Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

In this episode of The Profit, “The Soup Market,” Marcus Lemonis visits a Milwaukee-area soup shop.

The store has been reasonably successful, but with grand plans to expand its footprint from 5 stores to 50+, and a co-owner who died unexpectedly, owner and soup chef (“soupier”?) Dave Jurena needs Marcus’s help.

Within a few minutes of stepping inside one of The Soup Market locations, meeting Dave in person, and tasting a few soup samples, Marcus already has a few thoughts. The inside of the shop, he says, looks like a hospital cafeteria. The soups themselves are a little thick, not the light fare he expects when ordering soup. And he’s concerned that the calorie count of these thick soups isn’t posted anywhere, nor does Dave care to know how caloric his soups are.

Marcus also hates the sloppy presentation of the soup and bread on a plate, thinks the bread smells like it’s not fresh, and is concerned the shops aren’t collecting data at the point of sale for which soups sell best and worst. Dave estimates soup makes up about 60% of the shop’s revenue, but doesn’t know what the second-best selling item is.

Marcus asks Estephanie, one of the shop’s young, friendly assistant managers, to step outside to ask her a few questions without Dave hovering. When he asks Estephanie who she reports to, she squirms and says, “Dave…?” It’s obvious to Marcus, and the audience, she’s hiding something. There’s clearly an underlying issue, but it’s above her pay grade. No one can blame her for not getting in the middle of whatever it is. Estephanie grudgingly mentions someone named Grace, but says she’s unsure of Grace’s role at the company.

Next, Marcus pokes around in the kitchen at another TSM location, getting to know some of the other employees including Kevin, who is introduced as the director of operations. Kevin, in front of Dave, mentions Grace as well. Dave quietly says to Kevin, “Don’t mention Grace,” and then tells Marcus Grace will be leaving the company soon. Dave is red-faced and clearly uncomfortable talking about Grace.

Marcus smells something fishy–besides the cioppino. Unwilling to let the Grace thing go, he also asks Mayra the kitchen manager, outside of Dave’s earshot, who she goes to if she has a kitchen problem. “Grace,” Mayra says without hesitation. When Marcus asks if Grace reports to Kevin, Mayra says, “I really don’t know,” with the same awkwardness we saw from Estephanie and Kevin earlier. He revisits the issue Kevin, who describes the relationship between Grace and Kevin as “brother-sister,” and “dysfunctional,” before Dave interrupts them.

Upon visiting a third store, Marcus is confused to see Dave’s wife, Jill, again. He had met her at the first store that morning, but since she’s not technically involved in the business he thought it odd to see her twice in one day. When he asks Dave why she’s here, he says it’s “to support me.”

“Is that really the reason?” Marcus asks. Dave says: “And to keep Grace away.”

When Marcus prods, Dave is as cold as gazpacho and says three or four times, “I’m not going to talk about it. Next subject.” Marcus won’t let it go, and finally Dave says, “I wish you would go. I have no interest in your services,” and storms out.

Marcus reaches Dave on the phone an hour later. Dave explains there was a “blow-out fight” between he and Grace, and they mutually agreed to part ways. Marcus is satisfied, for the time being, and agrees to set the Grace thing aside. For now.

Marcus and Dave go over the numbers together. We see the little cartoon infographic we get every episode, this one specific to increasing the margins on a cup of soup–though Dave himself doesn’t know how much it costs him to make a cup of soup–from 52% to 70%.

And finally, here’s Marcus’s offer: factoring the $85,000 TSM is in debt, Marcus is willing to pay $315,000 for 50% of the business. Before agreeing to take Marcus’s money, Dave wants to know “what that looks like” in terms of how Marcus intends to spend money when it comes to improving the look of the stores, which Marcus hates. Marcus says no, he’s 100% in charge and won’t agree to any such conditions before making the deal. Dave, who pretty much has no choice, agrees. And with a handshake, Dave and Marcus consomme-d their relationship.

Marcus has Dave to bring a few of his soups to a lab to test their nutritional content and, surprising to no one, they are found to be heart attacks in a bowl. (As if this episode didn’t already smack of Seinfeld, the lab scene calls back Jerry, Elaine and Kramer having the “no-fat” frozen yogurt tested.) Marcus suggests tweaking some of the recipes to make them healthier. Dave wants no part of it, suggesting Marcus should stick to business and let Dave stick to soup.

Later, who makes an appearance at the store but Grace. She blows past the counter and walks to the back room. Marcus tries to stop her, pretending he thinks she’s a customer, but he knows what’s up. Her explanation is, “I’m Grace,” and she keeps going. Since Dave isn’t around, Marcus takes the opportunity to ask her what the deal is.

Grace says she is “kinda freaked out, I’m shaking right now.” Grace tells Marcus she is the director of operations–not Kevin–and that Dave requested she be invisible during the episode. She very much still works at TSM and still draws a paycheck. After a little more Marcus-style prodding–he’s like the Howard Stern of small business reality shows–Grace finally says she thinks Dave’s wife, Jill doesn’t trust her, and that she has become a problem in the Jurenas’ marriage, though nothing has ever happened between she and Dave.

The plot thickens–much like Dave’s African peanut soup.

As Marcus leaves the store, Dave’s wife, Jill, is skulking literally around the corner from the store. Is she keeping a lookout for Grace?

Marcus confronts Dave about Grace. Again. Dave says she’s a great worker who really stepped up when his business partner died, and that he developed feelings for her. He says he told his wife about it, and that nothing actually happened between he and Grace. Marcus considers walking away, but decides to power through for the sake of the employees. What a guy.

Marcus forges a deal with a pretzel company to supply TSM with a better bread option. And Dave even agrees to make a healthier soup to appease Marcus. Marcus is simply inspiring, not unlike chicken soup for the soul.

Marcus goes home to Chicago, then comes back two weeks later for the grand re-opening of one of TSM’s locations, having spent $60,000 renovating the shop and installing a point-of-sale system. People are lined up at the door. Dave gives an emotionless speech about how excited he is for the re-opening, and everyone files in for free soup. Dave’s wife, Jill, says she’s very proud of Dave. But wait…

Marcus spots Grace hanging around outside the store. Marcus brings Dave outside to take one last shot at ironing things out between Dave and Grace. He mediates, Dave apologizes, and Grace accepts. But Marcus is still pissed that Dave, against his wishes, excluded Grace from the opening. Marcus is again questioning his decision to partner with Dave. Perhaps he should have chosen salad instead.

Ten days later, while back in Chicago, Marcus gets a call from Grace. Grace says Dave fired her for insubordination, and when she refused to leave, Dave had the police escort her out. She also reveals that two years ago she filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after Dave made a sexual advance toward her. While that’s messed up, and Dave is now coming off like a scummy weirdo, I kinda feel like this is something Grace might have mentioned to Marcus a little sooner.

Marcus goes back to Milwaukee to confront Dave and sees that the new menu board, fresh produce display, and POS system are gone. The pretzels are missing, too, and TSM is now selling ice cream.

Marcus, now stewing, questions Dave, who tells him he doesn’t like any of the ideas Marcus implemented. They bicker, but it’s all beside the point. Marcus whips out his trump card, the paperwork from Grace’s EEOC complaint. Dave goes back into red-face mode, says the complaint is “being taken care of,” and that he doesn’t think he and Marcus are a good partnership. Marcus, class act that he is, wishes Dave good luck, shakes his hand, and walks out. After taking about a $100K hit on this failed investment, Marcus may be eating ramen tonight.

“I saw his true colors,” Marcus concludes. “I’m outta here.” I can believe he walked away from the deal. What I cannot believe is that he didn’t even attempt a soup-related play on words to end the episode. Personally, I would have gone with, I ultimately decided that Dave’s bisque was simply not worth the risk.

This was an entertaining hour of TV but it leaves me with one question: had Dave been more flexible and cooperative with Marcus, would Marcus have been willing to stick out the partnership despite Grace’s sexual harassment claim? How much of a role did ethics play in Marcus’s decision to walk away, and how much was simply because Dave was a pain in the ass to work with?

What do you think?

