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Kevin O'Leary: 5 behind-the-scenes secrets of 'Shark Tank'

Kevin O'Leary on the set of 'Shark Tank'
Michael Ansell | ABC
Kevin O'Leary on the set of 'Shark Tank'

For one hour every week, four entrepreneurs pitch their fledgling business in front of five investors and millions of viewers on 'Shark Tank.' But producing a single 60-minute episode of the reality series takes many hours of taping, a dozen cameras, an army of crew members and even a psychiatrist. Here's a look behind the curtain at what viewers never see, courtesy of one of the show's sharks, Kevin "Mr. Wonderful" O'Leary.

1. The day starts early.

On a day that 'Shark Tank' is taping, O'Leary said, he'll wake up at 5 a.m and be on his way to the set by 6:15. Once there, the sharks get their makeup done for an hour. Taping starts promptly at 8 a.m., and then the day really gets under way. "Shooting can go as late as 7:30 or 8 o'clock at night," O'Leary said. "You're going to be sitting in a chair for a lot of hours." The show will usually try to get through eight to 12 pitches in a day.

2. There are countless moving parts.

Producing 'Shark Tank' is "a massive logistics exercise," O'Leary said. An entire season is shot in about 17 days — a little over a week in the summer, and another similar stretch in the fall. The crew needs to film on back-to-back-to-back days because contestants come in from all over the country. Producers must oversee all of the crew members, who in turn need to direct the contestants before and after their pitches, as well as position the lights and dozen-plus cameras on set.

3. One of the most important members on set is a psychiatrist.

Every entrepreneur that appears on 'Shark Tank' reacts to the pressure of the show a bit differently. That's why there's a psychiatrist on set who talks to them before and after they make their pitch. "People can get very upset when the outcome is not what they anticipated," O'Leary said.

Drew Mitchell and Mike Doyle, who appeared in an episode during the show's seventh season to pitch Rent Like a Champion, a company that finds rental homes during sporting events, told Business Insider that the psychiatrist will usually just ask contestants to reflect on the experience. "I think … they're trying to assess that you don't have any post-'Tank' trauma," co-founder Mitchell said.

4. There are no breaks during the approximately hour-long pitches.

O'Leary says that each pitch is shot without interruption. The only time contestants can leave the room is if they want to discuss with their partner whether to take a deal. Pitches can last anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours. Typically, the length increases when the contestants don't know their financial numbers and the sharks need to ask more questions about the logistics of the business, or simply because the contestants are indecisive.

O'Leary says the longest pitch he ever sat through (which was filmed for the current season) took about two and a half hours. "The guy was an idiot — he just couldn't make a decision," he said. "The sharks were interested, but getting him to do a deal was a huge problem."

5. The producers look everywhere for contestants.

O'Leary has appeared as an investor on 'Shark Tank' since the show's first season, in 2009. To date he has invested more than $8.5 million in 40 deals, according to fan site sharkalytics.com. He says the thing that's surprised him the most is how savvy the producers have become about start-ups, compared with the early days of the series. "They've almost become venture capitalists," he said. "They're so good at determining what will work on 'Shark Tank' and what won't."

To find entrepreneurs to appear on the show, producers now scour crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter, read the business sections of local newspapers, attend trade expos and set up casting calls around the country.

— By Anna Hensel, special to CNBC.com

Kevin O'Leary of "Shark Tank" and Robin Chase, co-founder of ZipCar, are appearing in person at iCONIC in Seattle on April 5, 2016. Join more of America's most influential entrepreneurs at the next iCONIC stop, in Denver, on June 15.