Is the American Inventor Show a Disappointment?

smasrt shirt One of our viewers Janice asked me if I would post this article for her. I thought it was a very interesting read and so I decided to share it with you.

****** When I think about what truly distinguished America from other countries, I think about the fact that we have been a country profoundly blessed by innovation. Due to the fortunate alchemy of a stable government, a capital structure which supports and fosters innovation through our capital markets (including out pre-eminent venture community infrastructure) and the creativity and brilliance of all the best and brightest in the world coming into our shores these past centuries, America has been the leader in innovation in the world. But you would not even get an inkling of that in watching the television reality show American Inventor.Yes, there are some good ideas in the final 12, but other than the rolling car seat, I personally feel the rest of the inventions are not truly innovative or original. They are not small revolutions in the way we think or approach our world.

I've been trying to figure out why the American Inventor show has been such a profound disappointment to me. I agree with the criticism of many commenters here at American Inventor Spot that 1) the show feels manipulative and base, that 2) Mary Lou Boo Hoo perpetuates the worst stereotypes of women as overly emotional creatures unable to make decisions without their hearts getting in the way of their heads, and 3) the show chooses to highlight the ridiculous ideas and the pathetic stories of failed inventors rather than the creativity and dedication of successful ones. However, I think that my disappointment is based on my growing conviction that the show does an extreme disservice to America. Rather than inspiring us, it insults us. Rather than showing us role models of resourcefulness, the show chooses to emphasize the pathetic. I am not in any way trying to criticize the inventors featured in the American Inventor show or their struggles and challenges. I respect all of them for having ideas and for following through with them. What I am criticizing is the show's choice to edit their show in such a way that a key thread in their storyline is that we feel sorry for or laugh AT the inventors. Do the producers of the show feel that the American viewership cannot get behind an inventor and support their invention without feeling sorry for them? I find their attitudes about the baser interests of the viewer and what makes for a popular show which seeps through every frame of the show a bit condescending. Do you?

To help make my point, I thought I would highlight another inventor related show The Modern Marvels Invent Now Challenge and a few of their Top 25 Inventions of 2006. The semi-finalist included "a doctor who found a breakthrough in bladder management that will prevent infections and save millions of dollars in antibiotics, to a firefighter who created a 360-degree fire-resistant light that will help firefighters, divers and the military save lives daily, to an engineer who found a way to turn fly ash into durable, cost effective bricks, a process that has great economic and environmental implications."

We are going to do a separate review of the Mondern Marvel competition shortly, so I will not go into too much detail here, but here are the first four of the 25 inventions listed in alphabetical order from the Modern Marvels Invent Now Challenge press release. Can you see a difference?

1. Brent W. Crutchfield, Veterinary Student, Greensboro, NC Quick-See: Quick-See uses paper coated with thermo-chromic ink set to change color allowing people to cut their pets' nails at the appropriate place. The artery and nerve within the quick of the nail causes the color to change over the area not to be cut.

2. Dr. David L. Cull, Surgeon, Greenville, SC Hemoaccess Valve System: The Hemoaccess Valve System is a device that is able to regulate blood flow in arteriovenous (AV) grafts which are used to connect patients with kidney failure to a dialysis machine.

3. Robert E. Fischer, CEO, Optics One Incorporated, Westlake Village, CA Light Pipe: A new flashlight innovation that behaves like a kaleidoscope, creating near perfect light uniformity at the output end of the pipe.

4. Dr. David E. Flinchbaugh, Doctor, Orlando, FL UroCycler Bladder Management System: This invention allows patients who must wear an indwelling urinary catheter to regain nearly normal bladder function and live healthier lives by preventing dangerous infections, painful muscle spasms and encrustation, thus saving hundreds of dollars in unnecessary antibiotics.