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I was all set to write a snarky review about the season 3 premiere of The Profit. I assumed it would start off with a bang–and by bang I mean another stubborn, inept small business owner who, by halfway through the episode, the audience ends up hating and rooting for Marcus to walk away from.

Instead, I saw actual human beings having actual human emotion, and the story about the failing business was secondary.

Marcus and the audience first meets Mike and Chris of SJC Drums at a trade show in California. Their booth is packed and everyone seems to be having a good time–a little girl shredding it on drums!–but we learn that Chris, a “partner” at SJC, quit his six-figure job to make half that doing the operations and books for SJC. Oh and “partner” is in quotes because he doesn’t have any equity in the company for some reason. Huh?

The product seems top-notch–Marcus says the drums are “badass.” (From what I know about drums–literally nothing–they look really nice.) SJC’s customers, apparently, include Green Day, Imagine Dragons, and Lady Gaga. But they’re only making “15 points,” or 15% margin, on their drums. (Marcus says their low margins are “not badass.” Good one.)

Later, Marcus visits SJC a  their headquarters in Massachusetts. The warehouse is pretty messy and we learn their process for making drum kits stinks–Chris and Mike aren’t on the same page on which orders are the highest priority, which means the employees don’t know which ones to make first–and they are just about broke. Nothing surprising here as far as The Profit goes–if the business was doing everything right, Marcus wouldn’t need to be there.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Marcus sits Mike and Chris down in the back office and Mike tells him that he and his brother Scott started the company (SJC are Scott’s initials) but Scott left in 2013. Mike bought out Scott’s half of the business for–get this–$533,000.


Mike explains that in order to pay Scott back, he has been paying $2,000 a month and will do so until year 15, when he will pay the remainder in a balloon payment of $285,000.


Mike says he didn’t want to short change his brother on the way out–whether he jumped or was pushed we’ll find out later–by offering less than the company was worth. He starts crying when Marcus observes that Mike put his brother ahead of himself. “I wish he understood that,” Mike says through tears.

But something’s not quite right here. Mike’s coming off as the caring brother (no idea if he’s older or younger than Scott) but clearly something big and ugly happened that we don’t know about yet.

After a scene where now Chris is also crying to Marcus in the snow about how much he loves the business–despite being a 0% equity partner–Marcus is ready to BALL OUT. Here comes symbolic handshake and check time.

BOOM. $400K for a third of the business. Mike hesitates and has dumb concerns. Marcus shoots him down. YOU WILL TAKE THIS MONEY. Mike takes the money. But there’s a catch. Marcus is also pushing a third of the company to Chris, so they are all equal partners at SJC. Mike is like, oh yeah I was totally gonna suggest that, and agrees to Marcus’s conditions.

Marcus rounds up all the employees the next day, explains the deal he made with Mike, and tells them from now on they are selling three levels of drums–good, better and best. Instead of only selling kits worth of Imagine Dragons, they will sell sets that a beginner can afford and hits the 40% margin goal Chris set so that they can, ya know, make money when they sell drum kits.

But the staff is having trouble cutting costs without cutting quality significantly.

Marcus goes to visit the mysterious other brother, Scott. Scott is a soft-spoken, seemingly sensitive guy who clearly loves music and making instruments. (He estimates having made 5,000 drums in his life.)

Scott’s side of the story is that Mike hired all his friends to work at SJC and those guys would all make fun of Scott. Listening to him talk and having seen some of SJC’s employees, I can totally see that. Mike’s the guy with tattoo sleeves, a black cap and a black hoodie, and so is all the staff at SJC. Meanwhile Scott is a little artsy, maybe a little music-nerdy, not necessarily the go along to get along type. It’s not hard to imagine a work environment in which he, despite maybe being the most talented guy in the shop–AND THE FREAKIN’ CO-FOUNDER–might feel intimidated into walking away from his own business, which has taken on a bully culture in which he’s the sole target.

Marcus convinces Scott to come back to SJC, at least temporarily, to put his expertise towards their 40% margin problem.

When Mike sees Scott walk in with Marcus it’s Awkward City, population: 3.

Mike tries to open the conversation but Scott is clearly hurt. “What did I ever do to you?” They go back and forth a while and finally agree to talk about drums rather than personal beefs. Marcus brings Scott out to the warehouse.

Now Mike is crying–literally crying, again–to Chris in the back office about how it’s too awkward, he won’t work at SJC if Scott is there, etc.

Marcus comes into the office and rather than trying to play therapist he gets REAL with Mike. He tells him his earlier apology to Scott during their bickering session was garbage. (Marcus was totally right, BTW. It was one of those apologies where you apologize for how the person is feeling, but not for your part in it. Classic apology loophole.) “I’m not Oprah. To think that your brother doesn’t add value is f—ing asinine.” Go fix it, he tells Mike.

Mike goes back to Scott and makes a better apology, but Scott is still not ready to talk about “brother things.” Mike replies, “Well just so you know, I am ready to talk about brother things. I want some sort of relationship that is healthy for us.” As much as Mike has ostensibly dicked over his brother, it sounds like he’s genuinely remorseful and feels really bad about what went down. This explains why he’d be agree to those ridiculous buyout terms. At this point I kinda just feel bad for both of them, not being able to settle their brother things.

They shake hands and leave the conversation there. It’s a rare case in reality TV where the emotion feels real, not manufactured by the producers.

The next day Scott is back and straight SCHOOLING SJC’s staff on how to cut costs for the drums to get to a “40 points” margin. Dude is just solving EVERY problem the rest of the guys couldn’t. Even Marcus is blown away. “It’s kinda cool to listen to your brother,” he tells Mike. “Cuz he’s got some crazy s–t in his head, but he’s very smart.” Watching Scott work is pretty fascinating, even if you–like me–don’t know jack about drum-making. He’s like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, banging out that math problem on the blackboard at MIT like it was nothing.

Thanks to Scott, SJC now has a prototype they can make for $537 and sell for $895–a 40% margin. They test it at a studio with fancy schmancy audio equipment–which, BTW, who the hell knew there was so much technology in music?–and it passes with flying colors. You could actually argue the SJC “good” prototype is actually too good compared to what you’d get from most beginner kits. But either way it’s within the quality standards of SJC’s brand.

Mike–who up to this point doesn’t seem to be all that valuable of an employee at SJC–has the tall order of going to Sam Ash in New York City with Marcus to convince them to carry SJC’s “better” kit alongside their better-known, multi-national brands.

They’re not having it.

Mike, a better salesman than I gave him credit for, pulls out the big guns ad plays up the handmade in America angle. On top of that he name drops Green Day–they don’t actually say say Billie Joe but it’s implied that “he” and Mike went to each other’s weddings–and says he could get the band to make an appearance at Sam Ash. Richard Ash, grandson of Sam Ash, eats it up. (This scene, BTW, feels TOTALLY fake, but whatever.)

Meanwhile back at SJC Mike and Scott are tight again. Mike says the best part of Marcus’s visit was that Scott is back in his life and they have a relationship again. Again, it seems genuine. They hug it out. And scene.

Marcus does it again–rescues a failing business, and this time mends a family riff. WHAT CAN’T THIS MAN DO?

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This week’s episode of The Profit has Marcus Lemonis in Surfside Beach, South Carolina, helping ASL Sign Sales and Service. (Why do I have a hunch that the “S” stands for signs?)

ASL’s owner is Anthony Leggio, who you could probably guess from his accent has relocated to SC from Long Island. With a $200K loan from his dad, Louis, Anthony had the shop up and running. Revenue ($441K YTD) seems in pretty good shape, but Anthony, who I’m going to call Strong Island, is apparently very ambitious.

Strong Island is rocking some transition lenses with plastic black frames, a fade with spiked hair, tattoo sleeves and big arms, but is also thick through the mid-section. This has nothing to do with the episode, but it’s a very unique look.

ASL manufactures and sells any kind of sign you can think of. This is a big deal, Marcus says, because I guess most companies that sell signs have to get them manufactured by someone else.

