Thursday, October 28, 2010

Undercover Gloss

I never claimed to have the greatest taste in TV.  I don’t watch PBS.  I don’t watch the Discovery Channel or the Learning Channel or the Travel Channel, or the English Channel. 

I watch violence-riddled shows like 24, or shows with yummy-looking ladies like 30 Rock, Modern Family and Cougartown, or hilarious shows like 30 Rock, Modern Family and Cougartown.  I watch Survivor, the Amazing Race and The Apprentice.  I watch hero-shows like Heroes, Chuck or No Ordinary Family.  I like episodic dramas like The Event, The Mentalist and The Good Wife.  I watch weird hocus pocus shows like Fringe and previously Lost.  I watch Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO.

Sometimes I have to scramble a bit to work them all in around watching football and hockey.  (Hooray for the DVR!)  I’m OK with admitting all of the above.  Those are my likes and I can stand behind them.  But there’s one other that I hate myself that I even watch, because it’s manipulative, hackneyed, crass, and insults one’s intelligence.  I hate that I watch Undercover Boss.  I never intended to, it just kind of came on one night when there was nothing else on, and I gave it a shot. 

Let’s start with why I do watch.

On One Hand
The idea of the Big Bossman coming down to work with the commoners is a good one and a lot of people can relate to that.  Everyone likes to see the Boss get his hands dirty in the real world of the company he runs. 
Also, I do like to see behind-the-scenes stuff about how companies do things, like how warehouse orders are pulled, stores are prepared and shelves filled, airliners are prepared, hotels are cleaned and maintained, etc.

Then there’s the human interaction.  We like to see the Bosses learn what their stringent policies have wrought in real human terms, like with a female garbage truck driver, who has a strict schedule to keep and no where to pee during an 8-hour shift.  Or the (many) people that have to do the jobs of 2 (or more) people because of personnel cutbacks.  Or the people who have to work several jobs just to make ends meet, because of wage reductions.

We also like to see a rude customer service agent caught in the act when the CEO sees them disrespecting customers or their own employees.

At the end of the show, all the people the Bossman worked with are called to the home office for the big reveal.  If I could just watch one bit of the show, I’d pick the moment when they realize that it was their CEO that they just had cleaning poo out of a hotel pool, or some other menial task.  They then discuss what the Boss learned and what changes the employee can look forward to.  That’s also part of the show I hate.

On the Other Hand
There are a lot of reasons I hate this show.  First of all, it’s really nothing but a giant sloppy kiss to the business community.  Each episode is essentially one big product placement opportunity.  I bet CEOs are crawling all over each other to get on this show.  The network and producers are basically saying, “Let’s pull this rich schmuck out of his mansion, make him give up golf for a week, and pretend to mingle with his minions.”

Then there’s the employees the Boss works with.  I’ve seen enough episodes now that the same types show up over and over again… the dude doing the scut work with a great attitude and smile on his face.  The single mother that’s working her brains out to support her children…  The woman that has mad organizational skills but is stuck in a dead-end position...  The father with the disabled child at home for whom he’s trying to earn medical care…

There’s no way the Boss is working with these people by accident.  If they’re not plants, they’ve been evaluated and specifically selected for their emotional wallop.  Sob stories make good TV, especially if the Boss then gets to help them out in the end.  And that leads to the part that pisses me off the most.

In the end, the Boss never solves the fucking problem.  He’ll get a new golf cart for the scut-work dude and maybe lay some cash on him.  He’ll give the single mother a paid vacation to be with her kids.  He’ll promote the woman with the organizational skills.  He’ll buy the medical treatment for the sick kid…

None of that fixes the problem for anyone else!  If there is one, there are thousands of people in his company with the same situation.  You never see them address the staffing levels, or job descriptions beyond the handful of schmoes he worked with.  

They also love to appoint people to new panels they create, to study conditions and such.  Right.  Research panels.  Like that’s going to actually fix anything.  I know exactly how that goes. 

The panel convenes, the employees say, “We need 2 more order pickers per shift.” 
The CFO says, “We can’t afford that much payroll.”

The employees say, “We need better medical coverage.”

HR says, “We don’t have that in the budget, so you would have to cover the higher premiums.

The employees say, “We need a decent wage.”

CFO says, “We’d have to lay people off to pay you more.”

To be fair, two weeks ago, the CEO of Frontier Airlines said he was going to look into reversing the 10% wage reduction he had enacted a year earlier.  That was the first time in 2 seasons a Boss has done anything to better the conditions of anyone besides those featured in the episode.

If they can’t address the problem as a whole, what’s the point of going under cover?  Is it really to help the lives of 4 people out of the hundreds or thousands on the payroll?  It’s all nothing but advertising, designed to make you feel good about the featured company, its executives and big business in general.

See?  Corporate fat-cats are people too!

That’s what makes the show nothing but a tear-jerking, manipulative piece of corporate propaganda (that I watch every week.)

