Undercover Boss: Advertainment's Fourth Wave

So we assume you saw Undercover Boss last night, CBS' big new reality show that got the plum post-Super Bowl spot? Amazing, was it not? Televised entertainment has now completed its long, winding journey into becoming 100% corporate propaganda.

In Undercover Boss, a CEO goes undercover in his own company to get the real scoop on how hard it is...to work for his own company. Last night's premiere featured Larry O'Donnell, COO of the thoroughly unglamorous, dirty, occasionally union-busting multibillion-dollar trash company Waste Management. Larry met many hardworking employees in heartstring-tugging situations, and was able to help them, by vowing to form a committee to address their concerns about their shitty jobs!

CONSIDER: In the olden days of television, companies would sponsor an entire block of programming—The Colgate Variety Hour, or whatever. In return for their name on the show and some in-show plugs, the audience got about an hour of entertainment content. THEN, the 30-second commercial reigned. In return for minutes-long blocks of commercial content, consumers got (more) minutes-long blocks of uninterrupted entertainment. THEN, Tivo came along. Many advertisers moved towards product placement—they paid to have their products and branding messages integrated into the shows themselves. The 30-second ads remained! So, in return for the same lengthy advertising breaks, consumers got a bit of advertorial-type entertainment content.

AND NOW, with the advent of Undercover Boss, we find we have come to a new stage in television: An entire prime-time show that is, in effect, an hour-long corporate public relations message, broadcast to a far larger audience than the corporation could ever hope to reach itself, courtesy of one of our nation's premiere television networks. Can you even begin to imagine the amount of money that an unsexy company like Waste Management, for chrissake, would have had to spend to buy an amount of media exposure equal to a full hour of prime time directly after the Super Bowl? It quite literally could not have been purchased with all the money in Waste Management's coffers! But, in exchange for what was no doubt hand-and-foot service from Waste Management's PR team in setting up logistics and tracking down appropriately engaging employees for the boss to interact with, CBS gives the company an advertainment opportunity unparalleled anywhere else on television. SO, The deal for you, the television viewer is now this: in return for sitting through lengthy blocks of ads, you are treated to one hour of a trash company's employee morale-boosting video, writ large.

Waste Management played it well: they had the boss admit some mistakes and act humble. Future participants should take notes. This is the best deal corporate America's gotten on CBS since the network dropped that 60 Minutes tobacco story. Don't fuck this up, guys.