Turns out, ASL is actually Anthony’s, I mean Strong Island’s, initials (middle name Sal because of course it is). But Anthony says ASL could also stand for “American Sign Legion,” which is pure gibberish, but I’m giving myself partial credit for that one. The logo, of course, is a cartoon version of Anthony himself.

It's about to go down... (Photo credit: cnbc.com.)

Just a coupla guys talkin’ about signs. (Photo credit: cnbc.com.)

Anthony’s non-Jersey Shore looking girlfriend Christina Christian (did I hear that right?) works at ASL for free and has no equity. I believe this is the way most Fortune 500 companies do it, so…

In Marcus’ little cartoon infographic he always does in every episode, he says ASL makes a sign for $45 and sells it for $450, so they’re basically printing money.

But Marcus has a wicked burn for ASL when it comes to their sales process: “1985 called and they want their sales process back.” OHHHHHHH SNAP. Don’t forget to tip your waitresses.

Despite his overbearing personality, Anthony is not aggressive enough when engaging a walk-in customer in Marcus’ view.

Marcus asks why Anthony why he called The Profit. If business is good, what does he need an investor for?Anthony is obsessed with growing business as quickly as possible. He reminds me of a young, Italian, tan, stocky Walter White. “I’m getting in the sign business,” Marcus says. “The question is, am I’m getting in the sign business with you.” Sort of a weird thing to say.

I just realized ASL also stands for American Sign Language. Why do I feel like Anthony has never heard of this?

Marcus says he’s not prepared to write a check today. He is putting the check book away.

Other people in the business, including Anthony’s dad (who BTW doesn’t have any equity, either) told Marcus that Anthony is a know-it-all. Also the shop is kind of messy as is the sales process, per the 1985 joke. But all in all the place is making money. It’s still not clear why Anthony would want to give away equity to Marcus for his help, which he doesn’t really seem to need.

Next, Marcus finds out that Anthony has been picking ugly, hard-to-read fonts for customers. Anthony is not a designer. He is also not a sales guy. The Bobs from Office Space and I are wondering, What would ya say…ya do here?

Josh, ASL’s head designer (for the sign company, not the sign language), and Anthony, give a customer conflicting estimates on how long it’ll take to refurbish his sign. Josh conservatively quotes him three weeks, but Anthony says they can bang it out in a week. (Okay, he didn’t say “bang it out,” but it seems like something he would say.) Marcus pulls Anthony aside and he seems to get it…or does he? Five seconds later (in TV time) he reprimands Josh in front of the customer for trying to quote the customer a cost.

Anthony reveals that he doesn’t need money but does want Marcus’ business–I guess making signs for Marcus’ hundreds of businesses? He says he wouldn’t be willing to do a deal with Marcus if Marcus didn’t throw a bunch of business his way.

Okay now a former customer of ASL’s finds out Marcus is in town and tells Marcus that Anthony–crap I was supposed to be calling him Strong Island this whole time–has a bad reputation in Surfside Beach and actually sued this guy. The guy says Anthony/Strong Island has a bad temper.

Later, Marcus walks into the shop and Anthony tells him, “Ya late!” IT’S ON. Only Marcus can call out tardiness on his show. There’s some yelling which is all macho-like, but no one throws a punch and both guys storm off in opposite directions. Lame.

Eventually things cool down and Anthony tells Marcus “I bent ova backwards for that son of a bitch,” re: the disgruntled customer he sued.

“Sometimes you gotta take a pile of poop and stick it in your mouth,” Marcus says, meaning you have to make customers happy even if they give you a hard time. I didn’t go to business school but I assume this poop thing is a common metaphor you learn in the better MBA programs.

With 17 minutes in the episode, Marcus says he’s walking out without doing a deal. I like when this happens, especially when Marcus says that lots of other small businesses can use investments and he’s not going to waste his time with the ones that don’t deserve his money. I couldn’t agree more.

“Marcus kicked me right in my f-ing a$$,” Anthony says through tears, ostensibly realizing the errors of his ways, i.e. trying to scam Marcus into investing in ASL a way to get sign business from him. It’s hard to take him seriously when he’s wearing a shirt with a cartoon of himself on it, but he sort of seems genuine.

Back from commercial and now we’re in…Los Angeles? Marcus is now revisiting a gourmet popcorn company called Planet Popcorn, which he walked away from in another episode of The Profit. Apparently after agreeing to invest, Marcus found issues with accounting and inventory. Also the owner, Sharla, seemed reluctant to make changes.

It kind of seems like Marcus feels bad for Sharla because after the episode aired she came out looking really bad, and she lost a huge account with Disneyland. That’s gotta hurt.

Marcus looks around and sees a more organized office and a more professional-looking Sharla (despite her dress’ plunging neckline) who knows her sh-stuff. But when Marcus asks her about the Disneyland account, Sharla says she doesn’t want to talk about, tears up, and goes into what appears to be a closet to hide. I mean I’m sure it still stings, but, like, get it together when the money man is standing in your office potentially ready to make you a deal.

Aaaaand she’s back. Despite losing Disney and apparently some other accounts and being humiliated on TV, she has picked herself up by her bootstraps (classic entrepreneur word!).

Now they’re sitting down talking business. She offers 20% of her business for $50K; he’s not having it. He’ll take 40% with a 50-cent per popcorn bag royalty, a la Shark Tank‘s Kevin O’Leary. The check book is coming out. Sweet redemption for Sharla and Planet Popcorn! Maybe Marcus will call ASL when Planet Popcorn needs a new sign! Maybe not.

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“You know, I do business on handshakes and I try to help people, and I do it to make money.”

That’s a quote from Marcus Lemonis, the star of CNBC’s hit show The Profit. Each week on the show Lemonis tries to help a failing business get back on its feet. Sound familiar? Well, it should (especially if you have read this blog).

Reality shows like Hotel lmpossible, Restaurant Impossible, and Bar Rescue feature industry experts visiting foundering businesses, addressing problems big and small, and within a week, transforming former money pits into profit machines.

But The Profit is a little different. Lemonis isn’t necessarily an expert the type of business, like hotels or restaurants, that he’s trying to rescue. He’s an expert in business. (For more on his background, check out his Wikipedia page.) His oft-repeated mantra is People, Process, Product. In each episode he examines all three and determines if the business has any hope for a turnaround.

And here’s the kicker: Lemonis isn’t just a hired gun, like Hotel’s Anthony Melchiorri or Restaurant’s Robert Irvine. Lemonis is putting up his own money, a la Shark Tank, to revive these businesses but also make a profit for himself. (The name of the show is just one big spoiler, isn’t it?)

Lemonis’ financial contribution is typically enough to pay off the business’s debt, plus some money for some upgrades to equipment that will have an impact on the bottom line. In exchange for his cash—it’s always such a baller move on when he whips out his checkbook and writes a million dollar check to a business owner—he asks for a large chunk of equity, often as high as 50%. He also requires full operational control of the business.

Like the “Impossible” shows, most of the time Lemonis business proposal and management style are met with some initial resistance from the owners, but eventually they realize that what’s good for him is what’s good for them. Happy ending, right?

Not quite. Sometimes, and this is much rarer on the various Impossibles, Lemonis can’t come to an agreement with the business, and he backs out. (While the check presentation is a big moment on the show, in reality I’m sure there are lawyers and accountants digging into the company’s financials and the owners’ credit histories to make sure the business isn’t a lemon.)

On the episode I caught last night, featuring Swanson’s Fish Market in Fairfield, Connecticut, Lemonis wrote the business a million dollar check to temporarily buy the building in which the market resides and clear up its debt, which he believed would be the pecuniary boost they needed to get back on track.

But as Lemonis (or his lawyers, off camera) dug deeper he discovered that the mortgage on the building was not, in fact, “in good shape” as the business co-owner Gary had said it was. It was in foreclosure.

Besides that, Lemonis couldn’t get past the fact that Gary owned a boat while some of his employees were covering the costs of the fish out of their own pockets. He also couldn’t get through to the other co-owner, Sue, about why her owning a BMW with $500 a month payments was sending the wrong message to her employees. Neither were willing to sell off their toys in order to take a little pressure off the business and, ya know, pay their frickin’ employees. (Unlike many struggling businesses I’ve seen on shows like this, these two had no guilt over paying themselves.) The icing on the cake was that when Lemonis came back a few weeks later to check in, he found out the owners were doing renovations on their home.

