THE SHOW "Undercover Boss"
WHEN | WHERE Season premiere Friday night at 8 on CBS
WHAT IT'S ABOUT CBS newcomer "Made in Jersey" was forced into early retirement and in its place arrives a new season of "Undercover Boss." The premiere episode features Long Island-raised Mitchell Modell, CEO of Modell's Sporting Goods, one of the nation's largest retail chains with a Long Island accent. While the company -- now with 3,800 employees -- was founded in New York in the late 1880s, the Modells were longtime residents of Hewlett Harbor. Here, Mitchell, who now lives in Alpine, N.J., with his wife and two sons, goes on the road to see why a store is underperforming in Milford, Conn.; tries to figure out a forklift at the Bronx distribution hub; and meets a store employee in Washington, D.C., with a hard-luck story. As always in "Undercover Boss," the scales fall from his eyes -- but first, he has to shave his head and pretend to be "Joe," a former pizza restaurant owner competing in a reality show.
MY SAY As an undercover CEO, Mitchell Modell cuts an unlikely figure -- think Curly of the Three Stooges in a Fu Manchu mustache -- but also a surprisingly effective one. Let's put it this way: Once seen, not quickly forgotten. He's a big, blustery, comical figure with watery eyes, and the waterworks really turn on when he meets an employee with a hardship story. As it turns out -- surprise -- they all do. (Message to any Modell's employee who, God forbid, is currently homeless: Get in touch with Mitch, pronto.)
What's good about him is that he actually appears to listen and care about their concerns. Of course, the camera's running and it's easy to call "Undercover Boss" just another marketing initiative among many that a featured company is lucky enough to deploy. But if Modell is faking this, he may just deserve a reality show of his own. His brief excursion to the remote outposts of his company hardly qualifies as an exhaustive look at his company's problems -- and in fact Modell's looks like another company that grew too fast before running up against that brick wall called the Great Recession. But at least this CEO looks like someone who's willing to try some unorthodox -- and humane -- ways around it.
BOTTOM LINE The boss is far from being a gray boardroom suit -- he's colorful, amusing and even emotional.