You know the global economy is in trouble when even Girls Gone Wild goes bust.
It’s a sign of the times, and Victoria producer Karen Davies says not even her partners in The Hard Way could likely rescue the amateur softcore porn franchise. Not that they’d want to.
“We don’t have those kinds of businesses,” laughs Davies, whose timely new reality show hits closer to home. The Hard Way, which her Cedarwood Productions is producing with Telus and CHEK Media Group, follows 12 struggling entrepreneurs as they try to turn their floundering businesses around after being mentored by marketing, financial, business and high-tech experts.
Executive producer Chris Gillen, founder of Dial-a-Geek, was joined by fellow mentors at a curved white table in the studio last week. They include Tracy McAllister of McAllister Marketing; financial expert Sybil Verch, vice-president at Raymond James Ltd.; and Michael McCarthy, vice-president of small and medium business for Telus.
Davies admits she was surprised when 50 local businesses responded to a call for participants.
One — now-defunct Tall Tales Books — had to withdraw by the end of November, she lamented.
“They said, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to make it. We’ll be gone by Christmas.’ It’s emotional stuff.”
Gillen said his vision for the show was inspired by his own experience with Dial-a-Geek in 2008.
“I can relate to the candidates,” the business strategist said.
“I hope my own success can show how you can come out of a moment of crisis. We were dealing with a really down economy and my business was on death’s doorstep. What saved my ass was mentorship.”
Off-camera, the mentors conversed, checked their smartphones and tapped iPads to monitor business owners’ websites and social media habits.
“I’m doing double-duty,” said McAllister, who took three days off for the shoot. “My business doesn’t stop because I’m here. We’re here to teach them to do things that, although it’s the hard way, it’s the right way.”
Verch said doing The Hard Way has been an amazing experience, with great opportunities ahead and challenges to overcome.
“In my profession as a wealth manager, I get paid to tell people what they need to hear, which isn’t necessarily what they want to hear,” she said. “Sometimes they align, but not always.”
Added McCarthy: “Small and medium businesses are the backbone of the B.C. economy. It takes a lot of guts just being in small business, and the fact they’re putting themselves out there we admire.”
Although the show doesn’t air until fall, the Dragons’ Den comparisons have started.
“Dragons’ what?” deadpanned McCarthy.
“A lot of those other shows are quick fixes and into humiliating guests,” says Davies. “Ours is business-positive.”
She doesn’t deny it’s reality TV, however. Her local crew has witnessed its share of shock, tears and laughter.
So has host Dana Hutchings, who interviews mostly nervous subjects after their encounters with the mentors.
“I had one woman come in, shoulders down, but by the end she had grown five inches because she found her confidence again,” Hutchings said. “They come back to me. I get to pick up the pieces.”
Despite the emotion and daunting challenges, at the end of the day it’s about making a difference, Davies said.
“Each one of us loves helping people help themselves,” added Verch.
“We can’t do it for them. We can point them in the right direction. We can give them ideas, but they ultimately have to do the work.”
© Copyright 2013