DAVID BIANCULLI

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LeBron Now Taking His Talents to 'Cleveland Hustles' as the New CNBC Series' Principal Producer
August 24, 2016  | By Ed Bark
 

Having turned Cleveland into a championship city after a 52-year drought, LeBron James now goes about the business of building up downtrodden neighborhoods.

The pariah turned patriarch is the co-executive producer (along with longtime pal Maverick Carter) of CNBC’s Cleveland Hustles, an eight-episode series (premiering Wed., 8/24 at 10 p.m. ET) that hooks up budding entrepreneurs with savvy investors.

Yes, it’s basically Shark Tank without as many egos or rejections. But Cleveland Hustles also manages to distinguish itself in the opening episode as a well-meaning, solidly executed, feel-good effort underscored by James’ go-to slogan: “Nothing is given. Everything is earned.”

Other than explaining the show’s mission statement in an opening on-camera cameo, he has nothing to do with how the first face-off pans out. Chareen Fountain (right), a bubbly hair salon owner, vies with bagel makers Geoff Hardman and Dan Herbst (top) for a $100,000 investment from moneyman Alan Glazen.

The show has targeted Cleveland’s struggling Gordon Square Arts District as its ground zero for new small businesses. Can Fountain’s newly named Torch Lofts meet Glazen’s financial goals during the course of a 48-hour “pop-up” launch? Or will the Cleveland Bagel Co. end up getting his dough?

Cleveland Hustles’ other featured investors -- Jonathan Sawyer, Kathy Futey and Kumar Arora -- will dangle their money before new pairs of competitors in future one-hour episodes. The host is congenial Bonin Bough, who helps to stir up a little “drama” without being a jerk about it.

“LeBron James, the No. 1 basketball player in the world, still has a coach,” he gently admonishes the bagel guys after they initially balk at opening during breakfast hours. (Going unsaid is that James was instrumental in having the Cleveland Cavaliers change coaches in the middle of last season -- from David Blatt to Tyronn Lue.)

Above all, though, this is a benign presentation compared to the likes of Shark Tank or any of Gordon Ramsay’s cutthroat kitchen competitions, with the exception of the kid-powered Masterchef Junior. At the end of the premiere episode, investor Glazen predictably is torn between his two choices. But throughout, he never breathes fire.

In future weeks, Cleveland Hustles will chart the eventual four winning entrepreneurs’ successes or failures in opening permanent businesses in the Gordon Square neighborhood. So far, so good, with the show making a winning first impression while James mostly stays out of its spotlight.

GRADE: B

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

 
 
 
 
 
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