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Undercover Boss (American TV series)

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Undercover Boss
Created byStephen Lambert
Narrated byMark Keller
ComposersJeff Cardoni
David Vanacore
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons11
No. of episodes136 (list of episodes)
Executive producers
  • Stephen Lambert
  • Jack Burgess
  • Mike Cotton
  • Rachel Bloomfield
Camera setupMulti-camera
Running time42 minutes
Production companyStudio Lambert
Original release
ReleaseFebruary 7, 2010 (2010-02-07) –
April 8, 2022 (2022-04-08)
Undercover Boss

Undercover Boss is an American reality television series, based on the British series of the same name and produced by Studio Lambert in both countries. Each episode depicts a person who has an upper-management position at a major business, deciding to go undercover as an entry-level employee to discover the faults in the company. The first season consisted of nine episodes produced in 2009 and first aired on February 7, 2010, on CBS.[1] Companies that appear on the series are assured that the show will not damage their corporate brands.[2]

On April 26, 2018, CBS announced the first-ever Celebrity Edition to premiere on May 11, 2018.[3]

In May 2021, the series was renewed for an eleventh season[4] which premiered on January 7, 2022.[5]


The first episode premiered on February 7, 2010, after Super Bowl XLIV, and featured Larry O'Donnell, President and chief operating officer of Waste Management, Inc.[6] The series was a ratings success for the network, with its premiere episode receiving 38.6 million viewers and a share of 32 percent.[7] 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.[8] Originally, the show was created in response to corporate distrust, as echoed in the introduction of the first two seasons.

On March 9, 2010, CBS announced it had commissioned Undercover Boss for a second season.[9][10] On July 28, 2010, CBS announced four company executives had signed up for the second season, from NASCAR, DirecTV, Chiquita Brands International, and Great Wolf Lodge, Inc.[11] The second season opener featured the Choice Hotels CEO, Steve Joyce on September 26, 2010. The season two premiere drew 11.02 million, down 27.58 million from the previous season's premiere, and with a 9.55% share, the episode ranked number 2 against its major competition consisting of Sunday Night Football on NBC and Brothers & Sisters on ABC.[12] The second season averaged 12.158 million viewers[13] and the third season, which saw the show move from Sunday to the less popular Friday night, attracted an average of 9.347 million viewers.[14] CBS ordered a fourth season in March 2012[15] and a fifth season was confirmed in March 2013.[16] The show was renewed for a sixth season on March 13, 2014.[17] A seventh season renewal was announced on May 11, 2015.[18] The show was renewed for an eighth season on May 16, 2016.[19]

The series received Emmy Awards nominations for Outstanding Reality Program in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013, winning the category in 2012 and 2013.

Reruns of Undercover Boss have been picked up by TLC and the Oprah Winfrey Network. Broadcasts on TLC began on July 25, 2011, initially Mondays at 8 pm ET, later moving to Thursdays at 9 pm ET. OWN has also broadcast repeats of Undercover Boss since the fall of 2011.[20] As of 2020, CNBC also continues to broadcast repeats of the show, often on Saturdays.[21]


Each episode features a high-positioned executive or the owner of a corporation going undercover as an entry-level employee in their own company. The executive changes appearance and assumes an alias and fictional back-story. The fictitious explanation for the accompanying camera crew has changed over the years. To begin with, the person was supposedly part of a competition, and a competitor was shown in clips early in the series but later dropped. In later episodes the idea is that the executive is being filmed as part of a documentary about entry-level workers in a particular industry, usually changing careers. They spend approximately one week undercover, working in various areas of the company's operations, with a different job and in most cases a different location each day. The boss is exposed to a series of predicaments with amusing results and invariably spends time getting to know selected company employees, learning about their professional and personal challenges.

