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Prime Timers

Entrepreneurs on TV

Vegging out in front of the tube usually isn't a high priority for entrepreneurs, but in case you've gotten the chance to tune in lately, you may have noticed the wave of entrepreneurs taking over the WB and Fox. The good news? Television producers have caught up with the rest of the world and abandoned Xers as slack-infested losers in favor of entrepreneurial characters. The bad news? TV's entrepreneurs are offing their competition and getting their loans rejected because of demonic interference. Well, at least these shows are getting it half right.

From Donna and Kelly, co-founders of a hipster clothing boutique on Beverly Hills 90210, to Jake, a bar owner, on the late, great Melrose Place, TV entrepreneurs reside in a land of chic restaurants, hip night-clubs and over-priced high fashion boutiques--places where they seldom even lift a finger. Perhaps you'll be more realistically portrayed after the networks catch up with the dot.com age--Po Bronson, author of TheNudist on the Late Shift, and e.r. and L.A. Law vet Paul Manning are currently penning a new drama about a San Francisco Internet start-up--but we're betting there will still be an excessive office romances and intrigues. In the meantime, check out some current offerings and see how they measure up.

Show: Felicity (WB)

Entrepreneur: Sean Blumberg

Company: None, just a different start-up idea every episode

The Story: Little more than comic relief, Sean's business ideas and inventions are seldom thought out, and when they do work, it's usually because of input from his friends. He struck out selling overpriced fruit to finals-cramming students until his comely friend Julie started hawking apples and bananas for him. His freshman survival packs (condoms, No-Doz, pepper spray, maps, aspirin, energy bars) went nowhere until he lowered the price from $15 to $5 at Julie's suggestion--but did he break even?

Reality Factor: Yes, there are some nutty professors out there--people who toy with lots of ideas but never follow through. But a 20-something guy who hangs out with college sophomores and creates condiments named Smoothaise and Zestrica? Is this who you want representing you?

Show: Party of Five (Fox)

Entrepreneur: Bailey Salinger

Company: Salingers', an upscale restaurant in the San Francisco area

The Story: After the Salingers' parents were killed by a drunk driver, the four young-est siblings were left in the care of the eldest brother, Charlie. The restaurant was left in the care of the parents' partner. Charlie joined the partner for awhile, but he's easily bored in the employment department. So at the ripe old age of 20, Bailey took over the Salinger clan's eatery.

Reality Factor: Not bad. Bailey is struggling to keep his social life intact, and he requires constant reminders from his friends and family to be spontaneous and act his age so his youth won't be sucked dry by heavy responsibility and long hours on the job. Sound familiar?

Show: Charmed (WB)

Entrepreneurs: Prue, Piper and Phoebe Halliwell

Company: P3, a nightclub in San Francisco

The Story: Piper quit her job as a midlevel manager at a chic S.F. eatery with dreams of opening a nightclub. But while on a date with her loan officer, the two were attacked by demons and Piper's loan application was rejected. Her sisters came to the rescue with a fast $60,000 by mortgaging the Victorian home inherited from their grandmother.

Reality Factor: Hmm, demons attacking a loan officer/beau--I won't go there. And how about $60,000 being enough to start a swanky nightclub in San Francisco? This is including Bay Area rent, renovations, employee salaries, marketing and stocking the bar. Not likely.

Show: Dawson's Creek (WB)

Entrepreneurs: Joey and Bessie Potter

Company: At press time, they were planning on starting a bed-and-breakfast.

The Story: The two sisters kept the family diner alive after their mother passed away and their father went to prison. When Dad was paroled last season, he fell back into a life of crime and his underworld competition firebombed the restaurant. With Dad back in prison, the girls are using the fire insurance money to turn their creek-front home into a bed-and-breakfast, with the police auxiliary volunteering their renovation skills.

Reality Factor: Wow, people on TV sure do inherit a lot. Not that they didn't struggle, mind you. Bessie is a single mom and Joey misses out on a lot of high school hijinks to help her sister keep things going. But with the sisters' experience, the view of the creek, and father Potter out of the picture, the bed-and-breakfast might be a viable go.

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This article was originally published in the March 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Prime Timers.

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