In the end Lemonis walked. There was no text at the end, like you’d see at the end of Hotel Impossible (“Occupancy is up 75% since Anthony’s visit. The hotel has plans to upgrade all rooms within the next six months.”) It was Lemonis’ quote (from the beginning of this post), and then the episode just kind of ends.

In a previous post I wondered why this didn’t happen more often, as it did in an episode of Hotel Impossible last season. If these people aren’t willing to do what it takes to run a successful business, why does the show still insist on helping them? I imagine there are so many American businesses doing things the right way (or at least what they believe is the right way) and still struggling. Why not help them instead?

(Here’s an idea for a show: when one small business is too stubborn or foolish to accept the free help of an expert—who, by the way, they called!—that expert goes across the street and helps their biggest rival. Or better yet, the expert starts his own business just to crush them. Too much? Watch the Hotel Impossible episode about the Thunderbird Motel–or read my post about it–and tell me those people deserve to stay in business.)

The only regrettable aspect of Lemonis walking away from Swanson’s was that the owners’ 24-year-old daughter, Larissa, was apparently working the hardest of any of them to keep the company afloat. She also seemed to be the only one who saw the value of Lemonis’ involvement and potential investment. Maybe somewhere in the near future she’ll open her own fish market and put her parents out of business? Or at least buy them out? After all, what better way to learn how to run a successful business than seeing first-hand all the ways not to run one?

***UPDATE*** I’m not sure about the sequence of events here but Larissa Swanson, the daughter of the owners of Swanson’s Fish Market, wrote a treatise on the company’s website in response to the way their episode of The Profit was edited and the deal that Lemonis ultimately walked away from. You can read the whole thing here, but the her key points are quoted or paraphrased below (with my own thoughts in italics).

  • “When we sat down for the deal they told us before hand that if he writes us a check, it is only for show purposes and we have to hand it right back.” That sounds about right.
  • “We also did not film for 4 weeks, the filming process started at the beginning of June and ended in September! We were strung along for 4 months. They don’t add that my mom had a contractor at the house painting bc we are fixing it up right now to SELL and put it on the market. We never even did a building deal with him, where he said he would buy It for one million. We did not see a penny for the entire 4 months.” This was not clear at all on the episode. In terms of timing Lemonis mentioned that he went back four weeks later, and that’s when he discovered the property was in foreclosure. More on that…
  • “On August 26th I was served papers by a sheriff on the building for kasowitz (the guy who did a mortgage for it)  I notified Marcus immediately via text..we were not aware that a foreclosure process even started. Our building is fine now and we are taking care of it. Our building also had a contractor Lien put on it 3 years ago and we had the lien removal paper but our mortgager never brought it to city hall to be taken care of and of course they never aired that either!” It’s starting to sound like a he said-she said thing, but ultimately if Swanson’s was even close to foreclosure Gary shouldn’t have said it was “in good shape.” Or was that creative editing, too?
  • “When the boat happened he moved it from the marina and put it in someone’s backyard before hurricane Sandy hit and the motors became ruined and it turned into a salvaged project. He bought that boat 15 years ago.” The fact remains that he’s apparently paying marina fees on a boat, but Marcus made it out to be a luxury yacht.
  • “Marcus even asked me to negotiate with people and had me promise to pay them the next day certified check and never even came through. Those people are so angry now that they are sueing us.” Um…
  • “They also didn’t add how my little brother has a serious mental illness that he was diagnosed with 3 years ago of schizophrenia and it’s so severe that we are constantly in and out of hospitals and have paid over 100k in medical,hospital,ambulance bills and medications.” The show easily could have gone the other way with this and played up this angle, a la Restaurant Impossible, but they chose to go in the direction of villainizing the Swansons instead.
  • Sue had three deaths in her family around the time of the taping, explaining her disconnected, erratic behavior.
  • “Halfway through filming [Sue] agreed to sell the BMW and we filmed a cute scene where we taped for sale signs on her car windows to show we would sacrifice for the deal but they didnt show that either of course.” It’s starting to sound like the producers made the call to cut this into one episode’s worth of content, even though they clearly needed more time to tell the story completely.
  • “I also wanted to touch base on our employees chipping in for product- that i agree was not right but it was a total of only two times and they got their money back right at the end of the day only because we had vendors who wanted cashiers checks in the morning for product and my mother or father were not there to get to the bank and there was not enough to cover it with cash in the register.” Again, they really played up this angle as if it was all the time. That said, it’s no way to run a business.
  • Larissa addresses the circumstances around the fires that destroyed their property and imputes them to a former employee with a drug problem. I’m not sure this is relevant except that it casts doubt for those who may have thought the Swansons may have set the fires themselves for the insurance money.
  • There are also some images on the site including Larissa’s text to Lemonis about the foreclosure and some other critical documents that the show glossed over.

So, what are we as fans of The Profit to make of all this? Well, we all know reality shows edit their footage in order to tell a succinct, compelling story in their allotted amount of time, usually about 44 minutes for an hour-long program. Some edits don’t matter as much, like the exact phrasing of a quote, but others can be specious, like some of what Larissa alleges above.

While I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of Lemonis and The Profit so far, at this point I’ll really need to take what he and the show are saying with a grain of salt. And I won’t be so quick to write a blog post that paints these small businesses featured on these shows in such a negative light, at least not until hearing both sides of the story.

As for you, I suggest you watch at your own risk.

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***Spoiler alert: Results from the 9/1 episode of American Ninja Warrior, in which Kacy Catanzaro attempted the first stage of the Las Vegas Finals, course are referenced at the bottom of this post.

By now you’ve probably heard about Kacy Catanzaro, the 5-foot, 100-pound former NCAA gymnast who conquered the first two rounds of NBC’s American Ninja Warrior to become the first female competitor in the show’s history to reach the finals in Las Vegas. If you read my blog or follow me on Twitter (or live with me) it would have been pretty hard not to hear about Kacy Catanzaro.



Fans of American Ninja Warrior may have already been somewhat familiar with Catanzaro, who competed last season but failed to finish the first stage. Back then we mostly knew her as the girlfriend and training partner of ANW great Brent Steffensen.

RELATED: American Ninja Warrior Showcases the Best Athletes You’ve Never Heard Of

I don’t think you can bet on American Ninja Warrior (at least not easily or legally) but I wish I could have seen the (theoretical) Vegas odds for Kacy and Brent each making it to the finals here in Season 6. Steffensen is what bettors would have considered a heavy favorite, having already reached the final course, Mount Midoriyama, the last two seasons. Meanwhile Catanzaro would have been a huge underdog considering no woman had ever even completed the first round of American Ninja Warrior, no less the first two to reach the finals. And surely our hypothetical bookies would have factored in Catanzaro’s diminutive stature, making her odds that much longer.

But, as the sports trope goes, that’s why they play the games. Improbably, Kacy Catanzaro did advance to Vegas while this time Brent Steffensen failed to complete the first stage, signifying the end of his season.



While NBC might have been sad to see Steffensen eliminated—American Ninja Warrior’s version of a LeBron James-led NBA team losing in the first round of the playoffs—I’m guessing they were happy to trade their biggest male star for an up-and-coming female one like “Might Kacy” (or #mightykacy on Twitter). And that’s what they now have: Kacy Catanzaro’s historic run is easily the most important narrative of American Ninja Warrior Season 6—maybe the most important narrative the show has ever had.

(Two other women, Michelle Warnky and Meagan Martin, actually finished the first stage with faster times than Catanzaro–but neither completed their respective regional finals courses to advance to the finals.)

In the days after Catanzaro’s landmark run, the media slowly started to take notice. People were interested, including those who had never heard of American Ninja Warrior. Heck, even my mom sent me an email with the subject line #mightykacy: “I can see what you were getting all worked up about! She’s amazing!”