Maybe with the Steelers playing 2 of the next 3 Sunday nights, I can wean myself off these empty visual calories.  I will NOT be DVRing.


CrackerLilo said...

I watched a couple of episodes, and found the first one problematic for the same reasons you did. The CEO of the shipping company (that was the first I watched) didn't seem to understand that maybe his demands were unreasonable, or that he needed to pay people more. I saw those types in that one episode--so I guess I've seen them all.

The second was a NASCAR executive who went undercover last week. It was a bad joke, because the crew chief he "worked" with obviously knew who he was. I don't mind promoting NASCAR, but that was nothing but promotion for NASCAR, and I think it should've been a bit more than that.

I'm not watching much besides racing and hockey, so I guess I should get re-acquainted with scripted TV and give "No Ordinary Family" a try. Thanks for reminding me of it.

sherry stanfa-stanley said...

I watch very, very little TV. Since my youngest son moved out, I'll bet I turn on the TV twice a week. (Hard to justify vegging in front of the boobtube when I should be finishing this novel. Yet I can somehow justify reading my favorite blogs. You should be honored.)

Modern Family has managed to make the cut. Few shows make me laugh out loud like that one.

Can't do ANY reality TV. It just irritates the hell out of me.

Undercover Boss? Can't decide if you're a masochist or a sadist.

bluzdude said...

I saw that one too, and was thinking of you. I was wondering if you were watching, and considered putting a comment on your blog to tell you to watch. But sadly, I never made it out of my chair. I think it has its own gravitational pull.

No Ordinary Family is OK. It's kind of like a live-action version of The Incredibles. Harmless fun.

Its funny that the only shows that have made me laugh out loud in the past couple years are all on now... the 3 I mentioned, 30 Rock, Modern Family and Cougartown. Guaranteed handful of belly laughs for me each episode.

Not sure if I'm masochist or sadist... what do you call someone who watches a show just so he can get good and pissed off about it and carry on? "Asshole," maybe?

Judie said...

When I discover that a reality series has a formula, I become very disenchanted.I watched that show several times and then it dawned on me that there were way too many women who were raising their kids alone, and were about to lose their homes. I know that this is real life, so why isn't every single "boss" in America giving these people a break and helping them out?

Give me Law and Order, CSI, Bones, and NCIS. OR LSU football! Yes!! I could watch that every night!!

bluzdude said...

That's my point... no way these people aren't singled out for their hard luck stories. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt that they aren't in on it from the start.

The Powers are just looking for stories that will grab the heartstrings. Which is fine, but there should be some kind of disclaimer. The show presents the whole thing like it's completely random that the Boss works with these people that have amazing stories.

DG said...

I am SO GLAD I am not the only person on the planet to have this reaction to this stupid show. I watched one or two episodes last season, and while I think the WM Exec did enact policies which would let female drivers pee, by my count that was the only systemic change I EVER saw. The self promotion was worse that Donald Trump, because at least there you expect it.

I must admit that now that football and hockey are in full swing, I don't watch much else. The ones I DVR and catch up on, though, are How I Met Your Mother, Rules of Engagement and The Big Bang Theory. Mike & Molly is edging in, too.

Jessica R said...

I watched one episode and I feel the exact same way. Needless to say I don't watch it anymore.

I wish I had more time for TV. A bunch of those shows you mentioned I hear are very good. I am a big fan of Survivor though! Even though I need to catch up. All these weddings have put me two episodes behind!

bluzdude said...

The Apprentice… that’s another one that’s nothing but an hours worth of product placement advertising for the business du jour, when it’s not Trumps ego being stroked.

I’m waiting for the first time, after a “firing” one of his wing-men say, “I don’t think that was the right move.” It’s always, “I agree… it had to be done… it was the obvious choice,” etc.

If you don’t have time for Survivor, there are a number of good recap sites. Entertainment Weekly does a good recap. They also post a weekly blog by host Jeff Probst, talking about each episode.

Raven said...

I've never seen it, but it doesn't sound like something I'd like.

bluzdude said...

Skip it, Raven. You don't need the aggravation.

And by the way, Happy Samhain!

ettible said...

This is on after another show I watch (Amazing Race? Apprentice?), so there's always the chance I'll accidentally sit through it, but I try my best to avoid it just because, as you said, it's so let's-fix-one-employee's-life-and-leave-the-rest-to-continue-fending-for-themselves. Meanwhile, the company comes out looking great.

What's funny is that when I was buying my Christmas plane ticket earlier in the week, Frontier was the cheapest, but I was like, "It's probably not safe to buy a ticket from an airline I've never heard of, huh?" Should've asked you.

bluzdude said...

It comes on after the Amazing Race; that's how I ended up watching it. (Too lazy to change the channel.)

Sitcom Kelly used to work for Frontier Airlines, so I think your intuition was correct.