The producers of “Undercover Boss” have raided their own conceptual coffers in concocting “Be the Boss,” another series with a feel-good element that allows a different company each week to dress up its chief exec as Santa Claus. As such, it’s an almost perfect vehicle for advertisers, inasmuch as the show amounts to an episode-length product-placement opportunity, while allowing viewers lower on the corporate ladder to contemplate how they would fare in a similar situation. “From Average Joe to CEO” is the promo line, but the formula should yield better-than-average results for A&E.
Once again, there’s an element of deception in the format, which borrows from “The Apprentice” as freely as that other “Boss.” Two employees are thrown into a competition believing they are vying for a promotion, except the big winner will actually be awarded their own franchise. Let the tears and good times roll.
The made-for-TV bakeoff involves a fairly rapid assortment of tests. In the premiere, which focuses on a Nebraska company called Complete Nutrition, they include launching a pop-up store, conducting a workout class and using a crossbow to shoot targets with the top brass, presumably to court “The Hunger Games” crowd.
The idea that employees don’t know exactly what they’re competing for is something of a cheat (sort of like the tan on one contestant, which abruptly disappears during his direct-to-camera interview), but in the broad strokes, it all works. Part of that has to do with careful editing to keep the outcome in doubt, and equally manipulative tugging at the heartstrings in the closing moments.
As for the companies featured (in future installments Auntie Anne’s, the Melting Pot, Molly Maid, Jazzercise and Signal 88 Security), the approach paints company toppers in such a favorable light — with employees expressing undying love for their places of employment — that a cynic could easily see this as being designed to create the ad-friendliest environment since Saturday-morning kidvid.
Then again, who wouldn’t like a generous boss who wants nothing more than to reward staffers, and where even the runner-up makes out OK? If “Undercover Boss” offered a balm for tough economic times, A&E’s variation merely demonstrates yet again how reality TV is often one of the best places to go to seek refuge from reality.