Mike "Rooster" McConaughey and Wayne "Butch" Gilliam sit at a table draped with an animal hide. There's a jar of peanuts off to the side and no shortage of beer or mounted animal heads. Welcome to the clubhouse of the "West Texas Investors Club," also known as "Shark Tank: The Western." What it lacks in business speak it makes up for in cowboy clichés. How much you like this investment reality show depends on how much you enjoy watching Rooster and Butch.
The clubhouse environment is meant to emphasize the show's fish-out-of-water aspect as small-business owners stumble onto what looks like the set of a roadhouse movie. Ushered in by Rooster and Butch's friend Gil Prather, who resembles Santa Claus if Father Christmas decided to become an old timey prospector, the hopeful entrepreneurs begin their presentations. Gil sits good-naturedly on a stool off to the side while Rooster and Butch look bemused and occasionally confused. But these good ol' boys are the real money deal. Rooster made his millions in the oil pipe business while Butch worked his way up from sweeping his father's machine shop to running and eventually selling the company for a profit. Nine years ago he sold a patent for one hundred million dollars. He paid $200,000 for it.
The biographies of both men stress their self-made status and lack of advanced education. Rooster never finished college. Butch dropped out of high school. The narrative here is about gut instinct and looking a man in the eye when you shake his hand. As investors, they want to assess a person's character first and their company second. This premise could come off as gimmicky but Rooster and Butch have an authenticity about them that is appealing, if you respond to the central idea that business is more about the person than the bottom line. If you want to hear about customer acquisition costs, revenue margins and projected sales, this is not that show.
While entrepreneurs may come prepared to deliver financial information to Rooster and Butch, they quickly realize that their slick pitches aren't really necessary in the clubhouse. The men ask a few questions about the product or business model but they rarely offer a detailed opinion. On "Shark Tank," the investors will give advice that lends them and the show a level of credibility. Kevin O'Leary is sarcastic and a bit of a performer but you believe him when he talks about why a business model is failing or succeeding. Rooster and Butch feel less valid as experts but this is by design. Too much emphasis on business would ruin the idea that they invest with their hearts as much as their wallets.
Certainly, part of investing in someone's business is about assessing them as a person. But for Butch and Rooster, the focus is on taking the measure of a man (or woman) as much as it is on his or her ability to drive their business. It's meant to feel old-fashioned, a return to basic values. There's an appeal to that, but I'll take Mr. Wonderful over Rooster and Butch any day.
"West Texas Investors Club" is on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EDT on CNBC.
Melissa Crawley is the author of "Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing.'" She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.