At the end of the undercover week, the boss returns to his or her true identity and calls in the selected employees to the corporate headquarters. The boss rewards hardworking employees through campaign, promotion, material, or financial rewards.[22] Other employees are given training or better working conditions.[citation needed]

The show's producers determine what companies will be featured, what jobs the bosses will do, and which employees and which situations will be shown. The company has no control over what airs, although a promise is made the companies' reputations will not be hurt.[23] Neither the company nor its executive receive money from, or give money to, CBS or the show's producers.[24]


SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
19February 7, 2010 (2010-02-07)April 11, 2010 (2010-04-11)
222September 26, 2010 (2010-09-26)May 1, 2011 (2011-05-01)
313January 15, 2012 (2012-01-15)May 11, 2012 (2012-05-11)
417November 2, 2012 (2012-11-02)May 17, 2013 (2013-05-17)
515September 27, 2013 (2013-09-27)March 14, 2014 (2014-03-14)
613December 14, 2014 (2014-12-14)February 20, 2015 (2015-02-20)
712December 20, 2015 (2015-12-20)May 22, 2016 (2016-05-22)
810December 21, 2016 (2016-12-21)May 19, 2017 (2017-05-19)
97May 11, 2018 (2018-05-11)June 22, 2018 (2018-06-22)
109January 8, 2020 (2020-01-08)November 13, 2020 (2020-11-13)
119January 7, 2022 (2022-01-07)April 8, 2022 (2022-04-08)


CBS's premiere of Undercover Boss on February 7, 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, the most watched new series premiere overall on television since Dolly on September 27, 1987 (39.47 million), and the third largest post-Super Bowl audience behind Friends Special on January 28, 1996, and Survivor: The Australian Outback on January 28, 2001. As of November 2019, the premiere episode of Undercover Boss remains both as the highest rated and most watched single episode of the 2010s on U.S. television.[25]


The show is first broadcast on CBS, and reruns are also broadcast on TLC and The Oprah Winfrey Network on Thursdays.[26][27] In the United Kingdom, the US version aired on Channel 4 (usually on weekday mornings at 11.05 after its fellow US remake Kitchen Nightmares)[28] and in 2020 was found with the Canadian version on British feed of Pluto TV.[29] In the Philippines, the program is aired on CNN Philippines. As of July 3, 2020, the first seven seasons are available on Hulu.


Undercover Boss received mixed reviews; most held good words for the opening episode, but some criticized elements of the show's format. The New York Daily News praised the concept as "simple and brilliant" and "an hour of feel-good television for underappreciated workers."[30] Reviewers with the Chicago Sun-Times[31] and the New York Times complimented the opening episode, although the latter described the ending as "embarrassingly feudal" and had reservations on Waste Management, Inc COO Lawrence O'Donnell III's plan to create a task force to address the problems he found: "Larry's plans to reform his company and humanize the workplace seem great, until he starts to order up committees to study what he has learned. So many good intentions have gone to die in task forces, off-site meetings and mentoring programs."[32] "The show is a welcome change from reality concepts based on humiliating people," concluded the Wall Street Journal.[33] "It is emotionally stirring, with catharsis and messages of virtue rewarded and lessons learned for the betterment of all," said the Baltimore Sun.[34]

The Washington Post, in a negative review, said that Undercover Boss "is a hollow catharsis for a nation already strung out on the futility of resenting those who occupy CEO suites."[35] Entertainment Weekly initially panned it, calling the first episode a "CBS-organized publicity stunt" and "a recruiting tool for a worker uprising,"[36] but in another review described the show as "irresistible."[37] The Los Angeles Times believed that it was deriving its idea from Fox's Secret Millionaire (also created by Stephen Lambert[38]) and that it was 'cooked' for TV, with the low-level workers being hand-picked, but conceded that the show is "undeniably touching".[39]

Arianna Huffington noted, "In the 19th century, one of the most effective ways to convey the quiet desperation of the working class to a wide audience was via a realistic novel. In 2010, it's through reality TV. And Undercover Boss has clearly touched a nerve with viewers. Last week [February 28 – March 6, 2010], only the Olympics and American Idol scored higher in the ratings."[40]

In a season-end review, the New York Times's chief television critic, Alessandra Stanley, examined the unexpected success of the show and concluded that "it's the humility of the workers, their genuine astonishment and thankfulness over small acts of benevolence, that is most striking. If nothing else, Undercover Boss is a reminder that in bad times, people are less eager to confront or provoke authority; mostly they wish for small favors and the big, serendipitous strokes of luck."[41]

