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What Will Undercover Boss Do for an Encore?

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The ratings for Undercover Boss since the Super Bowl have been stellar; last night it held its own against the Olympics and beat a new episode of Desperate Housewives. Joe Adalian at The Wrap says a renewal for a second season is inevitable, and it’s hard to argue. There’s only one question:

How?

If you assume that the show is not 100% fake and staged, top to bottom (as opposed to usual reality-TV editing, contrivance and creating scenarios), then it has something of a Borat problem: having been a hit, people are now aware of it, so how do you dupe another set of subjects? Yes, Borat and Ali G had a single host, but Undercover Boss has a single premise. Next year, when some new guy shows up at your job with cameras shooting a “reality series about entry-level jobs,” what are you going to think?

Joe Millionaire, a megahit its first time around, ran into a similar problem: even participants in a Fox reality show were not going to be dumb enough to believe, a second time, that they were being courted by a millionaire, after 40-some million people watched the first outing. That hurdle was not going to keep Fox from trying to strike it rich twice, though, so they made The Next Joe Millionaire by recruiting bachelorettes from countries where the show had not been a TV phenomenon. I personally thought the sequel ended up being a brilliant sendup of New World vs. Old World stereotypes, but few viewers agreed with me. You will not recall a Joe Millionaire 3.

CBS is not going to leave money on the table either, so what will it do for a sequel season? The producers have claimed to have ideas for that contingency. Not knowing what they are, I can only guess:

* A new cover story. I can only guess what this would possibly be, but the simplest solution would be to engineer another explanation for a new worker showing up tailed by a camera crew.

* Hidden cameras. Another thought, of course, is to get rid of the camera crew, but that severely limits your choice of settings

* Make the pauper the prince. Maybe do a season of Undercover Employee, in which underlings spend a hitch working as executives? Pro: unexpected twist. Con: Same camera-crew problem.

* The Joe Millionaire solution? This comes from a reader on Twitter: A la Joe Millionaire 2, do a, overseas edition, in which CEOs have to work in their overseas call centers, maquiladoras, sweatshops and other sites of outsourced employment. I don’t know how serious the suggestion was, but I would love to watch this, and it would be a fascinating reminder of where work has gone in the world, how that work gets done and how many of our products get made. For that reason, though, I have to doubt whether any CEO would volunteer for it—or whether the ratings would be any good.

Beyond that, I’m thinking you could move the show out of the corporate sector: Undercover Governor, Undercover Bishop, Undercover General? Your ideas?

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