From listening to the dialogue of the inventors here at American Inventor Spot and seeing the inventions featured in the Invention Gallery, I think both shows started with the same quality of inventions. (In fact the American Inventor show's prize is $1 million and the Modern Marvel show's prize is $25,000, so guess which one probably piqued the interest of more inventors?) Do you feel the same level of disappointed in the American Inventor show? I was excited by the show's concept as I felt it really had the potential to focus this nation's collective energy and attention on the power of inventing and help inspire a new generation of inventors. So far, I fear this show has only served as a tear-jerker and a hollow source of amusement. Did I just have unrealistic expectations? ******

Does our viewer Janice have it right? What do you think?


Apr 19, 2006
by Anonymous (not verified)

I find this commentary

I find this commentary hillarious, both for its faux naivete about the nature of successful television, as well as the faux appearance of objectivity. Let me be clear: this posting was either written directly by Inventor judge Doug Hall or by one of the surrogates he has been using for many weeks. there is no doubt in my mind.

Apr 19, 2006
by Anonymous (not verified)

I think the next show should

I think the next show should skip a season- every 2 years instead of every year. This would give the inventors time to develop their inventions and cultivate them according to the show. The inventions having the most success in this show are single use easy to explain ones due to the two minute time limit of presentation. It also has to be large enough to be camera friendly. I think that a year ahead of time the inventors can start submitting video tapes up until the six month pre-audition stop time. This would be like AFV. You would not get your submitted video returned to you, but an invitation to the audition if chosen. This would enable the inventor to protect his or her idea properly and get better inventions. Also it will give the producers time to search Google etc. for like inventions. This year the top 12 have 4 allready on the market: Doll (K-Mart), Bagger (, Ex. Belt (, Unbrella ( I believe the Doll if I'm corrrect is the exact same. The Judges told some lady earlier that this wasn't for the P.R.; so she was rejected for the next round due to as Doug said, "why do you need us your invention is already developed for the market". She stated, for the P.R.. Thus, No.

Apr 19, 2006
by Anonymous (not verified)

I agree. I think the writer

I agree. I think the writer hasn't a clue. There is a reason why American Inventor has a MILLION dollar prize and modern marvel has $25,000. Garbage sells to the american public. Deal with it!!

Apr 19, 2006
by Anonymous (not verified)

Show us Take-A-Seat, Trailer

Show us Take-A-Seat, Trailer Tower and the other inventions America should have seen. Come on, you can still salvage some ratings and respect. Real inventions don't always need a story.

Apr 19, 2006
by Anonymous (not verified)

This is the last time I will

This is the last time I will ever watch this show. What an abomination! Why did we have to see the ricdiculous inventions that were turned down for the first half hour? They could have taken that time to let the final 24 have their
15 seconds of fame.

I also have to say that the one invention that could help everyone was rejected with only a few clips. The Solar Polar Rock and Roller. This invention could help everyone in the world. Solar energy is the way to go. This product had it all except for a crying inventor who didn't seem to have a bad life. I thought the guy was classy not to sell out and sob.

IMO the only person who had a right to get teary eyed was the car seat guy. It is not the natural order of things to lose a child before yourself. The rest of the crying babies were all crying about THEIR BAD CHOICES. Unemployed, Foreclosed upon, and broke. I may be heartless but what the hell does that have to do with the next great american product?

Every one of those final 12 were a hard luck crying mess. Is this what America has come to? Where the losers ,YES, losers are held in high esteem for contributing just a little bit. Mediocrity is the bane of our society.

The bike is dangerous and not good for children. It is also outlawed in over 35 states to ride with someone on the handle bars! But he is an inventor.

The Niya doll is not even unique or new. Dora the Explorer, Chatty Kathy! She signed an exclusive deal with K-mart in 2000 for this doll. Not for PR huh?

The pad is usefull for some but I don't even see the major need for it.

The pool noodle guy, oh come on!! I have never played football and the majority of people in the United States have never played competitive football. Where is the market but that man "Didn't Care" about his house or his 6 kids or forclosure or losing his job…PLEASE!

