I have never quite understood the charms of Undercover Boss.
Watching wealthy American CEOs join their worker bees for a few days in a show that attempts to tug on the heartstrings isn’t exactly my idea of entertainment. It didn’t help that I wasn’t familiar with the companies and that the thing was shot in 4:3. But I appear to be in the minority. Fair ’nuff….
Now we get a look at the Aussie version, coming soon to TEN.
In glorious 16:9, this is produced by Southern Star. The premise is identical: a CEO dons a form of disguise to work alongside his rank and file in order to gauge how well managerial targets are being executed on the frontline.
The first episode features Don Meij of Dominos Pizza, a national fast food chain that has its headquarters in Brisbane.
Don’s a successful family man, having risen through the company to the top job, since joining the company 23 years ago. He steers a successful pizza chain and still finds time to spend with his family. For reasons which aren’t entirely clear, he has agreed to be a guinea pig for the Undercover Boss format.
Format is a key word here. The show follows it to the letter. During the opening sequence we are told Australia is battling the GFC, desperate times call for desperate measures. Huh? What year did they film this? The show was originally due to air in 2009, so perhaps this is quite dated.
Don tells his suitably surprised board members he will go undercover with the camera crew, masquerading as a training video. They all look shocked. Were they as shocked when a camera crew set up to film the meeting? We’ll never know.
“Are you going to deliver pizzas in your lamborghini?” one asks.
Don isn’t. In fact he’s going to fly to the busiest store based in Canberra and slum it in a budget motel.
At Belconnen he sports glasses, beard and cap while being trained by a young guy named Al. Al is patient with his new recruit and shares a story about a family member who suicided. The tragedy saw him more needy of his employment, and Don can’t help but notice how valuable a staff member he is.
Later Don delivers pizzas with an enthusiastic employee, Raj, who was a mechanical engineer in his home country of India. At another store he has to bite his lip on cleanliness issues for risk of revealing his identity. At Innisfail, North Queensland, another loyal employee struggles with work conditions that lack air conditioning. They were also hit hard by the 2006 cyclone.
Filming in a blue-collar industry like pizza delivery, its not hard to find staff with hard luck stories. It adds to the storytelling.
Don is moved by what he sees, but unlike the US series he isn’t as overly-emotional as his US counterparts. Thank goodness.
The format later sees the staff learn that their co-worker is in fact the CEO. Naturally there are shocks all round, and rewards for staff who work hard.
Don handles the key task with confidence and emotion that delivers more humility than the US series. The narration is too earnest, but at least it isn’t over the top.
These episodes were no doubt filmed before the US series hit screens in Australia. It’s hard to know how any workplace would now fall for the little white lie that a crew is simply filming a training series, so this is a concept which will become more difficult to produce.
If you enjoy the US series, you should connect with the Aussie one even more.
Undercover Boss Australia premieres 8:30pm Monday October 18th on TEN.