It takes a certain amount of audacity to build a reality show around threatening a company’s weakest links with some very real pink slips — especially as the nation’s unemployment rate remains stuck in the stratosphere.
And yet as Fox reality chief Mike Darnell talks about tonight’s premiere of Does Someone Have to Go? (9/8c), he claims the process is actually quite “cathartic.”
“We’re not talking about an arbitrary firing,” Darnell explains. “If you watch the premiere, you realize there’s all this pent-up angst within a company. And [the format of the show provides] a cathartic way to get out the issues: Let’s see what everybody thinks of each other. Let’s find out what everybody makes. Let’s figure out what the problems are.”
The series premiere focuses on the family-run Velocity Merchant Services, where the company’s wife-and-husband management team turn over the power to their employees to determine who’s overpaid, who’s undervalued and who needs to get their walking papers. Workers’ “private” confessional videos get revealed to their colleagues, everyone’s salaries are posted on a screen in the conference room and ultimately, three employees end up nominated for termination. Next week’s conclusion finds the at-risk workers pleading for their jobs and final decisions being rendered.
“Part of what makes reality TV work is relatability. And this show is extraodrinarily relatable,” Darnell continues. “[People] always have that sense that the boss doesn’t know who the crappy worker is, [or] who’s doing nothing. And if you had your way, you could point it out and take care of it. That’s why it’s relatable — in addition to being emotional and voyeuristic and all those things that make reality shows work.”
Still, amidst lackluster ratings for recent high-profile entries like NBC’s Ready for Love and ABC’s Splash, does Darnell feel like the reality genre is becoming an increasibly difficult nut to crack? “There’s probably no more failure now than there has been in the last 10 years. Look at last spring-summer: You’ll see there were like 12 reality shows that failed in a row,” Darnell contends.
That said, with cable networks also heavily in the reality game, viewers have “hundreds” of options in front of them, Darnell admits. ”Because of that, it’s hard to [generate] too much excitement for something that’s a brand-new, edgy show — ’cause there are probably three new cable shows that sound just as edgy. It’s much tougher now to get noticed.”
And as for any potential pitfalls — legal or otherwise — of the Does Someone Have to Go? concept, Darnell promises that “the i’s have been dotted and the t’s have been crossed” by both Fox and Endemol’s legal teams.
“I didn’t make the legal Bible on it, but look, if you go back 10 years, it seemed like every progression of every reality show would have been impossible to do from a legal standpoint,” Darnell notes. And if any episodes end with an affirmative answer to the show’s titular question, “There is definitely a severance package that would be in line with what they’d normally get.”
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- Mike Darnell