Sitting down and binging a good show is a luxury you might not be able to enjoy often as an entrepreneur. After all, the demands of running a business leave little time for unwinding in front of the television.
However, in several cases, there is a wealth of business inspiration and wisdom to be found on the small screen – if you know where to look.
The Best TV Shows for Entrepreneurs
To point you in the right direction, here are eight television shows that every business owner should see, from fictionalised satires to real-life documentaries and reality shows.
Here are our picks:
1. Silicon Valley
An absolute must-watch for entrepreneurs, HBO's Silicon Valley is the brainchild of Mike Judge, the man responsible for another business classic: Office Space. It follows the often bumpy journey of tech firm Pied Piper and its embattled co-founder, Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch), as well as taking several not-so-subtle swipes at the gold rush culture of Silicon Valley and its visionary VCs and CEOs. As Hooli CEO and show antagonist, Gavin Belson, tells his board in one exchange, "I don't want to live in a world where someone else makes the world a better place better than we do."
Part satire and part comedy, there are also lessons to be learned, too (not least of which is the need for self-awareness in a tech industry devoid of it). Whether it's throwaway nuggets of entrepreneurial advice, the tricky art of business development, or pitching to venture capitalists, Silicon Valley offers all of this – as well as a reminder that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow isn't always worth the journey that precedes it.
2. Planet of the Apps
If you're interested in the fast-paced world of tech startups but prefer to watch real entrepreneurs do their thing, then Planet of the Apps could be for you. Created by Apple and featuring celebrity guest mentors such as Jessica Alba, will.i.am, and Gwyneth Paltrow, each episode features a series of elevator pitches by fledgeling entrepreneurs, followed by in-depth guidance on how these startups can improve their products and their marketability.
While the show only lasted for a single season, it does mean that you can watch the whole thing in an evening. Keep an eye open for lessons in business management, and take guidance from the guest's hosts, all of whom have directed their own successful ventures in the recent past.
3. Dragon's Den / Shark Tank
No such list would be complete without mentioning one of the world's longest-running and most influential business TV shows – Dragon's Den (or Shark Tank, as it's known in the US and Australia, two of over 30 countries the show has been adapted in). It puts real-world entrepreneurs in front of a panel of investors and gives them the chance to pitch their idea in the hopes of obtaining funding and mentorship.
For those looking to secure investment from venture capitalists, this is an invaluable resource, as it illustrates what you should know, how you should present and, crucially, when you should make your approach. While it can be easy to dismiss the show as reality television, it's worth bearing in mind that every business and every pitch featured is real, with the money, guidance and support on offer making a massive difference once the cameras have stopped rolling.
Indeed, many well-known businesses have started life on Dragon's Den, including Ring, a home security company that was later acquired by Amazon, Coffee Meets Bagel, one of the largest dating apps in America, and Scan, whose technology is at the heart of Snapchat. For those looking for a flavour, a cursory search of YouTube for the best – and worst – pitches in the show's history should provide you with a highly useful snapshot.
Starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, this successful Showtime drama takes a close look at the high stakes world of private equity. Based loosely on the real-life legal conflict between former district attorney Preet Bharara and hedge fund manager Steve Cohen, Billions explores themes of wealth and morality, and how it can change those who come from humble beginnings.
Although most of us will never make it this big, the show nonetheless serves as a great reminder of the corruption of ethics that can accompany success. Complex and entertaining, it is also filled with some great insights on leadership, including this superb assessment of why many companies never make it past the funding stage.
On top of all that, the show maintains a healthy perspective on the importance of continued learning, the value of loyalty, and why you need to stay true to your long-term plans.
5. Billion Dollar Buyer
Featuring multibillionaire restaurant mogul Tilman Fertitta, Billion Dollar Buyer sees the Houston Rockets owner travelling around the US to visit small businesses that have developed promising new hospitality products. In each episode, Fertitta scrutinises the products on offer and the business model behind them, evaluating whether they can be produced at volume while maintaining high standards of quality.
This is an excellent resource for entrepreneurs who are managing the growth of a production-based business, with Fertitta providing numerous nuggets of advice for anyone trying to move their distribution processes to the next level.
6. The Apprentice
Like Dragon's Den, The Apprentice is a long-running institution that has been adapted in numerous countries. While it may be most famous for launching Donald Trump to the forefront of society's consciousness with his trademark catchphrase, "you're fired", during its 2004 debut, there is still plenty of substance on offer here.
While in later seasons the show has tended towards sensationalism and the 'reality TV' aspect of the format (as well as seemingly selecting candidates based on their comical ineptitude rather than genuine business know-how), a close read can still reveal many valuable lessons about how to run a team and a business.
7. Dirty Money
A Netflix original series, Dirty Money looks at some of the most interesting and egregious instances of corruption, corporate fraud and criminal mismanagement in recent history. Much like the celebrated HBO documentary The Inventor, the series looks at how greed can get in the way of good business practices, disrupt good ideas, and negatively impact the lives of consumers.
8. The Office
This hit UK mockumentary about an understated office with a larger-than-life supervisor has since become an iconic examination of the modern workplace. The show propelled creator and lead actor Ricky Gervais into superstardom and laid out, in two short seasons, exactly how not to manage a team and run an office.
The eponymous US remake then built upon this concept, before developing a whole new life and identity of its own. This version provides more insight into the long-term realities of interpersonal management and real-world business decisions, with Steve Carrell excelling as the new boss calling the shots.
With German, French, Spanish and Hindi versions of the show following a similar format, The Office is perfect if you're looking for a light-hearted collection of the do's (and mainly dont's) of leading a team.
In the meantime, don't forget to take a look at our breakdown of the best books, podcasts and TED Talks on business!
What other TV shows for entrepreneurs and business owners would you recommend? Let us know your picks in the comment section below!