Plenty of television game shows have competing people, but few are as personal and long-term as Dragons' Den. This show (I'm reviewing the BBC version, though it began in Japan and has versions in several countries) has plenty of risk for both the contestants and the judges.

The judges in the "den" (actually an upstairs loft) are five British self-made multimillionaires -- currently Duncan Bannatyne, James Caan, Deborah Meaden, Peter Jones, and Theo Paphitis -- out to hear, question, and possibly invest their own money in the contestants' businesses. The contestants are entrepeneurs that want the Dragons' financial investment, and often their experience and business contacts, in exchange for a percent of equity in their business.

Each contestant says what amount of investment they're looking for and what percentage of their business they're willing to exchange for that investment. Then comes the presentation, explaining and often demonstrating their idea to the Dragons. Following that comes the Dragons' questions; these usually cover everything from marketing to costs to potential customers. Then each Dragon either declines to invest ("I'm out") or makes a counter-offer to the contestant. Negotiation can go back and forth quite a bit, often between several Dragons. If the contestant doesn't get at least the amount they wanted initially, they get nothing.

Dragons' Den has plenty of variety and tension (the latter underscored by dramatic music). Products pitched by the contestants range from inspired to lunacy, and that describes the contestants as well. The Dragons are often quite acerbic, though it's understandable since they're being asked to put up their own money: Paphatis often asks, "Why should I children's inheritance on this?" The Dragons are always professional, though, often bidding against one another to secure a deal or pitching their own experience and connections as part of their offer. Their questioning can often reveal flaws or falsehoods in a pitch. There are even lots of surprises beyond the success or failure to get an investment: Some contestants reject the Dragons' offers, while one person with a pub- and online- poker league negotiated his way into more money that he originally asked for!

Dragons' Den is often manipulative, both with the aforementioned dramatic music and a voiceover describing the risk and tension, but it's entertaining and serious at the same time. Each episode gives the viewer several chances to see people aiming for an investment in their dream -- and having to defend it to people who know their business.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

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