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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Into the Dragon's Den

Have you seen this show? It's on BBC America (http://www.bbcamerica.com/).

(Digression: Have Americans started affectionately referring to it as "the Beeb," yet? Have Brits started affectionately referring to CNN as "the Can"? Or to Fox News as "Murdoch's little Fascist mouthpiece whose editorial viewpoint is slightly to the right of Hitler's"? End of digression.)

"Dragon's Den" is "The Apprentice" meets "American Idol," only ALL the judges are Simon Cowell. Each episode features aspiring entrepreneurs pitching their products to a group of five "Dragons"--successful businesspeople who decide whether to invest their own money into the aspirants' projects. It's an all-or-nothing proposition: The aspirants must receive at least the amount of money they ask for, or they get nothing.

The Dragons:
(Please note: The roster changes occasionally; these were the ones in the most recent episode watched by the Solipsist)

Peter ("The Mogul") Jones: Wears the nicest suits and tends to be the one left at the end when the other Dragons have already declared themselves "out" of the running for the deal. Very bottom-line oriented (even for the Dragons).
Made his fortune in: Telecommunications, but began his career as a teenager by opening his own tennis academy! (Apparently, there's a major demand for these in the UK).
If the show were American, his seat would be filled by: Donald Trump
In the movie he'd be played by: Matt Damon (maybe)

Simon ("Paula") Woodroffe: The closest thing to a Paula Abdul among the judges. Usually seems to have something encouraging to say to the budding businessfolk, even as he's shooting them down. Has strange sideburns and wears oddly-colored shoes.
Made his fortune in: Fast-food sushi restaurants--or something like that.
If the show were American, his seat would be filled by: Mark Cuban
In the movie, he'd be played by: Paul Giamatti

Doug ("The Token") Richard: The lone American dragon. At least he gets to sit in the middle seat.
Made his fortune in: Buying and selling software companies (i.e., nothing).
If the show were American, his seat would be filled by: Doug Richard
In the movie, he'd be played by: Bob Balaban

Duncan ("Bannatyne, Duncan Bannatyne") Bannatyne: A somewhat creepy Scotsman, always dressing in black suits and pretty much declaring himself "out" at about the moment that the aspirant says, "Hello, I'm--".
Made his fortune in: The leisure industry.
If the show were American, his seat would be filled by: Steve Wynn
In the movie, he'd be played by: Ralph Fiennes.

Rachel ("The Woman") Elnaugh: Another one who is rarely seen to actually invest in anything. Perhaps it's because her business is valued at a "mere" 30,000,000 pounds, which is not quite the stratospheric level of the other dragons.
Made her fortune in: Something called "Red-Letter Days," which is apparently a service that allows people to live out their fantasies. You know, a whorehouse. (Kidding, Rachel, kidding!)
If the show were American, her seat would be filled by: Martha Stewart (a bit on the nose, maybe, but so what).
In the movie, she'd be played by: Cate Blanchett (You're welcome!).

Anyway, the aspirants pitch pretty much anything. Products have included umbrella vending machines, origami camping equipment, an automated baby rocker, even an avant-garde circus production company. The aspirants offer an equity stake in their business in exchange for the requested investment. Here is how the negotiations generally proceed:

ASPIRANT: (completes presentation) So, there you have it. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
DRAGON: So, you're asking for 100,000 pounds?
ASPIRANT: That's right.
DRAGON: For what share of the business?
DRAGON: Right, well, that's far too low. I tell you, I'd be willing to invest 50,000 for 25% of the company, if you can find another dragon willing to put up the rest.

So, basically, people who enter the Den end up (if they're lucky) parting with half their business. And it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the actual "goodness" of the idea. No matter how interesting/potentially lucrative the deal may be, the Dragons ALWAYS want 50%. True, 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing, but there seems something rather distasteful about the whole thing.

Hmmm. . . Cut-throat capitalism combined with reality TV, distasteful? What are the odds?

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