By Noah Graff
Sunday night, after the Super Bowl, I watched the premier of the new CBS reality show “Undercover Boss.” I have to say I was quite moved by the end of the episode. For those of you out there who haven’t seen it, it’s a reality show in which heads of large corporations go “undercover” with a film crew to work amongst the company’s average employees. In the first episode the COO of Waste Management, Larry O’Donnell, works as a litter collector, Porta Potty cleaner, garbage man, along with several other menial jobs.
The employees he works alongside are all depicted as sympathetic, down to earth folks, with personal stories that border on inspirational. O’Donnell is also depicted well as the sympathetic boss willing to take responsibility for the faults he sees in company policies and management.
I myself have made documentaries, and have my own reality dating show on YouTube called Jew Complete Me. So as someone who has produced and starred in a reality show I know a thing or two about the subjectivity and ethical questions involved when producing and editing “reality.”
It’s obviously risky to be on a reality show, especially when you don’t have editing control. I’m sure some of the PR people from Waste Management thought it was a joke when someone posed the idea of being featured on a national television program in which they in essence spy on themselves.
Although, I do have a feeling that prior to agreeing to be on the show, CBS gave Waste Management some assurance that they wouldn’t be crucified. I could tell that the producers of the show did a great job working with Waste Management’s Human Resources department to find great, likable people, whose endearing qualities would compensate for the company’s faults.
We knew that a few juicy problems in the company were going to be exposed—that’s why we were watching. But the PR team must have wagered that if the employees of the company were so compelling, as well as the big boss, Waste Management would look better than it did before the show. After all, no one is perfect, and no company is perfect, obviously. And heroes aren’t perfect, but they are genuine and honest. Wow, that just sounds so American. I like it!
Could reality TV be the new trend in advertising? I see some parallels in this presentation of Waste Management with that of the recent self-depreciating Domino’s Pizza commercials. They both try to relate to the consumer by admitting their imperfections and do it in an entertaining way. Has either company convinced me of its worth? I’m not sure, but at least I’m paying attention to what they have to say.
Question: Would you want your company to be featured on “Undercover Boss”?
“Undercover Boss” Trailer with Larry O’Donnell