CBS will use Super Bowl XLIV to launch reality series "Undercover Boss"-- the first time since 1995 the coveted time slot has gone to a new show.
It's a gutsy move, given the poor track record for premiering series after the game. Save for "The Wonder Years" in 1988 and "Homicide: Life on the Street" in 1993, most series which got post-game premieres in the past 20 years went on to fail (R.I.P., "Extreme," "Grand Slam," "Davis Rules," etc.)
But CBS executives believe they've got a winner in "Undercover Boss," a documentary-style show that moved some advertisers and other audience members to tears when it was previewed last May at the network's upfront presentation.
The show, from executive producer Stephen Lambert, follows CEOs from major companies as they go undercover to see how their companies really work. Among the executives taking part are leaders from Waste Management, Hooters, White Castle and 7-Eleven.
Early reaction to the show was also positive from the media who saw a cutdown of the show at the upfronts.
"Boss," Time's James Poniewozik wrote last spring, "looked funny and tearjerking, and I'll bet plenty of account executives in the audience were trying to think of how to persuade their clients to sign up for an episode. If nothing else, 'Undercover Boss' did not look boring."
CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler said that the network seriously considered following the recent trend of using the post-game slot to "build an existing show into a bigger brand," as she put it.
"But as we looked around at the potential candidates (already on CBS), we realized we had shows that are already building on their own," she said. In other words, series such as "Big Bang Theory" and "Survivor" were already doing well and didn't need the boost as much as a new series.
With "Undercover Boss," Tassler said CBS has a series with "great big, broad appeal. We feel that everyone who's watching the Super Bowl can just sit in their seats and keep watching 'Undercover Boss'.
"It's aspirational, it's wish fulfillment and it's a new form (of reality)," Tassler added.
Indeed, unlike most network reality shows, there's no competition or elimination angle to "Boss." And it's also not a docusoap in which contrived situations are used to drive plot.
"It's sort of a docu-narrative," Tassler told TheWrap. "There's no host,and the cast of characters is very vivid, very memorable. It hits all of the same visceral high points of our scripted shows. It's emotional, it's funny, it's compelling, it's full of surprises. It's a great big, broad entertainment."
After its post-game Feb. 7 debut, "Boss" is scheduled to air Sundays at 9 p.m., moving "Cold Case" to 10 p.m. Sundays. A new season of "Amazing Race" will also debut Feb. 14, serving as a lead-in for "Boss."
There's been much media speculation in recent weeks about what CBS might air after the Super Bowl, a decision sometimes announced as early as six months in advance. But CBS executives weren't trying to be dramatic by delaying the news: Tassler said the network didn't make a final call on "Boss" until last Thursday.
"To his credit, Leslie (Moonves, CEO of CBS Corp.) has been very supportive of this show," Tassler added.
Tassler is certainly aware of the poor track record of post-Super Bowl premieres, though there have also been big successes ("Wonder Years," "The A-Team.") She said the network will simply have to make sure people know in advance that "Boss" is worth staying tuned-in.
"The onus does fall on us to make sure we do promote and expose it," she said. "We want to make sure people know exactly what the show is."
In other CBS scheduling news, the network said the 20th edition of "Survivor"-- dubbed "Heroes vs. Villains"-- will get a two-hour premiere on Feb. 11 from 8-10 p.m. The week before, CBS will fill the "Survivor" Thursday slot with the tentatively titled special "Surviving Survivor," which will include clips from past seasons and updates on the whereabouts of memorable contestants.
As previously reported, the Jeff Probst/Mark Burnett pilot "Live for the Moment" will keep the 8 p.m. Thursday slot warm on Jan. 28.
Tassler said the network is closing in on an announcement regarding the debut of new Jerry Bruckheimer drama "Miami Medical." Options include Sundays at 10 (if "Cold Case" takes a break) and Fridays at 10 (since "Numbers" has seen its episode order cut).