NBC knew* what it had in Kacy. On the July 14 episode of American Ninja Warrior, in which Catanzaro completed the second stage, her run wasn’t aired until the last fifteen minutes of the two-hour broadcast, with the announcers teasing the audiences going into each commercial: And coming up later, Kacy Catanzaro looks to become the first woman to reach the American Ninja Warrior finals in Las Vegas!

*NBC also knew the results in advance of the 7/14 episode. Like the World Series of Poker on ESPN, American Ninja Warrior is not broadcast live. I wouldn’t be surprised if NBC moved to a live format in future seasons. I’m actually quite surprised Kacy Catanzaro’s results weren’t spoiled online by any of the people who were in the crowd for either of the first two stages in Dallas where she competed.

But if you’re an NBC Sports executive who oversees American Ninja Warrior, what are you rooting for? (This question is posed while fully acknowledging that NBC already knows the results of this season.) Part of the show’s appeal is that no American has ever stood atop Mount Midoriyama. If Kacy Catanzaro completes the finals course in Las Vegas in just her second season on American Ninja Warrior, it’ll bring even more short-term attention to the nascent sport–but is it good for the long-term success of the ANW brand? Or would it feel like a magician revealing the secret behind their best trick, in that once you see how it’s done, it suddenly seems a lot less impressive?

UFC star Rhonda Rousey. (www.mmaoddsbreaker.com)

UFC star Rhonda Rousey. mmaoddsbreaker.com

I recently came across an article at Slate.com about the female Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) star Rhonda Rousey who, like Kacy Catanzaro, has been a marketer’s dream for her sport. A personable, attractive Olympic judo medalist turned mixed martial arts fighter, Rousey quickly rose to the top of the UFC world. The only problem was no one rose with her. Rousey has remained undefeated in 10 fights since her debut in 2011. Per the Slate article, her trash-talking style along with her perfect record has now made her the sport’s villain on the female side. The article goes on to suggest that maybe, just maybe, Rhonda Rousey losing a match would be the best thing for the sport.

Regardless of which result at Mount Midoriyama would propel American Ninja Warrior’s long-term popularity the most, I’m rooting for Kacy to go all the way. Hey, if ANW doesn’t like it, they can build a tougher course.

RELATED: “‘American Ninja Warrior’ Producer: How Kacy Catanzaro Changed Our Show Forever” (via Entertainment Weekly)

***Update: Unfortunately Kacy Catanzaro did not complete the first stage of the Las Vegas Finals course, falling victim to the Spider Wall. While her size had not hampered her progress up to that point, Catanzaro appeared to have had a tough time reaching either side of the Spider Wall with her arms.

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Note: This post was originally published before the 7/14 episode of American Ninja Warrior. If you’ve been paying attention, you probably already know that Kacy Catanzaro has advanced to the finals in Las Vegas and will take on Mount Midoriyama, the first woman to reach this stage of ANWVideo of both her runs so far are included below.

I’ve been very fortunate to grow up in a fantastic era for sports fans.

I was a Bulls fan during Michael Jordan’s prime and saw his famous up-and-under move in real time on TV during the 1991 NBA Finals versus the Lakers.

A lifelong Yankees fan, I witnessed their 1990s dynasty not to mention Derek Jeter’s backhanded “flip” to nab a runner at home plate in the 2001 American League Division Series. Oh yeah, and I’ve been around for Mariano Rivera‘s entire career.

And as a bonus I’ve had the good fortune to watch my hometown football Giants recently win two Super Bowls they, quite frankly, had no business winning against the heavily favored New England Patriots.

And yet for all the tremendous sports moments I’ve witnessed in my 32 years, it was an obscure “game show” called American Ninja Warrior that provided one of the most incredible athletic feats I’ve ever seen.

American Ninja…What?
An old college buddy introduced me to something called Ninja Warrior back in 2008. On a Sunday morning after a beer-fueled college tennis team reunion (GO HAWKS!) he was fecklessly flipping through the channels on my cable box when he got to the G4 network (now Esquire Network) and exclaimed, “NINJA WARRIOR! THIS SHOW IS AWESOME!”

Ninja Warrior, an edited-for-America version of a Japanese “sports entertainment television special” (to borrow some Wikipedia phraseology) called Sasuke, featured contestants attempting to traverse a series of obstacle courses, each with obstacles that make the popular Tough Mudder competitions or old school American Gladiators episodes look like child’s play.

Obstacles named Salmon Ladder, Unstable Bridge, and Spider Wall were designed to chew competitors up and spit them out, daring them to come back to next year and try again.

Eventually a short-lived G4 series called American Ninja Challenge—allowing Americans to compete for a spot on Sasuke—gave way to the current American Ninja Warrior format, which takes place entirely in the United States, with the final series of courses, i.e. “Mount Midoriyama,” built and filmed in Las Vegas.

Boys’ Club?
The great appeal of American Ninja Warrior is the American Idol-, World Series of Poker-like everyman quality. They are accountants and salesmen and teachers and preachers of all ages (some in their fifties, God bless ‘em!) who are in great physical shape and have any of several athletic hobbies—stuff like rock climbing, gymnastics, or Parkour—that help prepare them to compete, and even thrive, among the best of the best on the ANW course.

Some of these men, early adopters of American Ninja Warrior, have become household names (or at least faces) for those of us who have watched ANW for a few seasons. Guys like James “The Beast” McGrath, Dave “The Godfather” Campbell, and Brent “I Don’t Have a Cool Nickname But I Am A Professional Stuntman” Steffenssen come back each season rededicated despite failed runs at Mount Midoriyama—and despite that fact that no American, in six seasons of the competition, has conquered it.

Brent Steffensen navigating an obstacle. (Photo credit: Brandon Hickman/NBC via www.monstersandcritics.com.)

Brent Steffensen navigating an obstacle. (Photo credit: Brandon Hickman/NBC via http://www.monstersandcritics.com.)

And come back they have, with experience their most valuable asset. Having seen what the course is all about, many competitors construct their own obstacles in the off season to practice. (Heck, you can even buy blueprints of American Ninja Warrior obstacles—and it’s only a matter of time before IKEA starts selling ANW kits.) Knowing that they’re physically capable of conquering an obstacle is half the battle. The other half then becomes like any other sport, with many practice hours (hopefully) bringing out one’s best performance on game day.

While still very much a niche sport, American Ninja Warrior is steadily growing. According to ANW‘s executive producer Kent Weed in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the show received 3,000 audition tapes for the current season–more than double the 1,200 it received for the prior season.

While the body types of the competitors can vary from muscular to toned to lanky, one sort of body is conspicuously underrepresented: the female body. In any given episode one woman’s run at the course might be featured for every twenty men (maybe more than that), and typically those women never advance past the first few obstacles in Stage 1. Yet each season for the last three or four that I’ve watched, more and more women are attacking the course—and getting a little farther along each time.

The Mighty Kacy
It stands to reason that a tall woman would have the best shot at completing Stage 1, given that many obstacles rely on jumping and running across wide gaps, swinging and reaching, and pulling one’s own body weight horizontally and vertically. So the first time I saw 5-foot-tall Kacy Catanzaro step up to the starting line I didn’t like her chances—until I learned a little bit about her background.

Kacy Catanzaro negotiates The Ring Toss. (Photo credit: Alexandra Olivia via www.dallasnews.com.)

Kacy Catanzaro negotiates The Ring Toss. (Photo credit: Alexandra Olivia via http://www.dallasnews.com.)

Catanzaro, 24, is a former Division I gymnast at Towson University. The Dallas qualifying round in 2014 was not her first attempt at completing Stage 1 of an ANW course, so she had some experience on her side. Oh, and her training partner (and boyfriend) just happened to one of the most successful ANW competitors of all time, the aforementioned Brent Steffensen.

“Beat That Wall!”
For five minutes and 26 seconds, Catanzaro carefully negotiated an obstacle course built for bigger, stronger humans (she only weights about 100 pounds), culminating with the final obstacle of Stage 1: The Warped Wall, a 15-foot high curved wall just like the ones in Sonic the Hedgehog. (Not familiar with Sonic? Just see the image below.)

