April 20, 2010

Undercover Boss is a 60 Minute Long Commercial

After the Super Bowl this year CBS premiered their new show Undercover Boss.   The show has had enough success that it has been renewed for a second season.   I'm not above admitting that I watch reality TV on occasion.  Undercover Boss looked pretty interesting so I decided to watch some episodes.   I quickly grew tired of it for a number of reasons.

First off, the show is a giant advertising billboard for the company featured each week.  They seem to say the name of the company a million times and show their company logo about 20 times a minute.   I wonder if the companies shown on the program pay them for 60 minutes of advertising time?   It should be worth a lot of money to get their company name and logo that much air time in front of millions of viewers.

The show has a formula that seemed pretty consistent for the episodes I saw.  Basically they show hard working employees who we are meant to identify with, they feature the CEO rewarding employees who deserve it and fixing things that need fixing, the CEO is made to look like a good guy who is down to earth and feels he must do the right things and they sprinkle in tons of positive comments about the company and their history.

There are  a couple scenes at the start of each episode.   First they show the boss at his home which is a nice house but not a giant mansion.   Or if it is a giant mansion then they may film it to down play how giant it is by showing a tight shot of the front door and parking the Lamborghini in back.  They also make a point of how the boss stays in a low budget hotel. Why do we need to know that he is staying in a low budget motel?   We don't really, it has nothing to do with anything.  But they need to point this out to us every show in order to underline how the CEO is not above staying in a Motel 6 or equivalent and emphasize how the CEO is not staying in the Ritz.   Staying in a low budget motel demonstrates that the CEO is just a regular guy at heart and not a 'Wall street fat cat'.

The bulk of the show is the part where the CEO goes into disguise to live among the average employees and find out what his actual employees actually do for the company.   They make the boss do a few different entry level style jobs.  Most of the work he does OK at, but its his first day so nobody can be really good.    The boss will fail to perform properly on at least one of the jobs.  Usually you'll have at least one of the people supervising the CEO will fire them or otherwise criticize their poor performance.   I guess this shows how the CEO humbles himself and learns how hard real work really is.  Regular people do hard jobs and the show is telling us all this fact. 

While the CEO is doing the jobs you get to meet all the regular people who work at the company.   The regular people seem to include someone with either cancer or kidney failure.   They include hard working average Joes who toil away at hard labor to support their families and might be an immigrant.   The workers also include talented people with special gifts.   When we meet all these people we get to identify with them and see how nice they are.   This tells us that the employees of the company in question are hard working and nice people that we can root for.    When the CEO meets these people he gets to reward them cause the CEO is a benevolent person.  All it took was a TV show for the CEO to grant boons on the common folk.

The CEO should find something wrong that they "just have to" fix.   This shows that the CEO isn't really aware of how things can be done wrong.   But of course if the CEO discovers something wrong then he will fix it cause he's a good guy at heart and wants to fix the wrongs of the world.  He often fixes this by calling someone on his cell phone while sitting in his SUV in the parking lot.  This shows us just how urgently he decides to treat the thing that has probably been broken for years and neglected by his entire organization until a film crew showed up.

At the end of the show have a staged little event where the CEO and a few dozen employees have a meeting.   The CEO makes a speech, they show clips from the show, employees cheer and laugh and a good time is had by all.

I have to give some credit to the ad wizards that came up with this one.   Wrapping corporate propaganda in a the guise of a television show and tricking us into thinking it is entertainment was a great idea.


  1. I agree, it's a 60 minute commercial. I've watched most of them. I was VERY surprised the manager from Hooters was fired outright on the show. At a minimum it should have created sexual harrasement lawsuits.

    I later researched Hooters and found there are some issues with management ownership and the team has to come up with some large capital $$ to pay off founder's widow. Kinda explains the need for the commercial.

  2. I was also surprised that they didn't fire the guy at Hooters on the spot. He should have absolutely been fired. I had heard that they had some rule that they wouldn't fire anyone on the show. I'm wondering if they just fire the real problem people after the fact sometime. Or its possible that some of the show is basically staged or scripted and its all half fake and the incident at Hooters could be fiction just to raise controversy. I'm also not sure how it works at a franchise type chain. I think the individual locations are owned by a franchisee so the corporate CEO may not technically have the power to fire individual employees directly. But I don't know, maybe the "culture" at Hooters is really that bad that people could act like that and not get fired.


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