Who's the Boss?

By Alston, Joshua | Newsweek, February 15, 2010 | Go to article overview

Who's the Boss?


Alston, Joshua, Newsweek


Byline: Joshua Alston

Say what you will about CBS, but don't accuse it of safe programming. Sure, the network is overrun with middle-of-the-road fare such as Criminal Minds and Ghost Whisperer, but rather than give one of its highly rated dramas the benefit of the Super Bowl's massive lead-in audience, CBS chose a rookie: Undercover Boss, a new reality show starring well-heeled CEOs, which is perhaps the perfect postgame salve. Saints? Colts? Who cares? We can all agree on one thing: CEOs are losers.

It's hard to imagine a more fraught time for a show about business bigwigs. CEOs sit at the bottom rung of favorability ratings, trailing even lawyers and--gasp!--members of Congress. In fact, Undercover Boss, in which CEOs surreptitiously work among their entry-level employees, is an extension of a recent trend in advertising to put head honchos in front of the camera. The CEOs of Sprint and Domino's Pizza have starred in commercials portraying them not as solemn stuffed suits but as everymen with jobs to do who would be exactly like you if not separated by a few tax brackets.

Undercover Boss is competent TV, but it won't rehabilitate the image of the CEO. In the premiere, we follow Waste Management's Larry O'Donnell as he travels from his Texas headquarters to upstate New York for his secret mission. He tries doing the company's dirty work--picking up and hauling trash, sorting recyclables, and cleaning Porta Potties--ostensibly to find out whether the cost-cutting measures he's handing down from his ivory tower are reasonable for those who implement them. O'Donnell learns shocking things: that his employees work really hard for not much money, that some of them are in dire financial straits, and that in spite of it all, they have the gumption to maintain positive outlooks. …

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