With the spectacular success of “The Biggest Loser” firmly under her belt, Jillian Michaels recently advanced into her next revolutionary fitness venture with Spike’s “Sweat Inc.”
It was only a matter of time before the exercise world attempted an advance on the popular competition format show, and the presence of this show on a major network follows a significant trend in mainstream fitness.
The show’s opening sequence succinctly states its objective, the pursuit of “America’s Next Fitness Phenomenon.”
Diverting from the current mode of popular fitness television focusing on weight loss and before-and-after transformations of overweight participants, “Sweat Inc.” centers on creators of innovative and effective exercise classes competing for both media exposure and monetary prizes.
Michaels hits a possible gold mine with this mission, riding off the popularity of workout studios that bring cycling, kickboxing, or other fun athletic activities to thousands of clients through punchy brand marketing and enviable social media strategy.
Understanding that this show strikes an apparent parallel to the ever-addictive “American Idol” and the various television shows inspired by it, viewers must consider that talent matters only to an extent.
The difference between Michaels’ show and other televised talent contests presents itself clearly in the audience’s role.
For example, the talent of the winning ‘American Idol’ often amounts that exhibited by the top three finalists in the show.
All contestants possess talent, but their performances advance them through each round. Popular vote allows contestants the chance to continue, and therefore the audience remains engaged throughout the entire process.
This method increases popularity of the overall program, while allowing for a diverse spread of judges.
Similarly, all contestants in “Sweat Inc.” bring effective and original ideas to the table, but there is no audience participation.
Only the ideas that offer the most opportunity for widespread appeal and profits appear to possess a leg-up over their competitors, because a minuscule group of shrewd fitness businesspeople call all the shots.
In this variety of competition show, potential wins out over talent. To put that another way, the potential value of a marketable product matters more than the supposed criteria the winner will represent.
With this in mind, a connection to ABC’s Shark Tank materializes, and opinions regarding the show diverge.
In a review of the first episode, blogger and clinical weight-loss specialist Liza (of “The Skinny Breezy”) observes that the show’s premise is “both unique and oddly familiar,” explaining just how the show utilizes familiar concepts: invention, contest, and competition.
While she loves Shark Tank, she wasn’t “totally sure that I needed (or wanted) a health-and-wellness slanted iteration of that programming,” and questioned the need for this reimagining of the classic contest show.
Meanwhile, less enthusiastic Amazon reviewers describe the show as “awful,” and “a complete waste of [viewers’] time.”
These critiques signal a troubling flaw in the show, as competition-format shows tend to rely on boosted viewership in order to drive publicity and gain notoriety for contestants.
If the average viewer dislikes the show after one episode, viewership declines rapidly. This defeats the purpose of the show, given that the winning product or class will not sell well in the mainstream market if the show does not attracts viewers.
Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, some fans applaud the show’s spotlight on the business aspect of the exercise industry.
“It is clear that the judges are looking for a top-notch business-savvy entrepreneur and an innovator with a product/workout ready for the big show,” says Maria of the health and fitness blog Fit Magnolia.
“At the end of the day, ‘profit’ is the name of the game if you want to expand your brand,” Maria clarifies.
Fitness is, as the show’s introductory narration indicates, a thirty-billion dollar industry. Enthusiasm and education alone do not provide funding or result in financial gain, so the entrepreneurs flocking to the industry drive its continuing success.
Michaels and her team of judges need more than innovative ideas. Ultimately, they are looking for the next SoulCycle, a fitness trend that inspires a cult following of people who are willing to pay for a premium experience.
In order to create this movement, the contestants of “Sweat Inc.” must build a brand in order to focus on attracting their desired clients and even those outside of their initial target.
“I think we are in for a fantastic show that is sure to educate and entertain its audience,” Maria concludes, stating that she plans on watching the show in its entirety, despite outcry over its concentration on profit rather than searching for purely effective classes or products.
For example, Michaels compromised much of her credibility in the first episode alone when she booted off a rocket scientist’s innovative strength-training machine in favor of a trampoline exercise class. While she praised the rocket scientist’s originality, she still favored a less-effective activity for the sole purpose of its selling appeal.
Based on its premise alone, this show was ill-marketed toward fitness enthusiasts, focusing instead on viewers who recognize Michaels as a formidable figure in the industry and enjoy competition-based programming.
Regardless of the show’s true intent, fitness entrepreneurs who participate do benefit by earning exposure for their innovations. Each competitor snags a valuable opportunity to broadcast his or her own brand, and then to expand upon it with the help of expert judges.
Needless to say, however, Sweat Inc. did not garner the popularity and ratings Spike expected, and ultimately, the network chose to push the finale into the never-coveted 3 a.m. time slot. Better luck next time!
Feature photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.