I attended the launch party for Season 2 of Dragons’ Den last night at a funky Toronto bar filled with funky CBC people – and all five Dragons. We watched the first episode on a live feed from the Atlantic region, thereby scooping other viewers in Ontario and Quebec by an hour.
A few personal observations on last night’s show:
* New dragon Arlene Dickinson, a Calgary marketing consultant, is quiet but firm – and much tougher than the Season 1 dragon she replaced, Jennifer Wood. Pitchers beware: with Arlene on the panel, your risk factor doubles.
* Kevin O’Leary is in fine form, upbraiding poor pitchers and denouncing bad business ideas as sinful. He told one couple, who had produced a line of sports-related business books, to burn the books rather then keep trying to sell them. He defends his diatribes by saying that it would be much crueler to give entrepreneurs such as these any hope, and so encourage them to waste more of their lives and savings pushing loser ideas any further.
* Robert Herjavec, in this episode anyway, comes off as the sensitive, nurturing dragon. He compliments pitchers on their presentations or their idea before turning down their investment opportunity. At one point he even chastised Kevin for bullying the pitchers, saying there are nicer ways to get the same message across.
* Boston Pizza's Jim Treliving seems to have grown younger and hipper. He’s quipping more and taking greater part in the action. Looks like he’s decided not to be the old guy in the room any more.
* The show itself seemed a little less polished than last year. Some segments went on too long, I thought, with too many silent dramatic pauses that had no emotional payoff.
* The first part of the show disappointed me. It seemed to be reaching for titillation rather than serious business content. The first pitcher was an "edgy" fitness expert, gyrating and showing off his abs. He was followed by two women in bikinis for some bizarre marketing business, who were followed by three entrepreneurs selling oddly shaped plastic cases for protecting lunchbag bananas – an innocent product in itself, but a little too nudge-nudge-wink-wink the way they were scheduled right after the washboard abs and scanty bikinis.
Those quibbles aside, the show was probably as interesting as the best episodes of last year. The one deal that did get done on the show was a nailbiter, with a drawn-out, dramatic ending that reflected the dilemma of the entrepreneurs who appear on the show to pitch for cash: do you accept a lower-than-expected valuation in order to work with the dragons? In other words, do you see them as sources of money only or as positive partners you want to work with?
Having interviewed some of the contestants from last year who sealed deals on the show, only to have those deals fall apart afterward, I’m not sure what the answer is. But it makes for great TV. And great business discussion.
PS: One dragon I talked to agreed with me when I expressed disappointment with some of the editing decisions on last night's show. He says he believes they are pushing entertainment over substance this year – and is curious as to which will attract more viewers.
Personally, I think TV viewers can find sex and double entendres anywhere on the dial. The heightened real-life drama that Dragons’ Den represents is rarer – and far more interesting.