An ex-NFL player thought he realized a dream with ‘Shark Tank.’ It ended up a nightmare, family says

A man stands on a lawn with palm trees behind him
Al “Bubba” Baker, a former NFL player, went on “Shark Tank” to pitch his boneless ribs in 2013.
(Zack Wittman / For The Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, May 19. I’m Vanessa Franko, an assistant editor on the audience engagement team who has a lot of thoughts about the current season of “Top Chef.”

Speaking of reality TV, did you know that versions of “Shark Tank” air in 30 countries?

If you haven’t seen the show, here’s how it works in the U.S.: Entrepreneurs bring their big ideas to the “sharks” — a rotating cast of venture capitalists who include Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, FUBU fashion mogul Daymond John and the occasional high-profile guest like actor and Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow — and pitch for funding.

A shark may decide to offer a deal or the panel may pass.

Some of the products and ideas pitched go on to become mainstream successes, like bowel movement aid the Squatty Potty.


“In some ways when you see ‘As seen on Shark Tank’ it’s like the new Good Housekeeping seal of approval,” said Stacy Perman, a staff writer on The Times’ Company Town team covering the business of entertainment.

But making a deal with the Sharks isn’t as lucrative as it might seem.

Ex-NFL player Al Baker and his Bubba’s Q Boneless Baby Back Ribs were promoted as one of the biggest “Shark Tank” success stories. However, Baker and his family say they received barely 4% of the business’ publicized $16-million revenue.

Baker owned a successful barbecue restaurant in Ohio but wanted to launch his boneless ribs business nationwide and expand a branded line of sauces and rubs. His daughter found inspiration in “Shark Tank,” her favorite show, and in September 2013, they came to Los Angeles to film an episode and John offered them a deal.

“We got a star on a TV show to talk about us,” Baker told Perman. “I mean, you don’t come that far and go out to L.A. and be half in. And I was sold.”

But weeks later, the terms of the deal were revised.

“A lot of those deals change or fall apart after airing and nobody really knows about that,” Perman said.

There’s much more to it than that.

Perman wrote about the story of Baker and his family, which reads as a cautionary tale for those seeking the American dream of fame and fortune via reality TV, in an exclusive for Times subscribers.


And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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L.A. is getting a bigger police presence. Mayor Karen Bass’ plan for expanding the Los Angeles Police Department was approved as part of a budget passed by the City Council on Thursday. The plan calls for hiring roughly 1,000 police officers over the next fiscal year. Los Angeles Times

It’s time for Dodger drama. The Dodgers have rescinded the Community Hero Award that was to be given to Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence during the team’s 10th Pride Night on June 16 because of complaints from conservative Catholic groups. Los Angeles Times


Details emerge on senator’s health. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) continues to vote in Washington, but she appears frailer than before her absence. While suffering from shingles, she reportedly also had a case of encephalitis, a complication that can cause memory loss and other effects. Los Angeles Times

Transit in trouble. Bay Area transit agencies are among those asking for a $5-billion bailout from the state. If funding isn’t included in the state budget, officials warn that drastic service cuts could begin on BART and the Muni in San Francisco as early as this summer. San Francisco Chronicle



An investigation gone wrong. In 2017, police responded to a Downey stereo shop where two men had been shot and killed. Jorge Valencia said three men came to the store to rob him. A detective believed him, but Valencia’s story would soon unravel. Los Angeles Times

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They won’t have alligators for neighbors. The Walt Disney Co. had planned to relocate 2,000 jobs, including many from California, to a new Florida campus at Lake Nona. On Thursday the company, which has been battling Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, canceled that move, citing “new leadership and changing business conditions.” Los Angeles Times

Business tycoon Sam Zell dies. Zell was the brash bearded mogul who bought media conglomerate Tribune Co., which owned radio stations and major newspapers, including The Times and the Chicago Tribune, in 2007 before the company went bankrupt less than a year later. He was 81. Los Angeles Times


Not exactly a rousing round of applause. The pandemic was hard on the performing arts, but a new study shows that California’s arts sector lost a decade’s worth of jobs in a two-year period. If the downward trend doesn’t change, the state could lose more than $4 billion in tax revenue. Los Angeles Times

The writers’ strike impacts completed work. Shea Serrano, a first-time showrunner and creator of the upcoming “Primo” wrote about what it’s like to have a show debut during the strike. And a number of showrunners talked to The Times about how the strike has changed how they are — or are not — promoting their work. Los Angeles Times


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Today’s California landmark is from Genie Davis of Redondo Beach: Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.

I’ve been visiting the Antelope Valley poppy reserve for blooms both super and not-so-grand since 1988. Brought my children there for many years and enjoyed a beautiful spread of flowers this year.

What are California’s essential landmarks? Fill out this form to send us your photos of a special spot in California — natural or human-made. Tell us why it’s interesting and what makes it a symbol of life in the Golden State. Please be sure to include only photos taken directly by you. Your submission could be featured in a future edition of the newsletter.

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