reality tv

CNBC Actually Has a Great Show, The Profit, and You Should Watch It

THE PROFIT -- Pictured: Marcus Lemonis -- (Photo by: Heidi Gutman/CNBC)
THE PROFIT – Pictured: Marcus Lemonis – (Photo by: Heidi Gutman/CNBC) Photo: Heidi Gutman/CNBC/2014 NBCUniversal Media, LLC.

I fell hard for Tabatha’s Salon Takeover a few years ago, in which an efficient blonde lady visits filthy, debt-plagued salons and admonishes their owners for being such trash humans. I enjoyed Tabatha Takes Over, which expanded the admonishment beyond salon owners. I prefer the British version of Kitchen Nightmares, but the American one works, too, especially when the American chefs look infuriated, rather than chastised, as Gordon Ramsey aggressively berates them and calls their food dog shit. I like hearing the insane amounts of debt people are in because it makes me feel better about my finances, and I like seeing how dirty people’s workplaces are because it makes me feel better about my housekeeping. Plus, I learn a little something about how to stir risotto. But those shows always make me a little sad, too, because the hosts are so mean, and the businesses so derelict — are people even trying? Enter The Profit, where the host is nice (well, nicer), the businesses less decrepit, and the take-home lessons more concrete. I’m in heaven.

The Profit, which airs on CNBC, of all sad places, stars investor Marcus Lemonis, as he travels around offering to buy up pieces of struggling businesses — if the owners agree to do things his way. Spoiler: After hemming and hawing, they mostly agree. Lemonis puts up his own money — dude’s a billionaire, so … he can — and then becomes a part owner of the company, sometimes buying 25 percent, sometimes 50, sometimes somewhere in between. I won’t say that The Profit is realer than its brethren, but Lemonis does seem more, er, invested. He repeats, often a few times per episode, that he believes in “people, process, and product,” and then, throughout the course of the episode, we see him put it into practice: If he thinks the people from the company are crummy, he sometimes straight-up fires them, but he also sometimes brings in a team psychologist to help people work through some issues. If the processes is broken, he buys new warehouses or machinery and inventory systems. And if a product is bad, he insists on revamping the recipe or upgrading the fabric or whatever. So simple, so straightforward.

Many, many of the businesses he invests in are run by “personalities,” but Lemonis is weirdly calm during most of the proceedings. He tells the head of sales of an ecofriendly cleaning-products company that she’s terrible at sales; she shouts back that she’s great at it, and he just stands there, steadily repeating, “No, you’re not.” (He’s right. She is extremely bad at sales, or at least extremely bad at sales on TV.) He stares blankly while people explain the weird love-triangles that have ruined their businesses partnerships, and then tells them he doesn’t actually want to know their personal drama, he just needs to know if they can work together. (I want to know their personal dramas. People are so weird, all the time!) He has no problem telling people they’ve invested poorly thus far, but he’s not scolding or punitive. He’s sort of chill and patient and lets the weirdos tire themselves out, until they return to their senses and agree to his terms. People get into it, for sure, but there’s less of the pervasive nastiness and acrimony than you’d expect.

It’s not that he’s unemotional, though. He gets choked up when a clothing-franchise owner talks about watching his father die, and wanting to make sure this business survives so he can take care of his mother and sister. He writes a check to a pregnant employee at a pie company whose skills he admires because he wants to make sure she stays with the company, and the woman is so moved, she immediately starts weeping and hugging him. (I cried.) He gets giddy watching fancy machinery spit out newly designed bottles of shampoo, though he’s a very awkward high-fiver. He stands up for lower-level employees, particularly when he thinks they’re being undervalued. He also, almost gleefully, explained to an evil small-time investor in a candy company that he’d pour as much money as necessary into the company until the villain’s shares were such an insignificant percentage, he’d be better off walking away. Again, Lemonis is a billionaire, and this other guy was some chump from central Pennsylvania who had put up two grand to get a candy company started. Suck it, Pennsylvania guy! You should have been a more loyal and hardworking member of the team.

Maybe it’s because the show is only in its second season, and no one’s tired quite yet, but the biggest draw is that Lemonis seems to enjoy the work. He’s a business-y dude who genuinely likes business, whether it’s trailer equipment or fitness centers or green-tea ice cream. There’s something joyful about watching a demonstration of legitimate skill, and removing the typical degradation and humiliation that’s usually a big part of these kinds of shows makes it almost peaceful. In general, discussions of profit margins and phrases like “it’s not personal, it’s just business” make me want to die a thousand deaths until I am reborn on a commune that values love, support, and mutual regard over all else, particularly the corrupting influence of commerce, and yet I am drawn to this show. I wish there was more follow-up with the rescued businesses, and I wish the series delved a little more into Lemonis’s personal experiences. But overall, The Profit’s squarely in the black.

CNBC Actually Has a Great Show, The Profit