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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

‘Undercover Boss’ on CBS spotlights Stone Mountain Park & the Norcross company that runs it

ducks stone mountain

CBS hasn’t had a new reality show hit in several years so when it green-lit “Undercover Boss,” the network only ordered nine episodes, a dutiful sign of caution.

But after screening the show, execs felt it was good enough to launch after the Super Bowl, a platform like no other.

Viewers liked it.

Since moving to 9 p.m. Sundays, “Boss” has averaged more than 14 million viewers a week, a bona fide success in this day and age. The program, which features CEOs working at entry-level jobs at their own companies, has already been renewed for a second season.

And a metro Atlanta company gets the spotlight again, just a few weeks after “Boss” spent an hour with Atlanta’s Hooters. This time, it’s Norcross-based Herschend Family Entertainment, a privately-held company which operates 20 entertainment venues including Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., Wild Adventures in Valdosta and Stone Mountain Park locally.

joel manby

Joel Manby, former CEO of Saab Cars USA who joined Herschend as CEO in 2003, said he felt like he’d been “withdrawing a little bit and not going out as much” given recent cutbacks. So when CBS approached him with this concept, he jumped at the idea.

“This was an incredibly life-changing experience for me in ways I didn’t expect,” he said. “This re-energized me.”

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Manby last fall grew facial hair, put on Buddy Holly glasses and donned a cap to hide his identity. He played captain on a Ride the Ducks boat in Stone Mountain. He hosed down streets at Silver Dollar City and waited tables at a showboat in Branson, Mo. He cleaned fish tanks at an aquarium in Camden, N.J.

And once he revealed who he was, he also didn’t want to just give token rewards to individual employees. “I really tried hard to institute systemic changes,” he said

Manby said it’s heartening to see viewers connecting with the show after the recent economic turmoil and negativity toward Wall Street honchos: “I think people like to see leaders who care about their people and aren’t perfect.”

“I think most workers think executives are aloof and don’t understand their problems,” said Perry Binder, an assistant professor for legal studies at the Robinson School of Business at Georgia State University. “They get a kick seeing them get down and dirty and hope if they see what they do each day, they can improve things.”

To throw off the lower-level employees, CBS pretended to be shooting a documentary about entry-level jobs. With the subterfuge exposed, the network will have to come up with another ruse to keep the show viable its sophomore year.

Marc Berman, who writes for TV for mediaweek.com, said the show is like a corporate version of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” which has lasted seven seasons.

“It always leaves you feeling good at the end of the show since people are being rewarded,” he said. It’s contrived in a sense, he noted, because truly disgruntled employees are not going to be featured.

Brad Adgate, research director at  media consulting firm Horizon Media, said it’s hard to say how long this show could last. It could be like “Heroes,” a meteorite. Or it could last, like “Extreme Makeover.” For now, “it’s performing better than CBS ever imagined,” he said. It’s even beating ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” once a dominant player on Sunday nights.

On TV
“Undercover Boss,” CBS, 9 p.m. Sundays

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12 comments Add your comment

count_schemula

March 25th, 2010
8:11 pm

Ok, so now execs know how hard “regular people” work for enough money just to scrape by. Now what?

RHR

March 25th, 2010
9:22 pm

I love this show, it is very eye opening for both owners/management and employees.

Debdoes

March 25th, 2010
9:44 pm

Love it and hope the management teams really make the changes discussed in the post op of each show…

RGB

March 25th, 2010
10:39 pm

The shows are entertaining, but the executives always seem surprised to find that “it’s employees who make the difference.” Yet, most companies have very few means established to recognize and reward outstanding employees. The employee at the top gets incrementally more than the employee next to the bottom.

The show is formulaic in that there’s always the employee who needs a kidney or has a child who needs a kidney. The boss cries then presents the employee with a small check after talking about their “life changing experience.” After a while you learn to look for that. I remember the horse track racing exec who failed to notice the picture of an employee’s child attached to a clipboard held directly in front of the exec’s face. The picture had the girl’s dates of birth and death. It virtually took a cattle prod for the exec to notice the picture. Some power of observation, huh.

Oh, one more thing. Why does it take a TV show before these executives get involved in their businesses? Shouldn’t it be natural for an executive to want to get close to customers and to the people who provide/deliver products and services to customers who produce the revenue for the company.

That these execs don’t already go undercover speaks volumes about the missed opportunities in American corporations.

But I really enjoy the show.

Emily

March 25th, 2010
11:35 pm

I’ve watched the show and it’s somewhat entertaining, but I can’t help but think these CEOs are all reading from a script when they talk about how the employees on the front line are the life-blood of the company (and how they’ve become more motivated and inspired by them and blah blah blah). Well, yeah, of course they are!! You’re tellin’ me you’re only now just finding that out?!? I hate to be cynical, but I think the CEOs are only doing the show to create some good PR for their company. I bet after the show airs and the company-wide cheerleading dies down, nothing is really getting changed or improved for the employees in these companies.

Dude in the picture looks like...

March 26th, 2010
9:12 am

…an older version of Scott Bakula….

Dilly Dally

March 26th, 2010
9:24 am

…….or a younger version of Huey Lewis!

Rancid Meat

March 26th, 2010
11:20 am

or a Scott Bakula and Huey Lewis love child. I want a new drug…

Not Going To Use My Usual Name

March 27th, 2010
3:28 pm

I do appreciate this CEO (Manby) for stating that he’s attempting to make “systemic changes” rather than token rewards to individual employees. The show is contrived, but it’s a darn good idea for CEOs (and other high-level execs) to do this sort of thing–and perhaps even better to do it on their own, without cameras rolling.

SDouglas

March 28th, 2010
9:53 pm

We’ve owned and run a business, and I grew up in business as well. I did learn quite a few things watching the show and I plan to implement them in my new church building as well Enjoyed the show!

Dame

March 29th, 2010
12:46 am

CJ

March 29th, 2010
9:22 pm

I like the show alot. It would be good if the finale was an update on the companies previously displayed and what they have/have not done.