Layoffs get the reality TV treatment

Fox picks up 'Someone's Gotta Go'

Fox has found a way to help struggling small businesses as they downsize in this tough economic climate. Sort of.

The network has picked up the reality competish “Someone’s Gotta Go,” which enters real businesses across the country and gives employees the power to decide which one of them will be terminated.

Endemol USA is behind the show, which is already in production — and could be on the air by late summer or early fall.

“It’s ‘Survivor’ meets ‘The Office,'” said Fox reality chief Mike Darnell, never shy when it comes to provocative series ideas. “When someone is arbitrarily let go the first reaction usually is ‘How come that person was fired when another idiot is still here?’ This finally gives employees a chance to make that decision instead of a boss.”

Fox and Endemol are keeping some aspects of the show under wraps, but here’s what’s known: Each episode will revolve around a different small business — usually one with 15-20 employees — that has been forced to make staff reductions because of the sour economy.

The company’s books will be opened up to the employees, who will learn what everyone makes and what’s in their human resources files. Employees will also get a chance to say, face to face, what they really think of one another.

Ultimately, the employees will vote on who should be terminated. That person will likely receive a small severance, but that’s it.

Throughout the show, employees will be assisted by a professional business coach/employment consultant who will double as the series host. Fox and Endemol wouldn’t disclose who she is just yet.

Fox and Endemol had each been kicking around reality show ideas set in the workplace and eventually joined forces to develop “Someone’s Gotta Go.”

“We’re always trying to find the next thing that is topical and timely in the zeitgeist,” said Endemol North America topper David Goldberg. “What could be more current than the financial crisis and dealing with the realities of losing jobs? This is an extension of that real-life experience.”

The concept for “Someone’s Gotta Go” came about after Darnell saw a TV news report on a business owner who had been struggling — and decided to disclose to her employees what they all earned. That sparked a discussion among those employees on who was earning too much and how to cut costs.

“For a lot of people, it takes the pressure off them,” Goldberg said. “As a boss myself, I don’t want to have to make those decisions. It’s safe to say that it hasn’t been difficult to find companies willing to participate.”

Darnell compares the average size of the businesses on “Someone’s Gotta Go” to the Dunder-Mifflin team on “The Office.” The reality show is even being shot in a documentary style similar to that of “The Office.”

“The biggest show on TV about offices is a fictional show that looks like a reality show,” Darnell said.

As for any potential legal ramifications, Darnell and Goldberg said they have taken extra precautions to vet the show through several legal channels. They said it should be free and clear, even if an employee sours on the idea of being canned on national TV.

“We’ve consulted with labor attorneys and have covered all of our bases,” Goldberg said. “We’ve got an employment expert and business consultant to work with us through this process. There is a professional involved that brings the show an element of credibility.”

At the network, Darnell said, “A lot of things had to be signed off” before proceeding with the show.

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