On the tenth anniversary of the show, Alex McLevy of The A.V. Club was severely critical of the show: "Undercover Boss is some of the most blatant propaganda on American television. It's a shameless endorsement of capitalist inequality that may as well end each episode by reminding everyday Americans that they should shut up and be grateful their lives are controlled by such selfless exemplars of virtue. It's class warfare in everything but name."[42]


In 2011, MAD made a parody of Undercover Boss for one of their Christmas episodes, called "Undercover Claus", which shows Santa Claus working undercover as an elf.[43]

In 2015, Key and Peele explored the idea of an employee that bullied the undercover boss, changing his tune after the reveal.[44][45]

In 2016 and 2020, Saturday Night Live aired sketches that parodied Undercover Boss which featured Adam Driver in character as Kylo Ren, the Supreme Leader of the First Order from the Star Wars sequel trilogy.[46][47]


  1. ^ Draper, Danny (February 10, 2010). "Undercover Boss coming to Ten". What's-On-The-Tube.com.au. Archived from the original on October 20, 2010. Retrieved October 30, 2014.
  2. ^ Bryson, Emily (February 15, 2010). "7-Eleven, Hooters, Others Take Risk in 'Undercover Boss'". Adage.com. Retrieved April 20, 2013.
  3. ^ "CBS Announces the First Season of "Undercover Boss: Celebrity Edition," Premiering Friday, May 11" (Press release). CBS. April 26, 2018. Retrieved April 26, 2018 – via The Futon Critic.
  4. ^ White, Peter (May 19, 2021). "Global Citizen Competition Series 'The Activist' Ordered At CBS, 'Undercover Boss' Renewed For Season 11". Deadline Hollywood.
  5. ^ White, Peter (November 10, 2021). "'Good Sam' Scrubs In For 'CSI: Vegas' In CBS' Midseason Schedule As 'The Amazing Race' Returns". Deadline Hollywood.
  6. ^ Seidman, Robert (December 20, 2009). "CBS picks "Undercover Boss" for post-Super Bowl slot". tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com. Archived from the original on September 9, 2011. Retrieved October 30, 2014.
  7. ^ Seidman, Robert (February 9, 2010). "TV Ratings: Super Bowl XIV post game and Undercover Boss dominate weekly viewing". tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com. Archived from the original on November 18, 2010. Retrieved October 30, 2014.
  9. ^ "CBS renews 'Undercover Boss' for second season". The Live Feed. March 9, 2010. Archived from the original on April 16, 2010. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  10. ^ Fernandez, Maria-Elena (March 22, 2010). "The rewards of hanging with the 'Undercover Boss'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
  11. ^ Serjeant, Jill (July 28, 2010). "NASCAR, DirecTV sign up for "Undercover Boss" TV show". Reuters. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
  12. ^ "TV Ratings: TV Ratings: Sunday Night Football Wins; Simpsons, Cleveland Show, Family Guy, Makeover, Housewives All Down vs. Last Season's Premieres". TV-By-The-Numbers.com. September 27, 2010. Retrieved September 29, 2010.
  13. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (May 27, 2011). "Full 2010-2011 TV Season Series Rankings". Deadline.com. Retrieved April 20, 2013.
  14. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (May 25, 2012). "Full 2011-2012 TV Season Series Rankings". Deadline.com. Retrieved April 20, 2013.
  15. ^ "'The Good Wife,' 'Blue Bloods,' 'Undercover Boss' And More Get Early Pickups From CBS". Huffingtonpost.com. March 14, 2012. Retrieved April 20, 2013.
  16. ^ Levin, Gary (March 28, 2013). "CBS renews top shows". Usatoday.com. Retrieved April 20, 2013.
  17. ^ Kondolojy, Amanda (March 13, 2014). "CBS Renews 'The Good Wife', 'The Millers', 'Two and a Half Men', 'Hawaii Five-0', 'Mom', 'Blue Bloods', 'Elementary' and 11 More". TV by the Numbers (Press release). Archived from the original on March 13, 2014. Retrieved March 13, 2014.
  18. ^ Bibel, Sara (May 11, 2015). "'The Good Wife, 'Hawaii Five-O', 'Person of Interest' & Many More Renewed by CBS". TV by the Numbers. Archived from the original on May 13, 2015. Retrieved May 11, 2015.
