Producer has plan to keep 'Boss' going

Published: Friday, March 5 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

A lot of people who work in or write about the television industry were, to put it mildly, surprised when CBS scheduled the premiere of "Undercover Boss" after the Super Bowl.

Including yours truly.

What? Yet another reality show with a rather hokey premise gets the best lead-in on all of TV?

Well, it turns out that the folks at CBS knew what they were doing. "Undercover Boss" is the surprise hit of the season.

On Sunday, the fourth episode was the second-most-watched show of the night, trailing only the final night of the Winter Olympics. And the second half-hour of "Boss" actually beat the Olympics among the all-important 18-49 demographic.

Who would have thought that a show about the head of a big company clandestinely going to work as an underling would be so popular?

And yet the show is so well-produced and entertaining that, in a way, it's not that big of a surprise. At least not to the folks at CBS who had such confidence in it.

The biggest question at this point is: How will the producers be able to keep this going? Now that "Undercover Boss" is a hit, how will they be able to keep up the pretense?

Now that tens of millions of people have seen the show, you'd think it would be far more difficult for the boss to show up, trailed by a camera crew, and not be instantly identifiable.

Production on the first batch of episodes was completed before the show premiered. And the presence of cameras was explained by telling employees it was part of a documentary about entry-level workers.

"That will be something that we have to address," said executive producer Stephen Lambert. "We've got a number of ideas how we're going to deal with that, which aren't necessarily ideas that I think are good for me to articulate now."

So, he's got a plan. But it's a secret plan.

As silly as that sounds, it's plausible. After all, if you'd told me five weeks ago that "Undercover Boss" would be a big hit — even up against the Winter Olympics — I would have scoffed.

Lambert promised that, while the mechanics behind production will change a bit, the premise of the show won't be any different.

"I think the principle of the boss who doesn't really know what it's like on the front line is a principle that is strong and one that we can build a longtime series on," Lambert said. "Quite how we execute it as the series develops is something, obviously, we will do in discussion with CBS.

"But I think the fundamental idea of experiencing what your workers do is something that has a long future."

BALLOON BOY PROBLEM: Before he produced "Undercover Boss," Lambert was the executive producer of "Wife Swap."

And the most famous alumnae of that show are the Heene family — better known as the people behind the "balloon boy" hoax.

Richard and Mayumi Heene and their children were actually featured on "Wife Swap" twice; after their initial episode, they were "fan favorites" on the series' 100th episode.

Given the extremes the Heenes went to to land their own reality show — the apparent reason for the whole balloon-boy hoax — how do we know that anything that happened during their time on "Wife Swap" was for real?

Well, we don't.

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