Mar 13, 2014

[TV] Undercover Boss (US)

I don't engage with a lot of reality television these days. With all the great genre shows out there, those program seem to be a much more effective use of my time. But there's the odd show or two that we still end up watching in our idle times when we're not quite capable of processing a complex plot or something like that.

Undercover Boss has become of those guilty pleasures, so to speak. As much as the show can feel like more of a PR stunt at times, the core concept behind it is quaint enough and it does sort of give us all hope that big corporations are actually trying to be better. And while some of their solutions at the end are more like quick fixes just to help the one or two people that they interacted with, the end result is still the sort of show that'll make you feel a little better about the world.

Synopsis: Undercover Boss is the US version of the British reality television show of the same name, as created by Stephen Lambert. Other executive producers include Chris Carlson and Eli Holtzman and airs on CBS.

The core premise of the show is simple enough. Each week a different CEO or senior executive at the target company will pose as a guy trying to get an entry level job at the same company for one reason or another. Sometimes the cover story claims that the boss is participating in a documentary about entry level jobs across the country. Other times it's about a head-on-head reality TV competition where the boss is competing with someone else in order to get the job.

The bulk of the show covers us watching the boss struggle with learning each of the individual jobs that he's signed up for. They're typically highly physical in nature, and given the relative health and ages of a lot of the bosses, you know that they're practically set up to feel. But at the same time that goes a long way to humble them a little and give them a better perspective on things. And then at the end the boss reveals his true identity to his various co-workers and discusses his experiences.

In some cases, there appear to be some pretty legitimate policy changes that the boss maps out at the end and it promises that there may be hope that the company will do right by its employees. Other cases we just get a lot of short-term incentives like giving the employee additional vacation time. But one way or another, I suppose we should be happy that things may change for the company one way or another. And if they fail to change, then they'll suffer.

At first there weren't too many notable brands participating in the experience. But as the show has progressed, you'll start to see participation from more familiar brands including 7-Eleven, DIRECTV, NASCAR and the Chicago Cubs. The jobs remain highly physical in nature, but hey, we get a kick out of watching executives go way out of their comfort zones.

Undercover Boss may be more part of feel-good television that's not much more than just a consolation prize in light of the various transgressions of some major companies. But I'd still like to think that's more of a good idea than a bad one and perhaps we'll see some truly positive change given enough time for this show (or maybe this movement) to really go places.

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