were in a tornado. It was fascinating, exciting, crazy fun. It was so fast-paced, and I didn’t expect all the audience to be chiming in.”
But as the sharks sipped celebratory Champagne and their adrenaline began to fade, a major question loomed in their minds: What were they thinking, offering so much money?
Here’s what the sharks had to say about the live-show experience, plus a look at how it all unfolded inside the studio.
Barbara Corcoran ‘paid too much’ thanks to wild studio audience
In a typical, pre-taped episode, pitches and negotiations can last up to 90 minutes before being edited into a 10-minute segment for television.
Due to the time constraints of a live show, O’Leary says entrepreneurs really had to deliver “the classic elevator pitch.”
“Except there were six people in the elevator,” Greiner adds.
Corcoran says the live show’s first “Shark Tank” cheerleading section favored the entrepreneurs, even if they had less time to explain their products.
“The audience was always on the entrepreneur’s side, without exception,” Corcoran says. “That helped the entrepreneur get a better deal.”
‘Shark Tank’ exclusive: The new list of the 20 best-selling products from the show
That’s great if you’re the entrepreneurs, but not so great if you’re one of the sharks, who nervously kept their eyes on an off-camera timer, behind the entrepreneurs, as it counted down to the next commercial break.
“We got so caught up,” says John, who landed a deal with Jeff and Stacy Grace for $200,000, in exchange for a 15% stake in their compostable underwear business. “We’re so excited too, so we’re putting a much more emotion than we usually do.”
“Forget about the emotion! We put too much money into every deal,” Corcoran says.
When Sina and Nina Farzin pitched their product – a nose-picker that helps babies breathe – Corcoran upped her offer from $400,000 to $600,000 in exchange for 10%, as Herjavec agreed to join her.
The audience went wild, chanting “Take the deal,” and the Farzins accepted.
“Did we put an extra $200K into our deal?” Herjavec asks Corcoran post-show.
“We went bonkers!” Corcoran replies. “I don’t even know what I paid, but I know I definitely paid too much with that audience shouting at me.”
Kevin O’Leary ‘nearly choked’ on ‘terrible’ pizza during the final pitch
Tate Koenig, the third and final entrepreneur, piqued sharks’ interest with his collapsible, microwavable container for storing leftover pizza.
He scored an offer from Greiner of $100,000 for 13% of his business. The audience chanted Greiner’s name as Koenig mulled his options before taking her offer.
But would Koenig have done as well without a studio audience backing him?
“We would have thrown him out with his goddamn pizza slices,” Corcoran quips. Greiner adds the sharks “would have hammered him on pricing” in a typical episode. (Koenig sells his pizza containers for more than $20 each.)
‘Shark Tank’ secrets: How the reality show is changing during the pandemic
Cuban says Koenig would also have had to answer more questions, like why the pizza provided for his pitch was cold.
“By the way, the pizza was terrible,” O’Leary adds. “I had a bite. I almost choked. It was awful.”
Sharks schmooze audience during commercial breaks
During the commercial breaks, the sharks checked their phones while crew members touched up their hair and makeup.
Often, they chatted with eager fans in the audience. John even posed for a picture with a woman wearing a dress covered in images of swimming sharks.
The sharks also chatted among each other in hushed tones. What did they discuss? O’Leary plays coy post-show.
“Barbara said the broom I bought her last year isn’t working anymore,” he says with a straight face. “She can’t fly anywhere, so I have to get her a new one.”
Corcoran fires back: “And I was telling him to take that broom … and shove it!”
‘Shark Tank’ secrets: Life-changing moments on an assembly line of product pitches
The sharks also helped warm up the crowd, especially Cuban, who warmed it up before showtime.
“Remember, when I say anything, you cheer really, really loud,” Cuban instructed the audience. O’Leary attempted to one-up him, starting a “royalty” chant, a reference to his frequent attempt to include a royalty in his deals.
As the sharks sauntered offstage before air, Corcoran joked there was one last thing the sharks needed to get ready: “Everyone’s getting alcohol now!”
Pre-recorded shark entrances get a redo
Not everything could be recorded live.
Shark entrances were pre-recorded twice, first with the audience clapping and then rising to a standing ovation, and then with the audience clapping while remaining seated. The second take made the cut. (They are already seated when other episodes begin.)
A nice surprise for longtime viewers was the appearance of Phil Crowley, who has narrated the show since its 2009 premiere. Crowley made his first on-camera appearance on “Shark Tank” during the live show, delivering his announcements from a platform on the side of the stage opposite the audience.
‘Shark Tank’: All your burning questions, answered