Soap Opera Weekly: 9/20/10

I’m not the biggest fan of self-improvement reality shows, but there’s something about UNDERCOVER BOSS that really connects with audiences (and okay, yes, me).

I suppose UNDERCOVER BOSS doesn’t even qualify for the “self-improvement” category like, say, THE BIGGEST LOSER. But it’s not about competition, and clearly the CEOs are not playing games when they don disguises and infiltrate their own companies for a taste of what it’s like to work the front lines.

The second season kicked off this week with Stephen Joyce, president and CEO of Choice Hotels International, sampling the inner workings of his hospitality chain. For his first job, Steve worked in the maintenance department, performing chores like cleaning the pool and arranging deck chairs. At the end of the day he got stuck in an elevator and had to…you guessed it, call maintenance. He went on to try cold-calling in the sales department, as well running the front desk at the tiny Comfort Suites division, where desk personnel are the only employees on-site.

UB may only be in its second season, but the episodes have settled into a comfortable routine: The boss meets several real workers and realizes that these dedicated, hardworking folks could use a little break (such as this week’s Ricardo, who was working two jobs, seven days a week, to send his children to college); boss also encounters at least a token stinker who needs retraining. At the end of the hour, the boss announces raises and scholarships and training programs, etc. It’s a feel-good formula.

This week, Steve declared that he had learned what has become the cardinal lesson of UNDERCOVER BOSS: It’s easier to ignore the human element when you’re sitting in your office, instead of getting down and dirty in the trenches.

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