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Why Did Dragon's Den Go From Transfixing To Train Wreck?

Posted: 03/27/2014 12:19 pm

I used to love Dragon's Den. When it first debuted, I was glued to the TV, watching as millionaires haggled with inventors and battled with each other, bargaining to be investors in the next brilliant upstart. I was amazed at some of the clever ideas that would-be CEOs came up with, yelling "why didn't I think of that" at the TV screen and biting my nails as The Dragons fought with each other to be the key investor behind these clever minds.

Notice that I wrote "I used to love" this show.

Now in its eighth season, Dragon's Den is a shadow of the program that so enthralled me when it first debuted. What used to stand out as being different than all the cringe-worthy "reality" shows all over the dial, The Den is now just another train wreck. It's freakshow entertainment, more interested in showing you phony, amped-up drama than the inspiring stories and dealmaking of the earlier seasons. There's far more tantrums than handshakes, and The Dragons have become nothing but parodies of themselves.

We used to see interesting deals and great inventions. Now it's a ton of rejection, smug insults, and millionaires who apparently are only there to say "no" to the most obvious of failed pitches. Every once in a while a Dragon actually makes a deal, only to pat himself on the back for a low-risk investment in a surefire hit. Snore.

But those deals apparently aren't interesting. Most of the handshake bargains being doled out on the show now seem quickly edited together, as if we're watching it on fast-forward. Meanwhile the camera lingers whenever someone is due for a good tongue lashing for their terrible idea and having wasted everyone's time. Dragons used to simply say "I'm out", with a polite but short explanation for the rejection. Now the wisecracks are tossed around, the inventions are mocked and laughed at, and people are routinely belittled for investing their life savings in a definite failure.

Insult, meet injury. Repeat.

Part of this is the fault of viewers. TV watchers crave drama and catfights and controversy. People apparently don't really want to watch millionaires haggle with each other over a clever invention as much as they want to watch a fool be chastised for his silly idea. We used to see a ton of great ideas, with The Dragons each eager to be the one to make a deal. Now it seems to be a parade of oddball ideas and bad investments, just there to give The Dragons a chance to roll their eyes and sigh. Like watching Kevin O'Leary chew that scenery, acting as the resident pompous villain of the show? Well, now there's four more Dragons competing for that job.

And there's the real problem: The show isn't about the guests anymore, it's all about The Dragons. Millionaires beforehand, this show really made them "stars". Just a few years ago, the average person on the street couldn't have told you who Kevin O'Leary was even if he were standing under a marquee with his name on it. Now he's a household name, recognized everywhere he goes. Yeah, business deals made him rich, but TV made him a star. And the bigger a jerk he was, the more people loved to watch his schtick.

As O'Leary became even more of a cartoon character, the other Dragons seemed to slide in that direction, as well. What better way to stand out and sell books? The villain gets the most attention, so it makes sense that even the nicest of Dragons would follow suit. Guess they'll need someone to become the resident bad guy now that O'Leary has announced that he's leaving the show.

Sure, there are still deals being made, but they pale in comparison with the early seasons. W. Brett Wilson seemed to genuinely care about great ideas more than what was in it for him. He already had smashing success and riches, yet he believed in helping others find some, too. Robert Herjavec was just as shrewd as O'Leary but seemed to be interested in good ideas more than pushing his own brand. Back in the beginning, the Dragons seemed to take chances on ideas that weren't so blatantly obvious. Now they pick the low-hanging fruit.

But it's the attitude that has mostly changed. The general feeling of Dragon's Den is mean-spirited now. It's sneering and snide. Crass insults from people taking very little risk who now mock people who are risking it all. What was once about dreamers with big ideas looking for a little help in the right direction has just become a parade of bankers, asking what's in it for them and then rolling their eyes at anything that isn't a surefire hit.

I expect this kind of thing from the U.S. show Shark Tank. Such gimmickry has been on that show since day one. But Dragon's Den used to be about the deals, not the dismissal. How ironic that Dragon's Den would wind up being more like the show that copied it than the original hit it once was.

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