Terry Morrow: 'Shark Tank' is a reality show with teeth

Entrepreneurs Barabara Corcoran and Robert Herjavec holds court on "Shark Tank," a surprising compelling reality show.

Photo by Adam Taylor, © 2012 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.

Entrepreneurs Barabara Corcoran and Robert Herjavec holds court on "Shark Tank," a surprising compelling reality show.

Who knew sharks could be so warm and heartfelt?

It's the case on ABC's surprising compelling "Shark Tank" (9 p.m. today, WATE, Channel 6), a quasi-competition that rises the stakes of the reality genre and, in many legitimizes the non-scripted format.

If case you haven't seen it before — and judging by the ratings "Shark Tank" isn't exactly "American Idol" — here's the chew: inventors bring their products to a panel of investors and make a plea for money. Most of the time the deal means the inventor offers up a stake in the product's ownership to get the money.

The investors quiz the inventor then decide if they're in or not.

Sometimes they bring along celebrity advocates such as Seth MacFarlane and, in tonight's edition, John Rich to drive the inventor's pitch home.

The real appeal of "Shark Tank" has to do with the inventors and how invested we get in their stories. The result are often heart-tugging stories of blood, sweat and tears.

Many of these inventors have toiled for years to get to this point. Their inventions are like their babies and sharing them with anyone is difficult.

On one recent installment, a woman's pitch is rejected by all investment panelists, and she breaks down. This wasn't just a business proposition gone bad. It was the end of her dream (or at least a major setback).

When all looked lost — because these entrepreneurs are cold fish, pardon the pun — one of the investors changes her mind and backs the woman.

This particularly emotional scene drove home the point of what "Shark Tank" does best: It's just not about dollars. It's about dreams. That's what makes "Shark Tank" a good way to invest your time on Friday nights.

Score: 3 stars (out of five)

Terry Morrow may be reached at 865-342-6445 or morrowt@knoxville.com.

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