‘Undercover Boss': It's Just a TV Show

On a road trip about 10 years ago when I was working in pro sports, we stayed at a hotel with a Hooters next door. Having never been to one and clearly only interested in the fine cuisine Hooters was said to offer, a couple of us bounced over to it.

Three hours later, I was on bended knee. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to offer a ring to a Hooters Girl. The only ring that night was the porcelain toilet in front of me, into which I was vomiting rather impressively.

So, when the trust fund baby who now runs Hooters starred in a recent episode of Undercover Boss on CBS, the bar wasn’t real high for it to become my best experience with the brand. Still, I thought the hour was fun, and an important reminder about “reality” television. Very simply, for the most part it’s not reality, and it is under no obligation to be so. Nor does it have to judge its own participants, sad as they may be.

As long as a television show is under the umbrella of an entertainment division, it and those who program it have one job: to get as many people to watch it as possible.

The Hooters episode drew more than 15 million against the Olympics. It featured Hooters CEO Coby Brooks—who seemingly got his job because his father and brother died—going “undercover” to learn more about his own company.

The high—or low—point of the hour came when Brooks accompanied a couple of Hooters Girls onto the street to talk to the public, only to find out that some people didn’t like the way his company portrays women. The way his reaction was cut—and with television, we never really know what actually happened—was funnier than any episode of The Big Bang Theory. Basically, he came across like this had never crossed his mind.

There are too many examples of why this is hysterical. Start with the traffic sign in the corporate conference room with the word “bumps” and a diagram that resembles, well, I’m sure you can guess. Or pick up a Hooters employee handbook, which mandates about the outfits, “All shirts must be sized to fit,” and then in all capitals just to be sure you don’t miss it, says, “NO BAGGINESS.” And third…oh, this is ridiculous. The place ain’t named for owls.

So, between that and the way Undercover Boss portrayed “Jimbo” the restaurant manager as the bad guy because he made his waitresses do demeaning tasks so they could leave early, there was plenty for viewers to thumb a nose at.

But here’s the thing: Don’t blame the show. There have been opinions that Undercover Boss glorified the company and the CEO. But it is simply not CBS’ responsibility to call out these buffoons. I’m sure CBS execs would say the buffoons took care of that with their own actions. CBS does not need to have Donald Trump show up and fire Jimbo on the spot, or Judge Judy to turn up at the end and rule that Brooks is a jackass.

And likewise with reality TV, whether it’s Jersey Shore or anything else, I don’t find fault with producers or networks that basically script out these shows, or set up situations and then cut them to add drama. It’s called show business for a reason.

If Undercover Boss were run by CBS News as a documentary-like exposé, then I’d have some problems with it. Hooters is a bit of a mess, and reportedly may be on the block, so there’d be plenty to talk about.

But this show—like anything from an entertainment division—has no obligation to do anything more than draw viewers. And so far, it’s working.