February 24, 2020

‘Shark Tank’s’ Ken Fuchs on the Excitement of Content Creation

Photo courtesy of Impact24 PR and Ken Fuchs

For the past nine years, Ken Fuchs has directed every episode of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” winning Emmy Awards for the 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons. He has directed 17 seasons of “Family Feud” as well as its “Celebrity Family Feud” spinoff; Fox’s dating show “Love Connection,” and ABC’s “The Bachelor,” which returns in January for its 23rd season. 

“They overlap a little but I’ve been really lucky, mostly it works out,” the in-demand Fuchs told the Journal. We pinned him down long enough to get the inside story on his life in reality TV.

Jewish Journal: You’re beginning your 10th season on “Shark Tank.” What’s more challenging: dealing with nervous entrepreneurs or the Sharks’ egos?

Ken Fuchs: The Sharks are really lovely people who love giving back and mentoring people. They have egos for sure, but to watch them interact with each other is inspiring. They’re tough on each other and sometimes a little mean but they really do get along off camera. They all share that self-made success story. They came from nothing and worked their tails off to get where they are. 

We prepare the contestants but sometimes the pitch doesn’t go the way they want and they can break down in tears. We’ve seen every kind of emotion out of them and that can be challenging but the best drama is totally unplanned for. You want that spontaneity. Every entrepreneur that comes through the door bares his soul and lays his dreams on the line. I’m moved every day seeing people bootstrap their companies, people who believe in themselves enough to risk everything, and to see it come to fruition is really rewarding.

JJ: Do you have a favorite Shark story?

KF: I remember being at a wrap party where there was a DJ and karaoke. Mark [Cuban] started belting out “If I Were a Rich Man.” It was a little ironic and a lot of fun.

JJ: Some successful products had a Jewish connection. 

KF: Every year we do a holiday show and we always include something for Hanukkah. The standout was Mensch on a Bench. Very successful, over a million dollars, I believe. It was a fun, cute gift idea that struck people’s imagination. We’ve had a few entrepreneurial rabbis come on, like Rabbi Moshe Weiss with the SoundBender, a device that amplified music on your iPad. There was the Hanukkah Tree Topper (a Star of David for a Christmas tree, for interfaith families). The [inventor] now works for Daymond John. He’s on the set every time we shoot with Daymond. 

JJ: What was your Jewish upbringing like?

KF: I grew up as a Reconstructionist Jew in Roslyn, Long Island. My synagogue was one of the first Reconstructionist synagogues. My sister is a rabbi. She teaches in Philadelphia at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. My father is 94 and every moment is a talmudic teaching. I feel a very strong connection to Judaism. I’m a long-standing member of Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills and very involved in raising my sons through the synagogue — the bar mitzvahs, synagogue softball and whatnot. More recently less so, but I’m looking to get back into it now that my career has provided me a little more time to be more involved in the temple and take part in activities and volunteer work.

JJ: Were you always interested in becoming a director?

KF: I always liked television and film, and the freelance lifestyle suited my energy. I fell into directing by accident but I love my job and my crew. I grew up playing sports, and managing a crew is a bit like being on a team. I love the collaborative aspects of it. My favorite kind of stuff to do is live TV and live-to-tape, with a studio audience, like what you see with “Family Feud.” “Shark Tank” is a reality show on a stage: a hybrid. “The Bachelor” is on the other end of the spectrum. We shoot a lot of footage and put the best together.

JJ: So how real is that type of reality show? Is it all manipulated for drama?

KF: That implies we’re creating something that isn’t there and that we never do. People always accuse us of that but the truth is we wouldn’t be on the air this long and people wouldn’t still be watching if it didn’t feel authentic. The reality shows that don’t do well — the ripoffs — feel manipulated. I think viewers are savvy enough to know the difference. Yes, it’s put together in editing and we decide what to use and not to use, but we don’t create false situations. These people say and do crazy things — we’re just there to capture it. 

JJ: Is there another show that you’d love to direct?

KF: “Saturday Night Live.” My dream show. I’d go back to New York for that in a second, though I don’t know how long I’d stay. I travel for work. I just did “Deal or No Deal” at Universal Studios Orlando. A lot of great shows are done in New York and I’d go back for the right opportunity. I also love “The Voice” [and] “World of Dance.” I love game shows, talk shows, music, comedy. With Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and Facebook, there’s a lot of new stuff on the horizon and they all need directors. The business model has changed but it’s an exciting time to be in the content creation business.

The new season of  “Shark Tank” premieres at 10 p.m. on Oct. 5 on ABC.

Steven Mirkin is a freelance writer and a copy editor at the Jewish Journal.