Undercover Boss Australia

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.

13 Comments:

  1. @ David – Belconnen is a district of 25 suburbs, and there’s only one each of Dominos, Pizza Hut and Crust. Could go some way to explaining the popularity of the Dominos there.

    Compare it to the southern district of Tuggeranong – 19 suburbs with two dominos, a pizza hut and a crust, with two more dominos and a pizza hut 10 minutes away.

    Certainly no shortage of fast food though as Jason D suggests. The majority of suburbs have their own ‘local’ takeaway place, and most people are no further than 15 minutes from a Maccas/Hungry Jacks/Red Rooster/Subway/Pizza/KFC!

  2. In 8 times ordering a chicken pizza with Bbq sauce 6 of them have come back with Tomato sauce.. such a pathetic mistake for such a large company, but as the ceo says “you asked, we listened” hmm right!

  3. @Craig. Yes the newer eps are in 16:9.

    I find the show interesting. As you get to see behind the scenes and how some things work. Though I do agree that it does only highlight a handful of employees. I wonder how they find them as in the US series they’re quite open talk about their personal life on camera.

  4. The reason that the Belconnen store is busy is simply due to there being only one Dominos servicing an area with about 80,000 people. The lack of fast-food franchises in ACT means that most major take-away stores are packed or have long queues around Canberra.

  5. my only issue with the UCB concept is that it rewards only a select few employees and in some of the larger corporations leaves 1000s of other employees who are just as hard done by and work just as hard if not harder asking where is their handout? Where the CEO initiates company-wide policies as a result of UCB that’s fine as it benefits everyone, but it’s when they single out a couple of sob stories and give them a trip to Disneyland i just wonder how that impacts the rest of the employees. In a society where people will cry foul and shout discrimination at the drop of a hat, i just wonder how the show works with that.

  6. I can verify that Belconnen store in canberra is indeed busy – however they are also indeed efficient, pleasant and the pizzas are Always ready on time – which is more than I can say for the Pizza Hut in the next suburb

  7. Despite its drawbacks, I do like watching the American Undercover Boss, it’s inspiring and interesting to see how other workplaces and businesses operate. The biggest drawback, as I’ve mentioned before is not using hidden cameras, but then permission might not be given by some to use the footage in the show, unless their faces are pixelated.

  8. I’m with you David, for heavens sake it’s 2010 (almost 2011) why are production companies still using 4:3? It’s like when cinema made the switch to color and some insisted keeping thing black and white!

    But isn’t the new US series finally in 16:9? I caught a bit of the last on to air and I’m sure it was wide screen.

    That all aside I don’t get it’s appeal either but I’m not a fan of reality TV so can’t really judge.

  9. Maybe to fool people for another season they should make the series about workers changing jobs and air it in between UCB seasons. Then no one would know which series they were shooting for.

  10. Somehow the US producers managed to film the second season after the cat was out of the bag and the first season had been a massive mega hit.

    They came up with a way to fool workplaces – it worked it seems! They shot a whole second season on an even grander scale!

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