Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.

The ABC entrepreneurial reality series Shark Tank from producer Mark Burnett and Sony TV came into its own as an unscripted dynamo during its third season, topping Friday nights in the key demos and earning a supersizing of its episodic order from 22 to 24. During a post-lunch TCA panel, Shark Tank exec producer Clay Newbill ruminated on why the series seems to have struck such a nerve. It’s no mystery to Newbill. “It embodies the American dream,” he said. “It shows people that entrepreneurism is alive and well in this country. It empowers viewers to believe, ‘I can do it!’” Newbill went on to emphasize that he hears from people who tell him the show changed their lives. It’s pretty heady stuff for a show that’s part of a genre that gets a consistently bad rap. The producer addressed that, too, admitting that reality “has this stigma that it takes advantage of people. Well, not this show. It’s reality TV at its best. It lets real people catapult their dreams into real business success and teaches young people with drive, with passion, and if they really apply themselves, they too can make it. Kids learn the power of the human spirit.” But besides that, Newbill credits the increased popularity to the fact it takes a while for a series like Shark Tank to catch on. “Sony and ABC stuck with us long enough, and we knew the third season would be the charm.”

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Viewers can sense when a reality show is phony and when it’s authentic, everyone on the panel agreed. Newbill stressed repeatedly that the show’s sharks (including Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John, Kevin O’Leary and Mark Cuban) know nothing about the would-be entrepreneurs or their business before they arrive on-air to pitch. And Greiner gave a parting shot to the gathered critics that left them perhaps dreaming their own dreams. “I originally wanted to be a journalist,” she said, “and I wound up here.”

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