(The way she approached each obstacle, focused and purposeful but not scared, was not unlike the way Rivera pitched, especially in his final season. He no longer had the raw athletic ability to dominate hitters as he once did, but he could find a way to piece together three outs in a matter of minutes, as if he knew something the hitters didn’t.)

An American Ninja Warrior contestant attempts The Warped Wall. (Photo credit: www.austin360.com.)

An American Ninja Warrior contestant attempts The Warped Wall. (Photo credit: http://www.austin360.com.)

By the time she reached the wall Kacy Catanzaro already completed several obstacles that many other competitors, men and women, had failed at. Had her run ended with three failed attempts to climb the wall—the maximum allowed before a contestant is disqualified—it still would have been as close as any female had come to completing Stage 1 in six seasons of the show. But it wasn’t good enough for Kacy.

The trick to climbing The Warped Wall in my view—from the couch—is to find that perfect moment while running up the wall to jump towards the top and hopefully grab the ledge and pull yourself up. Some competitors are strong and athletic but never seem to find their perfect moment; others simply rely on an abundance of height to make up for their lack of timing. (There’s some info out there on the physics of The Warped Wall in case you’re thinking of building one in your backyard.)

Catanzaro, who trained for The Warped Wall and other obstacles using replicas she and Steffensen had built for practice, was relying on flawless technique to make up for a dearth of height. On her first attempt at the wall, it seemed she had the timing just right, but her fingers came up short.

With the crowd chanting, “Beat That Wall!”, Catanzaro paused and caught her breath before making her second attempt. Rather than dejection, her face read only of complete focus. Again, she ran full speed ahead, leapt at just the right moment and…she did it! She pulled herself up to the top of the wall, turned around to slam the buzzer that stopped the clock and she was through Stage 1! See Catanzaro’s entire Stage 1 run below.

The announcers howled above the crowd noise as Catanzaro stood above everyone there in Dallas that night, pumping her fist and chanting, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” as Steffensen looked on proudly. I had goosebumps.

ANW event coordinator Michelle Warnky became the second woman to finish the course, making it up The Warped Wall on her first try in just 3:09 in St. Louis (and, actually, making it look really easy), while rock climbing instructor Meagan Martin later completed the course in 4:46 in Denver. It’s a safe bet that we’ll see even more female athletes qualify in 2015.

What’s Next?
On tonight’s episode of American Ninja Warrior, at 9 pm Eastern on NBC, Kacy Catanzaro will try to top her already incredible run by becoming the first woman to complete Stages 2. Perhaps she’s still a year away from that feat, or maybe she’ll ride the momentum she’s created all the way to the next round at Mount Midoriyama.

No matter what happens tonight, Kacy Catanzaro, Michelle Warnky, and Meagan Martin have already changed the game for women and men. Maybe the eventual next step for American Ninja Warrior is to have separate male and female competitions, as we see at the Olympics, CrossFit Games, or sports like tennis or mixed martial arts (e.g. UFC). Whatever comes next for the sport, we already know that American Ninja Warrior has likely found its newest crop of female stars and perhaps more importantly, the new faces of the brand.

**UPDATE** Kacy did it again! On last night’s (7/14) episode of American Ninja Warrior, Catanzaro completed the Stage 2 course and is headed to the finals in Las Vegas! See her full run below.

RELATED: NBC, American Ninja Warrior Go All-In on ‘Mighty’ Kacy Catanzaro

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If I asked you what your favorite TV drama was, current and/or all-time, what would you say?

What’s mine? Oh, thank for asking, loyal reader! A few months ago, I’d have been ready with my oft-repeated answer: HBO’s The Wire and AMC’s Breaking Bad. These were my 1 and 1a.

Yet recently another show has emerged that has earned its share of a three-way tie in my TV drama Mount Rushmore: NBC’s Friday Night Lights. The series centers around a high school in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, and its students, its football team, the team’s first year coach, Eric Taylor, and his wife, Tami Taylor. The Taylors are played by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton.

What’s strange about this addition to my list is that the Friday Night Lights hasn’t been on the air since 2011, when it wrapped up an improbable five-season, 76-episode run. I say improbable because like The Wire and Breaking BadFriday Night Lights was critically acclaimed but low-rated, and was always on the verge of cancellation due to lack of viewership.

My wife and I binge-watched the final four episodes of the series this past Memorial Day Monday and I’m still pretty amped after the finale. But I’ve been thinking about FNL’s place on my list for a while now, so we’re outside the PH zone when I say it’s one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

FNL1Netflix-recommended, wife-approved. Friday Night Lights came highly recommended via Netflix’s aptly named “Recommended for Bobby” section. I figured it would become one of my shows, like Louie, to watch when my wife was not home (this, rather than one of our shows, like Orphan Black, which I’m forbidden to watch without her).

One night my wife came home to me watching FNL and realized she’d actually seen the episode I had on. It turned out she’d already seen the entire first season when it had originally aired on NBC. From that point on FNL was officially an our show.

We were, of course, tempted to speed through seasons 2 through 4 in a week or two because we couldn’t get enough. But really there was no time crunch to catch up before the next season started—the supposed “Netflix Effect”—because the show was already off the air (this also effectively eliminated the possibility of reading spoilers online). So we took our time and only watched a few episodes a week—a true test of our collective willpower.

How the hell did I (almost) miss this show??? The one gripe I have with FNL is NBC’s marketing of it back in 2006. When I first heard there was a new show coming out called Friday Night Lights based on the eponymous book and movie (which I saw and enjoyed) I thought, “Now it’s a TV show, too? Haven’t they already squeezed enough out of this one story?” I didn’t know the show would be fictional (i.e. inspired by but not based on the actual 1988 Permian Panthers high school football team from the book and movie), would take place in present day, and would be, well, really freakin’ good.

When the show came out I was 24 years old and exactly the sort of person who would have watched Friday Night Lights—had I known a little more about it. In fact in Grantland’s terrific oral history of Friday Night Lights, co-executive producer John Zinman mentions the lack of clarity of the promotional posters, which made it seem like a football show rather than a drama with football in it.

Gloriously in-your-face product placement. Sometimes product placement on TV programs is seamless, and other times it’s uber obvious. On FNL, two brands’ product placements stood out, but each was pulled off in a way that I didn’t mind as a fan of the show–or as an advertising professional.

The characters on FNL spent a lot of time at Applebee’s. When a scene opened at the leading “neighborhood” family restaurant chain, the external shot always clearly showed the Applebee’s signage. My favorite Applebee’s placement within the placement was Coach Taylor’s quip, “Did they change this menu or what?” (They did, Coach Taylor. Thanks for bringing this to America’s attention.)

Coach Taylor’s teams wear Under Armour uniforms and accessories. There is no mistaking the UA logos that are EVERYWHERE. In season 4 when Coach Taylor’s team is strapped for cash, his friendly Under Armour sales rep is willing to work with him on deferring his payments a while. (And your friendly local Under Armour rep would be willing to work with you as well, America.)

For the record I found product placements far less distracting than the fictitious colleges constantly referenced on the show: TMU? Braemore College? Oklahoma Tech? The Chicago Art Institute?


Tough love from Coach Taylor.

The Great Coach Taylor. We’re led to believe that Coach Taylor knows the X’s and O’s of the game better than anyone, but to me it always seemed that he was no better an on-field coach than the next guy (though his play-calling was certainly ballsier than most). What makes him The Great Coach Taylor is his ability to work with teenagers, often whom are inadvertently sabotaging themselves for reasons they don’t entirely understand. As his wife tells him in a moment of self-doubt, “You are a molder of men.”

(Mancrush alert: I became so enamored with the Coach Taylor character that most of my time watching the show I was terrified he would do something “bad” and I’d have to find a new idol. Spoiler: That didn’t happen, and my new mantra is WWCTD?)

Tami Taylor. In that same Grantland piece Connie Britton said she wasn’t willing to reprise her role as the “coach’s wife” (she was Billy Bob Thornton’s wife in the movie version of FNL) unless her character had more depth than simply rooting for the Panthers from the stands.

