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Talk about a nerve-wracking interview.
Five candidates will have a shot at their dream job each week in CBS’ new reality show The Job, which premieres at 8 p.m. Friday. However, they not only will have to be interviewed by a panel of top executives in front of a live studio audience, but they also will be put through a series of challenges designed to eliminate the weaker candidates one by one.
Companies including Palm Restaurant Group, Cosmopolitan, Major League Soccer, Epic Records, Zynga, Live Nation, Gilt and Viceroy Hotel Group have signed on to take part in the series, along with representatives of related “guest companies” who will have the opportunity to make an on-the-spot offer to one of the candidates. That person must then decide if they will accept the offer or remain in the running for the highlighted job.
The show, hosted by Lisa Ling, is executive produced by Michael Davies (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, The Glee Project), Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Celebrity Apprentice) and Jay Bienstock (Survivor).
Ahead of the series premiere, Davies talked to The Hollywood Reporter about how he came up with the idea, how the companies and candidates were recruited, what the new hires actually receive and how the partnership with Burnett came about.
The Hollywood Reporter: You don’t normally think of a job interview as something one could make a TV show out of. So how did the idea come to you??
Michael Davies: Really, two things happened simultaneously. I was a producer for Oxygen and Ryan Murphy on a series called The Glee Project. On most competition shows, you’re competing for the vague idea of a recording career or contract, but this was for a specific job on Glee. I started thinking about, how can I take this idea [of competing for a specific job] and make it emotional and entertaining? At the same time, in the summer of 2011, my daughter finished her freshman year of college and said to me, “I have no intention of going back my sophomore year.” I asked her why. And she said, “None of my friends who graduated got real jobs. They are all doing temporary or volunteer work.” I did research and realized this wasn’t job a problem for 22-year-olds but for all sectors of the workforce. … The idea was birthed so quickly over the course of my research; I wrote it down on 22 index cards, flew to L.A., pitched it to one network — because I knew if I went to other networks, they would steal the idea. I had a great relationship with CBS, and they said yes and gave me a pilot.
THR: Several well-known companies signed on to take part in the show. How did you recruit them?
Davies: It was really people I had already met [through mutual friends or prior working relationships]. I think what was so great is that every single company loved the concept. Everybody identifies with trying to find jobs; it’s a huge issue in our country right now. And it’s a way to shine a light on their employees and companies and their corporate culture. The show is overwhelmingly positive, but I think it was way more emotional than most people expect it to be. It’s difficult to say to someone’s dream but very emotional to say yes and know the impact you’re having on them. … [As a candidate], knowing you’re getting a break at a great company can be life-changing. This will change a lot more lives than winning any game show.
THR: You and Mark Burnett are extremely prolific in the unscripted TV world, but this is your first time working together. How did you team up with him?
Davies: Mark and I have known each other a long time; we go back to the pre-history of the reality TV business. This is the first time we’ve ever done a project with each other, and there’s a huge amount of mutual respect there. CBS talked with me about my background — which is mainly studio projects, while The Job is hybrid studio and reality — and whether we needed to bring in somebody with more reality experience. For me, that one person was Mark. Obviously, he has a great history with CBS and knows his way around the network very well. We were also fortunate to bring in a producer who’s done a lot of work with Mark — Jay Bienstock, who’s also and executive producer. Between the three of us, we worked really well as a team.
THR: What was Mark’s input into the show?
Davies: I think we come at it from quite different points of view. He encouraged me to develop more of a promotable edge to the show, and he was very involved in the development of the show. I originally had the guest-companies element right at the end of the show, but what he did was brought it up to the middle of the show, which in effect gave the power to the candidate, which doesn’t happen in a job interview. It’s a very interesting twist and created a lot of emotion. So instead of just offering eight jobs across the series, we ended up with 16.
THR: How did you find the candidates?
Davies: We worked hand in hand with the heads of HR at the companies and on the whole tried to expand the reach of their current efforts. We used Monster, postings on specific interest groups, websites, placed ads in all sorts of publications, online resources and job fairs.
THR: Are the companies required to hire a person? What if they aren’t interested in any of the candidates?
Davies: If they ultimately said, “There is not a single one of you we want to hire,” for me, that would be the truth of that episode and we wouldn’t have given away a job. And similarly, we didn’t restrict them to one job, if they wanted to give away more than one. There are different outcomes in every episode.
THR: What kind of employment terms are offered to the people who are hired?
Davies: We wanted to make it exactly the same deal as any employee in that position — a comparative salary, a guarantee on a number of weeks. The only thing that is different is in some of the cases where we have a relocation, we help with the relocation. We worked incredibly closely with the HR departments to have this be authentic.
THR: What do you think the live audience brings to the show?
Davies: The crowd is like a Greek chorus, and to some extent they apply pressure and tension. To walk out on that stage interviewing for a job that you want is scary; to interview with four other people next to you in front of a panel is scary. But having to do that in front of 200 or 300 people in the audience is even more terrifying. Add on to that the idea that you’re going to be in front of millions of people at home and it adds even more pressure.
THR: You also have the employers offering job tips to viewers throughout the episodes. Was that something that was important to you?
Davies: We didn’t originally include them, but the focus groups really told us they loved all that usable information. So we ended up building these job tips throughout the episode, which I think is going to be really valuable. I think there is a declining standard in terms of people being prepared and how to prepare a resume and conduct yourself in an interview. It’s something that needs addressing.
THR: What else can you tell us about the show?
Davies: It’s one of those shows that’s so interesting as a producer because every episode is so different than the one that came before it and the one that follows it. Every company has its own culture; every business has its own hiring culture; each position requires different qualifications. The only common thing was Lisa. And it was five new candidates and three new panelists [each week], the vast majority of whom had never been on TV before. That was a huge production challenge, but it was hugely satisfying and captivating to watch the format applied completely differently [each week], so the show changes a lot depending on who the companies and candidates are. Lisa is really the rock and center of it. She certainly cared about these candidates and could relate to them while at the same be on a level playing field with these major executives.
THR: You mentioned the emotional element of the series. Did you get emotional during filming?
Davies: I cried at the end of the second episode [featuring Cosmopolitan]. As I was running up and down the stairs between acts, as someone was about to get the job, I lost it every single time. By the third episode [Viceroy], I couldn’t even deal.
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