How ‘Shark Tank’ Went From Deathslot Friday to Franchise

“ABC took a very big gamble by doing this show,” shark Daymond John tells TheWrap

Shark Tank
Sharks from left: Barbara Corcoran, Kevin O'Leary, Daymond John, Robert Herjavec, Lori Greiner, Mark Cuban

“Shark Tank,” ABC’s entrepreneurial reality hit, has broken some cardinal rules of television: programming on Friday night and doubling down on a bland financial cable network.

Now it’s birthing a spin-off.

In its sixth season, “Shark Tank” has become a TV game-changer and cultural phenomenon. The show is poised to celebrate its 100th episode  (an important milestone when it comes to syndication), while even its repeats are breaking CNBC records, with close to half a million viewers per episode.

The entrepreneurial competition show has become so hot that ABC is now working on a spinoff “Beyond the Tank,” a companion show that follows the next stage of a start-up, showing which ones are in the black and which ones are seeing red.

“We became the leaders in going out into the Wild West of Friday night,” said Holly Jacobs, Sony TV’s EVP of reality and syndicated programming. “We captured Friday night.”

Last Friday, “Shark Tank” was second overall with 7.62 million viewers and won the night comfortably with a 2.0 in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic.

After bouncing around from Sunday and then Tuesday nights in 2009, the show was finally moved to Friday nights, known in the industry as “The Friday Night Deathslot.” Over the years, Fridays have become a dumping ground for shows on their last leg. But instead of disappearing into the sunset, the series began thriving, leaving execs scratching their heads.

“There was a conventional wisdom that Friday night was going the way of Saturday night and would be relegated to reruns,” ABC’s vice president of alternative series, specials and late night, Rob Mills, told TheWrap. “‘Shark Tank’ saved Friday night and proved there is a big audience available when the right show is on.”

“It’s amazing,” shark Daymond John told TheWrap. “ABC took a very big gamble by doing this show.” On the show John is joined by fellow entrepreneurs Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Kevin O’Leary, Robert Herjavec and Lori Greiner, who dispense hard-headed business advice along with investment cash from their own pockets.

Part of the reason “Shark Tank” has become so successful, said John, is the fact the show has “positioned itself exactly the way businesses should position themselves… You want to create something a little different with a unique selling proposition and position it where your competitors aren’t.”

That recipe seems to be working.

It’s also become a cultural phenomenon, with not one but two “Saturday Night Live” spoofs, as well as laugh-out-loud parodies by Ellen DeGeneres and Jimmy Kimmel.

Like the original, the new show will be co-produced by Sony TV and reality producer Mark Burnett.

“It’s empowering but it comes with responsibility,” said John. “It’s like any other company. Being a castmember of ‘Shark Tank,’ you have to make sure the job gets done.”

The business model for the show is also unusual. The investment money comes directly out of the sharks’ own wallets and so far they’ve doled out a whopping $45 million over the first five seasons, according to the show’s publicist.

But even though the pressure can be daunting, the job does come with some pretty cool perks. “It’s flattering and humbling,” said John, whose fans include some A-list names. “I felt like I really made it when I met Bill Clinton and he told me, ‘I don’t know whether I’d ever get a deal past you.’”

Still, no one is more surprised by the success of “Shark Tank” than the series’ own producers.

Said Jacobs: “The greatest story of the show is that it has a very high level of co-viewing, meaning it’s multi-generational. We never imagined from the get-go that this show, which has a lot of sophisticated terms would be part of family viewing.”

‘”Shark Tank’ has become its own brand,” said Chad Kawalec, marketing expert and founder of the Brand Identity Center. “Like any other brand, after it reaches a certain size, it just makes sense to create line extensions to deepen the relationship with your target audience and even expand it.”

While the mothership has followed up on some of its more successful deals with short clips, “Beyond the Tank” could go where very few business show would dare tread: failed ventures.

“One of the most commonly asked questions are, ‘What happens afterwards?’” said John. “How does it go? What is your closure rate? The concept of the new show is transparency, but it also shows sharks fail too.”

“What you’re going to see more of is a deeper dive into what happens after the deal is made. That’s where the real work begins,” Jacobs told TheWrap. “If you’re a fan of ‘Shark Tank,’ this show is going to be fantastic candy for you.”

For now, producers say they’re taking one step at a time, with a 10-episode order.

“It’s a contained experience. But we have six years of entrepreneurs coming in and out of the doors of the ‘Shark Tank,” so there are many, many stories to tell.”

The new show, still in pre-production, could air as early as this season, though nothing is set in stone. No word yet on the final timeslot, but those close to the show say it could be scheduled as the lead-in to “Shark Tank.”

If that’s true, the newly minted “Shark Tank” franchise could be poised to take an even bigger bite out of the Friday night ratings pie.