The best business reality TV shows and why we love them

There’s nothing quite like watching a bunch of business people fail miserably on television to make us feel better about our own working lives. Business-focused reality TV has become increasingly popular over the last few years and shows such as The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den are now established staples on the television calendar. The genre seems to have tapped into the ‘nation of shopkeepers’ mentality that seems to be embedded somewhere in all British people’s DNA, and a new generation of entrepreneurs has grown up in response.

Business shows like Dragons Den and The Apprentice were developed largely off the back of the successful property shows of the early noughties. Budget television like Changing Rooms kicked the genre off but it soon spawned more respectable series like ‘Property Ladder’ and ‘Location Location Location’. It was only a matter of time before business start-ups got the same attention from television executives.

So why does our fascination for business reality TV remain so strong? Aside from the ‘back seat driver’ style clarity that viewers get when watching wannabe entrpreneurs get it so horribly wrong, these shows promote the idea that becoming a business owner isn’t actually that far fetched. The tantalising lure of escaping the rat race and becoming one’s own boss feels well within reach, for the duration of the programme at least. Just like ‘A place in the Sun’ or ‘Property Ladder’, these shows allow us to dream about taking risks from the safety of our sofas.

Here are five of the best business TV shows from the last few years:

The Apprentice

This is one of the few reality shows that we actually copied from the Americans rather than the other way around. Now in its fifth series, the show’s goal is to find an ‘Apprentice’ to work for Sir Alan Sugar in his ‘business empire’ for a six-figure salary. The candidates have to carry out business tasks with the hope of winning for their team and avoiding The Boardroom and the possibility of getting fired.

The Apprentice is a great show because it has a unique mix of candidates with eccentric personalities, incompetence and huge egos. Their actual business acumen is questionable. As such, this is the ultimate feel-good show - much like Eastenders makes you feel better about your life, The Apprentice makes you feel better about your business ability.

Dragons’ Den

Another behemoth of the business TV family, Dragons’ Den offers inventors and entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their business ideas and products to five ‘Dragons’ in the hope of securing financial investment.

This show is classic for showing up terrible presentation skills and a complete lack of preparation in the areas of business that count the most - like finances and health and safety. Quite often there is a serious lack of good ideas too, but this is a part of the charm of the show. Dragons’ Den in fact delivers some serious business lessons in amongst its X Factor auditions style format, such as the importance of patenting a product and the benefits of a good business plan. It is therefore both entertaining and educational, factors which have no doubt helped it survive to series six in the UK.

Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares

Apart from being yet another vehicle for Gordon Ramsay to yell and curse at people on TV, Kitchen Nightmares is a show that aims to help failing restaurant owners around the UK give their businesses one last shot at success.

Using his extensive experience of running successful restaurants, Gordon advises the owners of these restaurants on important aspects of the business such as running an efficient kitchen, creating a menu, stock control, health and safety and marketing. Although the show leans heavily on Gordon’s celebrity status to make things happen for these businesses, there are some business lessons to be learned along the way. But if not we can always rely on Gordon’s special bedside manner to make things interesting.

Risking it All

Risking it All ran for a couple of seasons on Channel 4 in 2005 and 2006. In a similar style to ‘Property Ladder’, the show was presented by a successful entrepreneur - Martin Webb - who followed start-up businesses as they got off the ground, lending a hand and offering advice at key stages of the process.

This was a good show because it showed the reality of making a new business work, and it also covered a variety of different start-ups from hotels to children’s indoor play areas. The show was entertaining largely because very few of the new business owners followed poor Martin’s advice (much like his Property Ladder equivalent Sarah Beeny), and as a result not all the business start-ups were successful.

Risking it All can be watched on 4OD

The Hotel Inspector

No, not an episode of Fawlty Towers - well not quite anyway. Alex Polizzi is the Gordon Ramsay of hotels and she helps to salvage some of the worst hotels in Britain in this entertaining series.

Just as Kitchen Nightmares makes you think more carefully about where you eat, The Hotel Inspector certainly makes you think twice about sleeping anywhere other than your own bed. Alex is the grand-daughter of Lord Forte and as such has a wealth of experience behind her as she helps failing hoteliers save their businesses from bankruptcy. Click here to watch

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