For 11 seasons, Mark Cuban, Lori Grenier, Kevin O'Leary and the cast of "Shark Tank" have struck deals from a cozy studio outside of Los Angeles. However, for the upcoming season, due to COVID-19 restrictions in their normal hunting ground, the money-hungry sharks are swimming in new waters.
On Oct. 16, the popular ABC show returns to the air with 14 new episodes for its 12th season, all of which were filmed over the summer from The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas.
In an interview with Wonderwall.com, Venetian President and COO George Markantonis spoke about creating one million square feet of space to accommodate the Shark Tank bubble amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and how the hotel, which was open to the public during filming, managed to safely isolate the 250 people involved in creating the show.
"Our main objective from the beginning was to ensure the wellness and safety of all involved," George said. "Thanks to our 'Venetian Clean' protocols that have been in place since the resort reopened in June, and which comprise more than 800 health safety initiatives we have implemented, we were able to achieve our goal."
In all, about one-third of the hotel's Palazzo tower was sealed off for production. To prevent cast and crew from coming into contact with anyone outside the bubble, the hotel had elevator banks dedicated to the show, and it even created a lengthy walkway — walled off from the rest of the hotel guests — that went to-and-from the actual "Shark Tank" filming location.
In order to make sure the bubble wasn't compromised, cast, crew and aspiring entrepreneurs were tested before traveling to Las Vegas and upon arrival in the city. Then, they were forced to quarantine until a negative COVID result came back. In addition, a COVID safety officer and medical advisor were onsite throughout the two-month duration of filming, and all production members and hotel employees were tested weekly to ensure a safe filming location. Even the chefs who prepared meals for the show's production were tested weekly.
"Thanks to reliable testing with a quick turnaround, one of the greatest challenges posed was made manageable," George said.
At no point during the August-September shoot did the "Sharks" or anyone involved with the production cross paths with other hotels guests or anyone outside of the bubble.
"Everyone was isolated from each other at the hotel when not in production. On set, everyone wore PPE, except while on camera, and strict social distancing was maintained at all times," George said, noting the Sharks' boardroom chairs were spaced far apart.
In Instagram videos posted by the cast, the new set look was mentioned.
"We're back for Shark Tank," Mark said in an Aug. 5 Instagram message from within the bubble. "A little social distancing, a little different, but it's going to be good. Deals have been crazy. Crazy time, but we gotta set an example. We're back."
In several Instagram videos, Lori spoke about the precautions being taken while holding up a face shield, which she said the cast wears everywhere they go.
"We are one of the first shows to get out and shoot during these times, and The Venetian has been amazing," she said in a separate Instagram video posted to her Story on Oct. 15. "They created a bubble where we are all within one environment safety together. Of course we're being tested, and [there are] a lot of restrictions."
Living in a bubble for more than two months was likely more difficult than actually creating it. Vegas hotels are known for being extremely versatile due to their size and their ample convention space. The Venetian campus, for instance, encompasses 18 million square feet. "So it was easy for us to allocate the 1 million square feet needed to create this bubble," George said.
"Shark Tank" is not the only TV show to resume production in a bubble environment. Earlier this week, "Jersey Shore: Family Vacation" announced it was filming in a sequestered environment; and just down the road from The Venetian, CBS filmed "Love Island" at the Cromwell in Vegas. Multiple sports leagues have had success in isolated environments. The way George sees it, bubble filming might be the new norm for the time being.
"If there's anything we've learned this year, it's the importance of shifting our mindset and the way of doing things so that we can meet the demands of our external circumstances," he said. "In addition to this production, we've seen bubbles work well for the NBA, NHL and elsewhere. Las Vegas in particular is well positioned to accommodate productions like this given our wealth of space and amenities. Because this went so smoothly, we're confident that we're well prepared to welcome future productions as well as groups of varied sizes in the near future for meetings and conventions."