‘Shark Tank’ expands with new spin-off ‘Beyond the Tank’

Week after week on “Shark Tank,” there's unpredictable drama as entrepreneurs try to get investments and investors battle each other. The products and businesses can range from bizarre to must-have. The sharks' attempts to get a deal can be incredibly emotional and dramatic.

All the show does, though, is focus on the initial deal. Yes, between pitches, “Shark Tank” does have brief segments that provide updates on previous pitches. Those usually focus on entrepreneurs that got a deal. Sometimes, companies that failed to get an investment from a shark are also included. But those are brief, 90-second summaries, not an exploration of everything that happens after the show.

After making an on-camera deal, the sharks and their teams do due diligence. That's when many of the deals fall apart. Whether or not the deal goes through, when the company's episode of “Shark Tank” usually means a huge boost of attention and sales. Some companies have been acquired; others have fallen apart.

In other words, there's a world of drama and material for a great television show in everything that happens outside of “Shark Tank”'s studio. So it makes sense that the Sony-produced series would capitalize on the success of the show and all of that potential material.

“Beyond the Tank,” which premieres its first of three episodes after “Shark Tank” Friday night, is that series. It promises to follow “the drama that takes place after the entrepreneurs' appearance on Shark Tank.”

I talked to its executive producer, Leslie Garvin. She previously worked as co-executive producer on season one of “Shark Tank.” She told me that the new series is “an opportunity to really get to know the entrepreneurs better, and also to get to know the real-life struggles and triumphs with having a business.”

As they cast the new series, producers “looked at what was happening in the company,” Garvin told me. They considered “what could we educate” viewers on, since that's been a central part of “Shark Tank.”

Garvin said that from the companies, “the biggest fear was what to expect. There's a lot of negative press about reality shows and you have that stigma attached. This is a show that has to have integrity; it's the Shark Tank brand.” That means “celebrating people's successes and triumphs.”

In episode one of “Beyond the Tank,” there are updates on three companies: ugly sweater producer Tipsy Elves, a 16-year-old's business The Define Bottle, and a former NFL player's deboned baby back rib business.

The first episode starts out with an update on Tipsy Elves, and they fly to Toronto to meet with Robert Herjavec to show him new product ideas and talk leadership in the company. Specifically, one of the two founders is still working full-time as a dentist. When they show him a new lightweight sweater brand, Robert says, “I hate it.” He also gives “knee-jerk” feedback on some of their t-shirt designs.

“Beyond the Tank” is produced with the same level of care and attention as “Shark Tank.” But it doesn't quite have “Shark Tank”'s spontaneity and authenticity. It's not that what's happening is fake, but these conversations don't feel spontaneous, either.

“We didn't produce this in a way where we told the entrepreneurs what to do or what to say by any means,” Garvin told me. “We really tried to be a fly on the wall as much as possible for what was really happening in their lives and their businesses.”

Tipsy Elves' meeting was already planned, Garvin said. Producers of “Beyond the Tank” “just sort of tagged along for the ride.”

The final segment follows Daymond John's investment in the baby back rib company. It's longer and sticks around to follow a negotiation with a new co-packer. It's still the kind of carefully produced-for-TV meeting where the water bottles all have their labels peeled off and everyone seems very aware of the cameras so they're saying the right things and smiling a lot. But at least we are watching a moment of evolution in the company's life.

I asked Garvin which update was the most surprising and she complimented all of “Beyond the Tank” participants. “They're all such incredible, amazing people doing incredible, amazing things in a climate that it's not easy to do. I have so much respect and admiration for these people, I don't even think I could have a favorite. I had an amazing opportunity to get to spend time with them and I fell in love with them all, for different reasons.”

Watching the first episode, I wanted to see more of that, for it to be more of a “deep dive,” as Garvin described it more than once. I wanted more of the day-to-day, a less polished look at their post-“Shark Tank” lives. Basically, I wanted it to be like “The Profit,” the fantastic CNBC reality series on which Marcus Lemonis invests in companies and spends a lot of time with them over several months in order to implement major changes.

Considering the demands on the sharks' time, never mind how many other companies they have invested in, that kind of format is probably not possible. If this spin-off does perform well enough this May in its three episodes to come back in the fall, maybe “Beyond the Tank” will be able to go a little further beyond where it is now.