Could “Undercover Boss” be the next great reality hope?
CBS execs are playing down expectations on the new show, but in scheduling “Boss” behind the Super Bowl next week, it’s clear that they’re thinking big.
The reality entry bows at about 10:15 p.m. ET/7:15 p.m. PT after the Colts/Saints matchup on Feb. 7, making “Boss” the first series to premiere behind the Super Bowl since 1995.
“Boss” has also been getting a major marketing push, and the show’s first star — Waste Management president/COO Larry O’Donnell — is even set to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show.
“We really believe in the show, and of course we’re hoping for the best,” says CBS alternative topper Jennifer Bresnan. “But at the same time we’re realistic. This is a super tough TV environment, and it’s been tough to break through. A lot of reality launches have not gone well.”
Indeed, while new unscripted hits continue to pop up in cable (MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” to name a recent example), the Big Four nets are still struggling to find new smashes to air alongside their aging reality franchises.
Most recently, Fox suffered a blow when its own hopeful, “Our Little Genius,” was yanked before launch due to questions over how the gamer’s production was handled.
Luckily for the nets, their veteran series still have a bit of life in them — and every network has at least one staple.
“Thankfully, this network has a schedule that’s thriving, so no one looks at me and says, ‘you have to fill this hole,’ ” Bresnan said. “We’ve got the luxury to develop our shows and line up the ones with the best chance of success.”
At CBS, the net is currently celebrating the 10th anniversary of “Survivor,” and “Big Brother” turns a decade this summer. “Survivor” also just landed orders for its 21st and 22nd cycles, while seven-time Emmy winner “The Amazing Race” received a greenlight for its 17th edition.
The Eye has tried several times in recent years to add to that stable, but most either fell short (“Kid Nation,” “Pirate Master”), lasted for just a few seasons (“Rock Star”) or never made it to air (“Real Beverly Hillbillies”).
Now, enter “Undercover Boss.” The show follows CEOs as they go incognito inside their companies to see how their employees live and work, and learn how their governance really impacts the rank and file.
Stephen Lambert created the format and serves as exec producer.
“There’s so many scripted shows that are set in the workplace, but not that many set in the real workplace in the reality space,” Lambert says. “Anyone who has had a boss who has worked in the company will understand this show.”
“Boss” earned raves last May from advertisers at the CBS’s upfront presentations in New York’s Carnegie Hall. The reaction was reminiscent of how “The Amazing Race” was first received nearly a decade earlier in that same venue.
“Sitting in the audience and hearing people laughing, it gave us a feeling of pride,” Bresnan says. “We believe in it and came away with something we were proud of. It’s a solid show with a positive message, and we hope it reaches a lot of people.”
It was that universal appeal of “Boss” that convinced Eye execs to debut the show behind the Super Bowl. CBS has ordered an initial 10 episodes of “Boss,” which will regularly air on Sundays at 9 p.m., behind “The Amazing Race.”
Other companies set to be included in the first season include 7-Eleven, White Castle and Hooters.
Long term, Bresnan says the network and producers are still figuring out how to maintain “Boss” in the event that it turns into a hit. Once the show becomes well known, after all, it’s going to be harder to covertly put company CEOs into work situations without employees getting wise to the ruse.
“In success, we’ll have to find new ways of doing it,” Bresnan says. “We’ve had many conversations about it. The good news is, in success, we think more companies will want to come to the table and be a part of it.”