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REALITY SHOWS ARE RARELY REALLY REALITY
This one is no exception to that...but this one is not what I expected.
"Undercover Boss" drew more than 38 million viewers last Sunday when it filled that coveted slot of air-rime right after the Super Bowl. We all saw the promos with the Waste Management top dog cleaning out portable toilets. Maybe we all thought it was going to be just that.."guy takes off tie and gets his hands dirty doing the jobs his underlings normally handle" (way underlings). Oh how wacky that seemed like it would be. Many of us thought CBS was managing to waste the greatest lead-in ever on Waste Management. (SB 44 just beat out the MASH finale as the top rated show in US history.)
Then we saw the show. It wasn't just the head of the company stunting to show what a regular guy he could be. Sure, there was some of that, but there was more. The show was not as much about the logistics of the "white-collar-guy-goes-blues-collar-for-a-week"..it was about the humanity of everyone involved..top to bottom of the WM spectrum. That's what made it work. "Time" magazine calls it manipulative. It seems that just about any reality show...normal people on camera doing normal and abnormal things, is, by definition, going to be manipulative. The "Time" writer goes on to say that it's ok that it's manipulative.
I wasn't expecting much but I recorded the show (it's on while I'm at work) just to see what CBS was hyping and how this latest in the tired genre of reality TV could possibly be any different. It was. I liked it far more than I expected to. I've got the DVR set to record it again tonight.
WM COO Larry O'Donnell not only learned about the jobs of a few employees, he learned about their lives too. Plus, he understood and appreciated their struggles in a way that seemed genuine. There's a good chance many more undercover moments were shot than were actually used, and maybe they weren't all as fulfilling as the ones that made the cut, but the mere fact that several were that good is remarkable.
This next episode is all about the top guy at "Hooters." Already there's a built in bias against the company featured. Many American men love Hooters- the restaurant chain....many Americans hate it and all that it stands for. That could make this episode much more tricky than the last. We'll see.
CBS probably can't duplicate the ratings of the first episode with all the others...that's some reality for you. I just hope the show can duplicate the humanity of that remarkable first episode. "Undercover Boss" is on Sunday nights at 8 on KKTV.
NOTE: this blog entry has been corrected to reflect that SB 44 did beat MASH as the most watched show on U.S. TV.
I finally had a chance to watch episode two. I didn't like it nearly as well as episode one. The Hooters guy was surprised to find that some people think the business degrades women? I'm not saying it does or it doesn't, I'm just saying that I thought everyone knew that some people think it does. Also, I have nothing to say about Jimbo, but some of you who commented certainly do! See comments below, and add your own.
We'll talk again soon.
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