Talk about ballsy play calling. Britton wasn’t working a ton at that point and could have used a steady gig, even if it was glorified extra work. But she was right: her role on the TV series turned out to be as important as any character’s, including Coach Taylor himself. The balance the character provides as Coach’s counterpart both inside their home as a wife and mom and as a fellow molder of young men and women as a guidance counselor makes the show. As much as I love Coach Taylor (see above), the show just wouldn’t be as strong if he didn’t have Tami to support and challenge him (more on that in the next section).

(Britton’s stellar work on FNL no doubt helped her score her next two TV series, FX’s American Horror Story and ABC’s Nashville.)

Connie Britton and Aimee Teegarden play mom and daughter, Tami and Julie Taylor.

Connie Britton and Aimee Teegarden play mom and daughter, Tami and Julie Taylor.

Mr. & Mrs. Taylor. Part of me is glad I missed the boat when FNL originally aired on NBC and I was still in my twenties. Now that I’m in my thirties and married I have a much stronger appreciation for Eric and Tami Taylor’s relationship.

If the show is about a handful of subjects—perhaps least of which is high school football in Texas—one such subject is Taylors’ marriage. They negotiate every minor disagreement (Eric invited the entire team to a barbecue at their house and didn’t tell Tami until the last minute!) and major family decision (no examples here as not to spoil!) with mutual respect and are never intentionally hurtful. Coach Taylor: “Marriage requires maturity. Marriage requires two people that will listen, really listen to each other. Marriage most of all requires compromise.” This friggin’ guy.

Football is dangerous. While I respect the fictional Coach Taylor (and the men like him who I’m sure exist in real life) it’s tough to reconcile the ideas that 1) football is a team sport that at its best can build an individual’s character and bonds among teammates that few other activities or sports can, and 2) football at its worst can be extremely dangerous and in some cases deadly.

Many questions about the safety of football have arisen in the last few years since FNL went off the air. I can’t help but wonder whether growing criticism, particularly as it relates to head injuries, might have marred the show’s positive depiction of football in some way. A critical scene in the pilot addresses this—a player is paralyzed as a result of an on-field collision—but rarely again in the series are we reminded how dangerous the game can be.

Needless to say I recommend FNL to anyone who has Netflix and loves compelling stories and great acting. Have you seen FNL? What’s your all-time favorite TV drama?

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I started watching ABC’s Shark Tank less than a year ago and since then, I haven’t been able to stop.

The concept of the show is simple: product inventors and/or owners of nascent businesses stand in front of five millionaires and billionaires–would-be investors in their business, or “sharks”–and pitch them on why they should invest their own money in exchange for part ownership (i.e. equity) in a company they’ve never heard of run by someone they’ve never met before.

Most of the presentations are what I’d call “professionally cheesy” (or “cheesily professional”?). They’re rehearsed little 30-second intros that tell the sharks the name of the company and tease what it does or makes, finishing with a flourish in the form of a catchy slogan often uttered in unison. (Jelly company Mango Mango went with, Are you ready for this jelly?) At some point during the little song and dance the entrepreneur(s) (or “treps,” for brevity’s sake) reveals what share of their company they’re selling and for how much equity, e.g. $50,000 in exchange for 20% equity in the company.

Depending on the product, there’s usually a short demo of how it works or what it does, after which the floor is open for sharks to pepper the treps with questions about manufacturing costs, margins, annual sales, their background, and anything else germane to a potential investment.

The better presentations–and the ones most likely to whet a shark’s appetite–are the ones where the treps A) know all the answers to the sharks’ questions and B) have good answers. By good answers I mean the company is profitable, the margins are high (i.e. the product sells for a high price but costs very little to make), and sales have increased year over year.

(One pet peeve of mine related to the Q&A portion is that almost every trep’s answer starts with, “So,” as in, “How much do you make it for and how much do you sell it for?” “So…right now it costs about $5 a unit to produce and we sell it at retail for $9.99.” I know it’s just a stall word in a nerve-wracking situation to let them gather their response, but they do it every time!)

Where was I? I blacked out. Ah yes, the sharks. Each has their own distinct business background (click the links in each shark’s name to learn more), personality, area(s) of expertise, and investment strategy. Episodes features five sharks from a rotation of six. The sharks, far more than the treps, make the show what it is. For the uninitiated, the sharks are:

  • Mark Cuban. The moral compass of the show. Usually very supportive and free with advice even if he doesn’t make a deal with the trep. Calls out his fellow investors for bad deals that don’t favor the trep. Occasionally calls out treps (2:20 mark) whose products/companies he deems specious, irresponsible, or who are on the show for free advertising and not actually seeking a partnership. (Cuban also forced Shark Tank‘s production company to change its policy re: taking 5% of all businesses that appear on the show, regardless of whether a shark chooses to invest his/her own money. What a guy.)
  • Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary: Shark Tank’s answer to Simon Cowell and the show’s constant reminder that it’s not a charity—it’s about making money. On almost every episode Kevin will eschew equity and request a royalty deal where he recoups his investment upfront by taking a cut of every unit sold until he’s paid back in full, then taking a smaller royalty for each unit sold “in perpetuity”—meaning FOR-EV-ER.
  • Robert Herjavec: The nice family guy—but don’t jerk him around or he’ll say things like, “I’m a very nice guy, but don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.” Also loves kids and dogs.
  • Lori Greiner: A Chicagoan (listen to the accent) and big player in the QVC world—which is the driver behind most of her deals, as in “This will sell very well on QVC.” (Incidentally, I had no idea QVC was such a huge moneymaker but based on the size of some of the checks she writes, it’s doing a-OK.)
  • Barbara Corcoran: The wacky older woman on the panel–wacky like a fox, that is–also with ties to QVC.
  • Daymond John: Tends not to stray too far from his forte, fashion. Will regularly mention that he started out selling hats on the street (he founded FUBU).

Any time I talk about Shark Tank (which is often) to someone and they’ve actually seen the show, the response is almost always “You watch it, too? I LOVE Shark Tank!”

On May 2 ABC aired a behind-the-scenes special, “Swimming With Sharks” (click the link to view the special) that gave fans a look at the sharks when the camera wasn’t rolling, and some dirt about some of the show’s biggest deals (and non-deals)—as well as some of the stinkers. Below is a recap of each company update:

  • Breathometer ($50): A device that plugs into smartphones and works with a mobile app to perform a self-Breathalyzer test. Per the special, Breathometer expects $10 to 12 million in sales in 2014.
  • Lollacup ($15): A children’s drinking cup with a weighted straw that allows kids to drink even when the cup is not right side up. Profits from Lollacup netted the trep couple who started the company with their $1M dream home.
  • Simple Sugars ($22): All-natural sugar scrubs. Was doing $88,000/year in sales pre-Shark Tank, finished 2013 with $2.1M in sales.
  • Bubba’s Boneless Ribs: A patented process for removing the bones from ribs (without losing the essence of the rib, of course). $200K in first ten days after appearing on Shark Tank.
  • PRO-NRG ($2): A Brandon Jacobs-backed energy drink eventually repackaged as a protein water–after Daymond’s investment and intervention. Per its founder, they’re over $1.5M in sales. During their presentation Mr. Wonderful repeatedly referred to the company as “Pro Nerg.”
  • Stella Valle: A jewerly line made by two female U.S. veterans. $2.5M in sales post-Shark Tank ($50K before).
  • Tipsy Elves ($60): Intentionally ugly Christmas sweaters. No sales figures given.
  • Grace & Lace ($20-36): Lacy women’s socks designed to be seen partially while wearing boots. No sales figures given.
  • Tree T-Pee ($6-7): A mini tent designed to put around trees keep in water from sprinklers to save water. After appearing on the show the trep scored a deal with Home Depot.
  • Voyage Air Guitar ($429): A guitar that folds in half. Working with Kevin, the trep licensed his product to Fender. No sales figures given. Despite their business partnership, the trep and Kevin seem to genuinely dislike each other.
  • Wicked Good Cupcakes ($8): Cupcakes in a jar. Kevin’s royalty deal of 45 cents for every cupcake sold paid off. They’re selling $265K/month.
  • Toygaroo ($40/month): “The Netflix for toys,” lost $200K and went out of business in six weeks. Per Mark, Kevin and the trep had different visions and that caused the company to go under.
  • Copa Di Vino ($3): The trep rejected the sharks on two separate episodes. Mark called him a “gold digger” who was only on the show for the PR. The $300K investment the treo was seeking at the time of his second appearance would have been work $3M today. Now doing $25M in revenue. Trep has a private jet, apparently. Good for him.
  • ReadeREST ($9): A ridiculously simple magnetic hook on which to hang reading or sunglasses. $8.2M in sales so far.
  • Scrub Daddy ($7): A scratch-free scrubbing sponge. The most lucrative trep in Shark Tank history is expected to finish 2014 with $16M in annual sales, and is projected by shark investor Lori to do $30M next year. Within the first hour of their episode airing, Scrub Daddy had 30 to 40K website hits.