  19. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (May 16, 2016). "'Code Black', 'Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders', 'The Odd Couple' & 'Undercover Boss' Renewed By CBS". Deadline. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
  20. ^ Guthrie, Marisa (July 11, 2011). "OWN, TLC Pick Up Reruns of 'Undercover Boss'". The Hollywood Reporter.
  21. ^ Guthrie, Marisa (July 11, 2011). "Upcoming Episode Guide of 'Undercover Boss'". Zap2it.
  22. ^ Clark, Andrew (April 17, 2010). "How Undercover Boss raised US unions' ire". The Observer. The Guardian.
  23. ^ York, Emily Bryson and Bush, Michael, "What It Takes to Be an 'Undercover Boss'", Advertising Age. February 15, 2010, Vol. 81 Issue 7.
  24. ^ Owen, Rob (July 22, 2011). "TV Q&A: 'The Big C' + 'The Closer' + Verizon changes". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
  25. ^ Undercover Boss Marks Biggest New Series Premiere Since 1987
  26. ^ ""Undercover Boss: Abroad" Coming to OWN in March". The Daily OWN. February 6, 2012.
  27. ^ "TLC & OWN: OPRAH WINFREY NETWORK GO UNDERCOVER AND OVERSEAS : Discovery Press Web". press.discovery.com (Press release). February 6, 2012.
  28. ^ "Undercover Boss USA: Undercover Boss USA". Channel 4.
  29. ^ "Pluto TV | Watch Free TV".
  30. ^ Hinckley, David (February 6, 2010). "CBS' 'Undercover Boss' is an hour of feel-good television for underappreciated workers". Daily News. Retrieved February 19, 2010.
  31. ^ Wiser, Paige (February 5, 2010). "Quite a kickoff for 'Boss'". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on February 13, 2010. Retrieved February 19, 2010.
  32. ^ Stanley, Alessandra (February 5, 2010). "He's Good at Pushing Paper, but Can He Pick Up Trash?". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 10, 2010. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  33. ^ Chozick, Amy (February 5, 2010). "The CEO Wears Coveralls". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 19, 2010.
  34. ^ Zurawik, David (February 7, 2010). "'Undercover Boss' makes a case for CEO as hero". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved February 19, 2010.
  35. ^ Stuever, Hank (February 7, 2010). "TV preview of 'Undercover Boss' on CBS". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 19, 2010.
  36. ^ Tucker, Ken (February 7, 2010). "'Undercover Boss' review: Literally crappy reality TV". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 21, 2010.
  37. ^ Tucker, Ken (February 14, 2010). "'Undercover Boss': Deep inside Hooters". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 21, 2010.
  38. ^ Eureka!: The Secret Millionaire (RDF for C4) | In-depth | Broadcast
  39. ^ McNamara, Mary (February 6, 2010). "The reality series puts CEOs incognito amid low-level employees in their companies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 21, 2010.
  40. ^ Arianna, Huffington (March 8, 2010). "Is Undercover Boss the Most Subversive Show on Television?". Huffington Post. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
  41. ^ Stanley, Alessandra (April 9, 2010). "Reality TV That Puts the Boss in Meek's Clothing". New York Times. Archived from the original on April 13, 2010. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  42. ^ Alex McLevy (February 5, 2020). "Happy 10th anniversary to Undercover Boss, the most reprehensible propaganda on TV". The A.V. Club.
  43. ^ (December 12, 2011). MAD. Season 2. Episode 15.
  44. ^ Bradley, Laura. "Key & Peele Reveals the Dark Side of Undercover Boss". Slate.
  45. ^ Jung, E. Alex (August 24, 2015). "Yeah, We'd Probably Be the Bad Employees in This Key & Peele Parody of Undercover Boss". Vulture.
  46. ^ Driver, Adam (January 16, 2016). Saturday Night Live. Season 41. Episode 10.
  47. ^ Driver, Adam (January 25, 2020). Saturday Night Live. Season 45. Episode 11.

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