Shark Tank is produced by Mark Burnett and based on the TV show Dragon's Den. The show features a panel of potential investors, called "sharks", who consider offers from aspiring entrepreneurs seeking investments for their business or product. The sharks do receive money for their participation, but they invest their own money. The entrepreneur can make a deal on the show if a panel member is interested. However, if all of the panel members opt out, the entrepreneur leaves empty-handed. The show is said to portray "the drama of pitch meetings and the interaction between the entrepreneurs and tycoons." A one-hour pitch by a contestant is edited down to "a dramatic 10-minute segment". The show is said to personalize "the desperation and pain experienced by victims of a broken down economy".
The "sharks" often find weaknesses and faults in an entrepreneur's concept, product, or business model. Some of the investors try to soften the impact of rejection, like panel member Corcoran, while others such as O'Leary can be "brutal" and show "no patience even for tales of hardship". Many deals made on the show are never enacted due to the investor's vetting process following the deal, which includes product testing and the examination of the contestants' personal and business financials.
The show initially required each contestant to sign an agreement with Finnmax, the producer of Shark Tank, promising Finnmax the option of taking a "2 percent royalty" or "5% equity stake" in the contestant's business venture. However, in October 2013, this requirement was repealed by the network, retroactively, due to pressure from panel member Mark Cuban. Cuban felt the requirement would lower the quality of the entrepreneurs, as savvy investors would be wary of trading away a portion of their company just for appearing on the show. A number of participants have declined to appear on the show for this reason.
Shark Tank premiered in August 2009 and aired 14 episodes through January 2010. In August, it was renewed for a second season. Season 2 premiered with a "sneak peek" episode on Sunday, March 20, 2011, before resuming its regular Friday night time slot on March 25, 2011. Season 2 had 9 episodes, 5 of them featuring new panel members. Comedian Jeff Foxworthy and Mark Cuban replaced panel member Kevin Harrington for 3 episodes. Kevin O'Leary, Barbara Corcoran, Daymond John and Robert Herjavec appeared in all 14 episodes. In season 2, Kevin O'Leary, Barbara Corcoran, Daymond John, and Robert Herjavec appeared in all 9 episodes; Mark Cuban appeared in 3, Kevin Harrington in 4, and Jeff Foxworthy in 2.
Shark Tank's third season premiered in January 2012. During the second season, Kevin Harrington was replaced by Mark Cuban, while in the third season, the "queen of QVC" Lori Greiner replaced Barbara Corcoran on 4 episodes. Kevin O'Leary, Daymond John, Robert Herjavec, and Mark Cuban appeared in all 15 episodes of season three. In February, ABC ordered two additional episodes for season 3 using un-aired footage, which brought the season's episode total to 15. On May 10, 2012, Shark Tank was renewed for a fourth season consisting of 26 episodes. This is the first time the series received a full season order. Filming began on June 30, 2012. According to TV Guide, as of December 2012, the show's panel members had invested $12.4 million in the business opportunities presented to them during that season and those whose business ideas did not result in an investment from the sharks still benefited from the publicity generated by that contestant appearing on the Shark Tank show. During the show's 2012 season, 36,076 people applied to become contestants.
In 2013, ABC renewed the show for a fifth season. On July 16, ABC announced that season 5 would premiere on September 20 at 9pm EST. In October 2013, ABC ordered an additional two episodes for the season. In December 2013, ABC ordered another four episodes, bringing the season order to 29 episodes.Steve Tisch and John Paul DeJoria were added as panel members. In 2013, CNBC licensed exclusive off-network cable rights for the series from ABC. In May 2014, ABC announced a sixth season starting in September 2014. The series began its syndication run on CNBC on December 30, 2013.
On October 22, 2014, ABC announced a companion series called Beyond the Tank that will follow a company after a deal was made and detail what happened afterwards.
By 2012, the show averaged over 6 million viewers an episode, making it the most watched program on Friday nights in the 18-49-year old demographic. As a result, ABC added three more episodes to the original season order of 22. In July 2012 the show was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in the Outstanding Reality Program category.