|Rick Tigner goes undercover in the vineyard|
Tigner tears up in the very beginning, and when his identity was revealed, every featured employee save one -- the one he almost fires -- tears up also. I guess that's reality TV.
Wiping the tears aside, I liked the show, a lot, because of its unusual focus on the business side of wine.
Most TV shows about wine are insufferable. Insipid music is usually the worst part. A view of pristine vineyards, never a mechanical harvester in sight. A dramatic recitation of the challenging climate. A grizzled vintner saying the work is done in the vineyard. and the magic is found in the glass. And finally the host ooohs and aahs over the wine. With the exception of "Mondovino," I've never before seen a TV show examine an issue in wine or even say anything really interesting; they all seem like they're made by PR firms to run in airport waiting rooms.
"Undercover Boss" broke all those rules.
|Tigner learning to work in the Murphy-Goode tasting room|
Though we finished in the tasting room, the editing focused on the business of getting people to sign up for wine clubs, not the raspberries and blackberries they tasted in their Zinfandel. And, be still my beating heart, when we first saw somebody taste wine, she didn't go, "mmm;" she spit it out and took notes, like people do in the wine biz. Bravo, CBS. I don't know that any 1-hour documentary gets the whole story, but this one got way, way more of the story than I've ever seen, without the confrontational polemics of "Mondovino."
Tigner came across great in this show, which isn't surprising. I'm professionally acquainted with Tigner and have found him to be not just whip-smart, but caring. He's a good sport here, although Lucille Ball is a lot funnier when she can't keep up with an assembly line.
The show also touched on some serious issues, unflinchingly. The tasting room supervisor tells us she works 38 hours a week but is considered part-time and gets no benefits. Is that even legal? And there's an interesting twist ending: after Tigner elevates her to a full-time job and gives her benefits -- and some cash -- in the closing credits we learn she left for another job.
We also learn through her that K-J suspended its 401K program during the economic downturn. Tigner announces at the end of the show that the company is bringing it back, though I wondered if that spending will require more layoffs as a tradeoff.
The profane truck driver is set up to be the bad guy on the show; he makes the huge mistake of saying on camera, "Your goal, at the end of the day, fuck customer service and all that, it's having that truck empty." I really expected Tigner to fire him on camera.
And yet I'll bet every road warrior in the wine business knows exactly how that truck driver feels. The driver works all day but every account wants its wine delivered before 11 a.m.; they all complain if he arrives during lunch service; some keep him waiting, when he has other deliveries to make. He doesn't make his case gracefully -- doofus, don't you see those cameras? -- but his gripes are legit.
Tigner agreed to do the show to humanize K-J, and flaws are human. I wonder if the audience, having seen the passion of the guy who affixes the labels, will buy more Vintners Reserve Chardonnay.
Certainly lots of people watched the show. It won its time slot, beating the NFL Pro Bowl, drawing 13 million viewers. However, as is true of many CBS shows, the audience skewed old: the show finished only third in the 18-49 age demographic behind the Pro Bowl and ABC's "Once Upon A Time." (It did whip "The Simpsons.")
In sum, bravo to "Undercover Boss" for giving 13 million people a look beyond the romance of the wine industry. And Rick, if you're reading this, I wish the best for you and your wife.
You can watch the episode online here.