The bathroom door hook!! China is so laughing at us right now. The next big thing is the bathroom door lock?

The easy Ex thing is downright unrightable. I am not going to take my weights on vacations with me are you going to payan extra price for this to be flown to Hawaii? But he cried 24/7 and gave a true salute!! Make me gag!

The umbrella is available right now at Sharper Image.

The toner belt I just don't what to say about that one! You still have to get your butt up and do it!

it is the best that American Inventor has to offer a bunch of crying hard luck cases who have mediocre ideas at best.

Apr 19, 2006
by Anonymous (not verified)

written by doug hall

what are you talking about? why would doug or anyone affiliated with doug write an article about how disappointing this show is?

Apr 19, 2006
by Wade (not verified)

American Inventor, NOT American Invention

Well, what did you expect! The show is more about the inventor than it is about the invention (hence the name). So, they are choosing based on the inventor's story first (hardships, struggles, losses, etc...) then their invention comes second. You want something objective, just watch the Discovery Channel or go read a book. This is SHOWBIZ, folks!

It's too bad I don't have a sob story. But I'm also glad to not to have suffered personal loss as some finalists have done. And I hope the spinning baby car seat guy wins the contest and names his invention after his daughter. This guy is what the show is looking for, he has both the story and the invention, let's vote for him!

Apr 21, 2006
by LBS (not verified)

Seems like two complaints

It seems like there are two issues here. One is the nature of the inventions, and the other is the character of the show.

As for the first, I'm perfectly OK with that. Modified catheters and technical products by experts are all very good and advance the world. But I would fear those things discourage more than encourage new inventors. Things like a laser level system or hinged wire food tongs are clever and desireable but not beyind the capability of any of us to conceve.

As for the second, I sincerely hope this show formula isn't what America requires. Focus groups have to be random, not prospective customers? We only get 10 seconds of judge advice, but hours of sob stories? If the actual invention is of minimal importance to the process, then point 1 doesn't matter at all. All ABC will do is create more Bulletballs - people with terrible stories damaging their lives by pursuing flawed products with no vetting process to find and cure those flaws.

And that is very shameful.

Apr 25, 2006
by Anonymous (not verified)

Riding American Idol coat tails

It is obvious that the two polarizing aspects that has made American Idol so popular are what American Inventor is hoping will help their ratings - either sob story emotional response (Paula Abdul) or cruel and crass comments (Simon Cowell). I too was appalled at the treatment of the people who came to present their ideas that were shot down in the early rounds. At least show some respect for these individuals who have traveled far and waited several hours, no doubt, to get a chance to present their ideas.

Apr 29, 2006
by Anonymous (not verified)

Modern Marvels vs. American Inventor

I am one of the semi-finalists for the Modern Marvels Invent Now Challenge that the writer discusses. I watched one of the American Inventor shows and I must say, I found it outragious. It is a show that does not want a wonderful invention, but rather good ratings. Offer $1,000,000 and have a nationwide search for people with a big heart and a touching story, who also have invented something, and America watches. Some people can relate to the inventors and their hardships while others feel pity for them. I am proud to be a part of the Modern Marvels Challenge for a $25,000 top prize. If the invention is truely a great one, it will sell itself. The inventor does not need to compete for a million dollars. The History Channel offers this prize to help the inventors move on to the next steps in the process of making our ideas come to life. I have already spent a considerable amount of time and money on my invention. Winning the top prize is not as important as the help and the information we are being provided with.

I do wish that American Inventor was more like the Modern Marvels challenge. I am disappointed with the final 12 as far as the inventions go. If over 4,200 inventions were submitted for the Modern Marvels challege, imagine how many were entered into the million dollar show. I just hope the people who may have been turned away because they only had a good invention and not a good story do not lose hope for their ideas. You don't need a million dollar prize to be a successful and innovative inventor.

Apr 30, 2006
by Anonymous (not verified)


Yes, the show is a disappointment.