Some other thoughts from the special:

  • Mark, according to Robert, is worth more than the rest of the sharks combined ($2.6 billion per Forbes), which I didn’t realize. I’d imagine in some cases, though not all, this gives him an advantage when negotiating against the others.
  • “We are the Mick Jaggers of the business world,” according to Robert. Um…
  • Mark mentioned that it was a family show and people come up to him and say their 9-year-old daughter is obsessed with valuation. Adorable.
  • “Buying a nicer car isn’t as powerful as taking care of my children,” says Robert. He’s so quotable!
  • Interestingly in the “shark on shark” interviews the two female sharks said Mr. Wonderful was a teddy bear, while the guys called him a jerk (excluding Mark Cuban, who wasn’t interviewed, probably because they actually hate each other in real life).
  • We can certainly debate the “realness” of Shark Tank, the vibe I got from all the shark interviews is that it’s genuinely competitive and that none of them wants to be bested by the others. And while this might be viewed as a bunch of rich men and women gambling with these treps’ companies like they’re at a high stakes poker table, the treps stand to gain the most if one of the sharks bets big on them.

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I really enjoyed the first episode of the new season of Comedians in Cars Getting CoffeeJerry Seinfeld’s web series. The featured guest was Louis C.K., a comedian I admire for both his comedic chops and his business savvy.

As is standard on the show, Jerry and his guest talked shop. Aside from the stark contrast in style between the two—Jerry is known for his clean-as-a-whistle humor while Louis C.K. is anything but—the two comedians have a lot in common. They both have or had their own eponymous TV series, they both started out and continue to do stand-up, and they both seem self-aware enough to know how big a part luck (in addition to their immense talent) has played in their success.

During the 20-minute episode, Louis tells a couple of funny anecdotes, including one about grounding his boat the first time he takes it out, and being ship-wrecked for an entire day with his young daughters. He tells another story about going to the movies stoned and sneaking in candy. In that one, he mentions that for this mission he hired an Uber car to drive him to the theater. (Uber is a new-ish car service app.)

I don’t know the first thing about shooting a TV show, but I happened to notice that the camera was not on Louis when the word “Uber” was said (if you watch the episode, it’s at the 15:04 mark). And while Uber made sense in the context of the story, something about its mention seemed fishy–meaning I suspected it was a paid product placement by Uber edited into Louis’s story after the fact. (It was also possible that I was simply piecing together the words “Seinfeld” and “Uber” after recently reading an article about how Jerry’s wife overpaid for an Uber ride for their kids during one of Uber’s price surges. That or the news of Uber’s kitten delivery promotion back in October took up permanent residence in my brain.)

Whatever the impetus, I was suspicious about the Uber mention and was left wondering if anyone else had seen the episode and felt the same way, so I took to Twitter and wrote this:

Like most of my tweets, it didn’t receive much of a response.  At that point I let it go for fear of sounding a little too obsessive about something so meaningless—but not before I told a few people about my product placement theory, including my co-worker.

Fast forward to this week, when that same co-worker told me that she’d watched recently the episode of CICGC after the Louis C.K. one and that there was a much more overt mention of Uber. The car Jerry was driving with his guest, comedian-actor Patton Oswalt, broke down. (In each episode, Jerry drives a super-rare antique car. That episode featured a DeLorean.) Ostensibly stranded on the side of the road, Oswalt used his Uber app to hail a car (with a close-up of him using the app on his phone), and the show “restarted,” now featuring an Uber car instead of the DeLorean that had broken down. The Uber car that came to pick them up was a Honda, which makes sense considering the show’s sponsor is Acura (and Honda owns Acura).

Now it was clear that Uber had been a product placement all along, and that Louis C.K.’s Uber mention was simply laying the groundwork for the Oswalt episode.

I have nothing against product placement, per say, but it’s a little tough to stomach considering the show is already book-ended by two Acura commercials written by Jerry Seinfeld himself.

Seinfeld was notorious for using brand names in so many of its episodes, though it was never clear whether they were paid because they seemed so organic to the story. Off the top of my head I can think of quite a few (incidentally all snack-related): Junior Mints, Snapple, Twix, O’Henry, Yoohoo, Snickers. Not to mention the not-so-ringing endorsement for the U.S. Postal Service and its finest employee, Newman.

In a new world where everyone’s trying to get native advertising just right on sites like Buzzfeed, Uber didn’t quite hit the mark for me because it seemed too forced and didn’t quite match the laid back, informal environment the show tries to cultivate.

Although come to think of it, I just wrote a 600-word blog post mentioning Uber multiple times–and some of you probably hadn’t heard of it before. So maybe it wasn’t as far off the mark as I thought.

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I know what you’re thinking: What’s the deal with this blog post? Does Jerry Seinfeld really need more appreciation?

Without listing his résumé, I think we can all agree that Jerry (who I’ll refer to by first name as not to confuse him with his somewhat popular TV show, Seinfeld) is about as successful as a human being can be within his chosen profession.

That being said, anything else he does for the rest of his life, in comedy anyway, will inevitably be less successful than Seinfeld.

Since his show went off the air in 1998*, Jerry’s body of work might be considered unremarkable. He participated in a 2002 documentary, Comedian (about being a comedian), in which he retired his old stand-up material and started his comedy career from scratch (apart from his obvious name recognition). He wrote, produced and starred in the animated Bee Movie (grossed $257 worldwide) and NBC reality series-slash-game show The Marriage Ref (canceled after 19 episodes over two seasons). He appeared throughout the seventh season of Seinfeld co-creator Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm for a faux Seinfeld reunion. He’s toured his stand-up act. And now he’s got a web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, a talk show about, well, you can figure it out.

*While most hit shows stay on air past their prime these days, Seinfeld was still putting up huge ratings numbers in its ninth and final season. As Jerry told Louis C.K. on CICGC, “My show was about four single people living this certain type of lifestyle. We didn’t want to do Kramer’s fiftieth birthday party.”

“Man, I gotta get on that internet,” Jerry once quipped on Seinfeld. Now 59 years old, he certainly seems to have gotten a hang of the web. In addition to CICGC, he recently participated in a Reddit AMA (ask me anything), where he discussed with his fans everything from cars to failed Seinfeld scripts (Jerry buys a handgun?) to the revelation that the secret behind Seinfeld‘s success was that Jerry was actually the straight man to Kramer, George and Elaine.

It’s not that I appreciate Jerry Seinfeld because he can still achieve success four decades after he started his career. I appreciate him because he’s still trying new things. The media, especially the internet, can be a cruel place, even for its most treasured celebrities. Jerry Seinfeld, or any other performer of his status, has very little to gain from putting himself out there again and again.

Maybe it’s an addiction, and he simply can’t help himself. It’s the idea, which Jerry himself has talked about, that he simply can’t stop looking at the world from a comedian’s perspective. So many little things in life will always be funny to him, and he’ll always be looking for ways to articulate and disseminate those funny moments in a stand-up routine or a script or simply a filmed conversation with a fellow comedian.

In his Reddit AMA Jerry he hinted at a new “big, huge, gigantic” project he’s working on with Larry David, which has fans like myself intrigued. Will it be as successful as Seinfeld? Probably not. But that’s not really the point, is it? The point is that, in Kramer’s words, Jerry’s out there, and he seems to be loving every minute of it.

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