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Is Undercover Boss Staged?

An adaptation of a 2009 British series, "Undercover Boss" features real CEOs and upper management of their own companies disguising themselves in order to see how it feels to work alongside the rest of their employees. According to The New York Times, the American version's premiere alone, timed to air right after the 2010 NFL Super Bowl, scored 38.6 million viewers. Thanks to the intriguing premise and hit ratings, the current American "Undercover Boss" has now been on the air for 11 seasons and counting.

However, the reality show has also been heavily criticized as well. The AV Club called out the CBS show for being "some of the most blatant propaganda on American television." Others, like Time Magazine, noticed how "Undercover Boss" blatantly manipulates footage in order to create an emotional reaction in the viewer.

These criticisms beg the question of how much of the hit series is "staged," or if the production is merely editing the footage to fit a fixed narrative. Here's the truth about the reality behind "Undercover Boss."

Undercover Boss' interactions are very real

According to International Business Times, the actual scenes on "Undercover Boss," where a CEO and his employees interact, are completely real. Vivint CEO Todd Pedersen said after his appearance, "My responses, experiences with the employees, their background stories, etc. — all of that is authentic. I didn't know anything beforehand." These bosses have also instituted real changes in the company as a result of their experiences, like Checkers now giving bonuses to team members (via Business Insider).

Of course, the network and the production team are still making specific choices about the content of the series. Per Axia Public Relations, CBS and the show's filmmakers still choose which companies and individual employees will be featured on "Undercover Boss." And as reality television producers, the producers naturally want to depict tear-jerking stories that will keep audiences returning every week.

Time Magazine wrote, "'Undercover Boss' is emotionally manipulative because it's a primetime entertainment show." But while the producers might choose what part of the footage will be on the air, the experiences featured on the show are as real as reality TV can get.