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On CBS Series ‘The Job,’ The Job Search Gets The Reality-Competition Treatment

“The Job,” a new reality-competition series that debuts tonight on CBS, attempts to take a serious part of life that everyone has been through–the job interview–and turn it into compelling television.

Of course, with unemployment still high, and reports of layoffs at large companies nearly every week, it is not a subject to take lightly.

“All of us have been in competition for a job at some stage of our lives, and we have just taken that real competition that people are in, and present that opportunity to candidates who would not otherwise get the opportunity,” the show’s executive producer Michael Davies tells me. “We were very responsible, and we are very aware of how serious this is, and how much it meant to our candidates.”

Each week the show features a different business; for the first episode it is The Palm steakhouse, and for the second (as we reported a few weeks ago) Cosmopolitan magazine is the featured company. During the show, which is hosted by Lisa Ling, five candidates engage in a variety of tasks under the watchful eye of executives from the featured company, from field training to a quiz show-esque grilling. The grand prize is not a fake job with a big salary, but a real, normal, middle-class gig. At The Palm it is an assistant manager job, at Cosmo it is an editorial assistant position.

Davies says that of the 40 contestants that appeared on the program, 16 landed jobs.

“These applicants had no intention of becoming reality stars, their only objective was to try and secure their dream job,” Ling tells me. “They were all incredibly qualified, and in fact vetted by the various companies HR departments as well. These were all very qualified people, who have been working toward pursuing a job at this company or in the industry being featured.”

Throughout the show, the company executives also appear in “bumpers” where they give advice to job-seeking viewers. Ling cites that as a big part of what makes the show so appealing to her as a host.

“Whether you are interested in the company or the job that is being featured or not, there is takeaway value from every single episode,” she says. “For the audience, it is an opportunity to learn, and see these executives at work.”

But is it good television?

The informative segments in the first two episodes skew toward information that is dry and ubiquitous among advice columns. The segments are entertaining, based on typical days at work with varied objectives (not surprising considering the vastly different industries featured), although it is hard to not feel bad watching the candidates who didn’t get the job walk off the stage. It wasn’t quite exploitative, but it was uncomfortable.

That said, it was clear that the participants–both on the contestant and executive side–did not view the show as a joke. At the end of the Cosmo episode, Cosmo editor Joanna Coles starts to get emotional as the final two competitors hold hands.

“You are going to make me cry, and I haven’t cried since 1983,” Coles quips.

“It was beyond emotional for her, Davies recalls. “This process really humanized the interview process, even for the executives.”

Indeed, Ling says that the show has already had an impact beyond the set.

“A couple of the companies have said they are going to change their hiring practices based on their experience on ‘The Job,’” she said.

While the show does not glorify companies the way that “Undercover Boss” often does, it falls short of feeling “real.”

Of course, it is TV, and mostly compelling TV at that. TV’s impact is often less on the individuals featured, and more on everyone who sees it and takes it to heart. I have no doubt that Davies, Ling and everyone involved in the show are serious about trying to help job seekers, through the medium they know best.

“We hope that this inspires other companies and potential candidates to do the right things, and to find a job in the right way,” Davies says.

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