Undercover Boss is a television franchise series created by Stephen Lambert and produced in many countries. It originated in 2009 on the British Channel 4. The show’s format features the experiences of senior executives working undercover in their own companies to investigate how their firms really work and to identify how they can be improved, as well as to reward hard-working employees.
Each episode features a high-ranking executive or the owner of a corporation going undercover as an entry-level employee in his or her own company. The executives alter their appearance and assume an alias and fictional back-story. The fictitious explanation given for the accompanying camera crew is that the executives are being filmed as part of a documentary about entry-level workers in a particular industry, or a competition with another individual with the winner getting a job with the company. They spend approximately one to two weeks undercover (one week being the norm in some editions, such as the U.S. version, and two weeks in some other versions, such as the Australian edition), working in various areas of their company's operations, with a different job and in most cases a different location each day. They are exposed to a series of predicaments with amusing results, and invariably spend time getting to know the people who work in the company, learning about their professional and personal challenges.
At the end of their time undercover, the executives return to their true identity and request the employees they worked with individually to travel to a central location—often corporate headquarters. The bosses reveal their identity, and reward hard-working employees through promotion, or financial rewards; while other employees are given training, better working conditions or in extreme cases, termination.
The Australian version of the franchise premiered on Network Ten on 18 October 2010 with the CEO of Domino's Pizza Australia, Don Meij.
The episodes to follow will include the CEO of Boost Juice, Janine Allis, and Peter Murray, National Director of Operations of Veolia Environmental Services.
Patron incognito is broadcast on M6.
The German version of Undercover Boss premiered on RTL on 28 March 2011 with the CEO of Eismann, Mika Ramm.
The original UK series produced by Studio Lambert started airing in June 2009 on Channel 4 and returned for a fifth season in July 2013, the third series featured the bosses of Best Western, Jockey Club, Harry Ramsden's, Npower and Poundworld, amongst others.
The first episode also produced by Studio Lambert premièred on 7 February 2010 after Super Bowl XLIV and featured Larry O'Donnell, then-President and Chief Operating Officer of Waste Management, Inc.
On 9 March 2010, CBS announced it had commissioned Undercover Boss for a second season. On 28 July, CBS announced four company executives from NASCAR, DirecTV, Chiquita Brands International, and Great Wolf Lodge, Inc. had signed up for the second season of Undercover Boss. The second season opener was the Choice Hotels CEO, Steve Joyce on 26 September 2010.
The series was a ratings success for the network, with its premiere episode receiving 38.6 million viewers and a share of 32%. The first season was the most popular new show in any genre in the 2009–10 television season with an average audience of 17.7 million viewers.
CBS's premiere of Undercover Boss on 7 February 2010, immediately following the network's coverage of Super Bowl XLIV, delivered 38.6 million viewers—the largest audience ever for a new series following the Super Bowl since the advent of people meters in 1987, the largest audience ever to watch the premiere episode of a reality series, and the most watched new series premiere overall on television since Dolly on 27 September 1987 (39.47 million). It was also the third largest post-Super Bowl audience behind Friends Special on 28 January 1996 and Survivor: The Australian Outback on 28 January 2001. Repeats of Undercover Boss have been picked up by TLC, beginning 25 July 2011; and OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, beginning Fall 2012. TLC has also picked up selected episodes of the UK, Canadian and Australian versions, which air as Undercover Boss: Abroad; this series debuted on Monday, 13 February 2012, with TLC broadcasting the series most Monday nights, and OWN slated to show the series on Tuesday nights beginning 13 March 2012.
Undercover Boss won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Reality Program in 2013 and 2012 having also been nominated in the same category in 2011 and 2010.
Undercover Boss has been criticised as a "reality show" for presenting scenarios and situations which rarely happen to employees in real workplaces and are in fact dramatic tricks. Others point out that CEOs in real life workplaces do not typically go out of their way to provide gifts and other extra benefits to front-line employees at the expense of the bottom line.
The fourth season premiered on November 2, 2012 on CBS.
The American version has been broadcast on a variety of international networks:
- Back to the Floor (UK TV series)
- Back to the Floor (Canadian TV series)
- Secret Millionaire (UK TV series)
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- Undercover Boss Marks Biggest New Series Premiere Since 1987
- Hollywood Reporter: "OWN, TLC Pick Up Reruns of 'Undercover Boss'", 11 July 2011.
- The Daily OWN: "“Undercover Boss: Abroad” Coming to OWN in March", 6 February 2012.
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- He’s Good at Pushing Paper, but Can He Pick Up Trash? New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/06/arts/television/06under.html. 5 February 2010.
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- Int'l b'casters search for Undercover Boss – Television Business International, 8 July 2010