US & World

CBS unscripted series 'Undercover Boss' premieres following Super Bowl

CBS will use the much-coveted post-Super Bowl time slot Sunday unlike any network has in the past 14 years.

Undercover Boss will premiere following what is annually television's most-watched program as CBS hopes a large initial sampling of the series, where corporate chief executives work anonymously alongside their rank-and-file employees, will lead to it becoming a hit.

Undercover Boss will be the first series to premiere immediately after the Super Bowl since 1995, when ABC aired the short-lived outdoor adventure series "Extreme." It is the first unscripted series to premiere after a Super Bowl.

The Fox Broadcasting animated series Family Guy and American Dad premiered on Super Bowl nights, but followed episodes of The Simpsons.

For much of the 1980s and into the mid-1990s, networks customarily used the post-Super Bowl time slot for series premieres. However, that strategy rarely paid long-term dividends, prompting networks to instead use the time slot to boost current series.

CBS decided to return to the past strategy because Undercover Boss has "a tone and a quality... that we felt was a great fit after the Super Bowl," CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler said at last month's Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour.

"It is aspirational," Tassler said. "It is a feel-good program. Everybody who is sitting and watching the Super Bowl, be you 8 or 80, can stay right there and enjoy the program."

Getting the post-Super Bowl time slot for a premiere is "like winning the jackpot," Undercover Boss executive producer Stephen Lambert said.

The creation of Undercover Boss stemmed in part from the limited number of unscripted series set in the workplace, said Lambert, who produced Wife Swap and Secret Millionaire.

"This is a show where the boss is on a dual mission," Lambert said. "He wants to find out what's really going on on the front line, things he can't see when he's back at headquarters," Lambert said.

"Second, he's looking for the unsung heroes of the company. He's looking for people that deserve some kind of thanks, maybe a promotion. That recognition can be extremely emotional."

The premiere episode of Undercover Boss follows Larry O'Donnell, the president and chief operating officer of Waste Management, as he struggles to collect garbage from a landfill, sorts waste at a recycling plant and assists a garbage truck driver, learning that his attempts to increase productivity had negative ramifications.

"There's no doubt about it that I am a different individual having gone through this," O'Donnell said. "While I've always felt that I am very approachable, and I truly do care about my employees, actually getting out there and doing the job as a first-time employee I have a new appreciation of what they do each day."