BWW Interviews: Michael Davies & Lisa Ling of CBS's New Reality Series THE JOB
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by Caryn Robbins
From acclaimed executive producers Michael Davies and Mark Burnett, CBS's reality competition, THE JOB, puts deserving candidates face-to-face with executives at some of America's most prestigious companies in the most unique - and demanding - interview of their lives. Each week, a panel of high-ranking executives will put five candidates through a series of elimination challenges, with three guest companies waiting in the wings to possibly make an offer of their own. The series premieres tonight, Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 on the CBS Television Network. (Get a sneak peek here!)
In a recent phone conversation, BWW spoke exclusively with series creator Michael Davies and series host Lisa Ling ("The View") about this new and exciting reality competition.
Michael, what was your inspiration for THE JOB?
Michael Davies: The inspiration was two things. I produced the show 'The Glee Project' in 2011 and 2012 for the Oxygen Network which was effectively a 12-episode job interview. It was not like most musical competitions, it was a competition for a specific job, and it was a job which filled a need that the producers, writers, vocal writers, casting directors, choreographers had on 'Glee.' And when I was producing that show, I realized, wouldn't it be great to take this sort of authentic competition where I'm learning so much about the process of Glee and where the kids are so wrapped into it because it's not just for some sort of prize they're winning, but they're actually getting a career, they're getting a job. Couldn't I apply this to something else, some other world.
And then my daughter finished her freshman year of college and informed me that she had no plans to go back for sophomore year and when I asked why, she said, because none of her friends who were graduating seniors had real jobs. Not jobs that were going to lead to real careers in their chosen industries. They were just going to be doing part time work or they were going to freelance or they were volunteering, all very worthy things, but not pursuing their career right out of college. To some extent, yes we've been through this great entrepreneurial age where people are quitting after their freshman year of Harvard and setting up companies worth billions of dollars. But as I did more research, I realized the idea which is going to drive the majority of the economy is getting our best people, working for our best companies, and to some extent, the eco system after the mortgage crisis has never really got back and really been working very effectively. A lot of people, a lot of young people particularly, really lost faith, a lot of women trying to return to the work force have lost faith in the fact that their career dreams can actually be realized.
Lisa Ling - And on a very basic level, sometimes it's just too difficult to get to the cities where the jobs are being offered.
What is the process involved in narrowing the selection down to the five candidates we see at the start of the show?
MD - Well we worked hand in hand with the HR departments at each company and we figured out who had already applied for the jobs, what they wanted to go and give, how they found their best people, and we just magnified that process and we made it on a more national basis. And we used a lot of the same things we learned about casting, which is getting the word out, using social media, using industry-specific web sites, and talking to people over phone and Skype and really putting the best set of candidates in front of HR departments and companies. But really they made the choice, they made the decision on the short list on the final five and we just set up making a TV show around it.
LL - Yeah, I mean these are candidates who are all incredibly qualified. They are people who have either worked in the industry, they've been studying to work in this industry, they've always aspired to work in this industry and they're not people who want to be reality stars. So to that extent, the sort of casting for the show was different than any other show in that these were really qualified people, vetted by the companies themselves.
Which is certainly a refreshing change of pace.
LL - It is!
Lisa, do you find yourself rooting for one contestant over the others or do you try your best to remain impartial?
LL - (laughing) I try very hard to remain impartial. I mean certainly, there were personalities that really stood out, and I think that it became sort of obvious, the people who were going to progress further because I think that you can tell when someone is really being themselves and being authentic and it was certainly those people who, in all likelihood, ended up getting offered the job. But I tried to remain neutral to the extent that I could.
Which leads me to my next question, how much do you think personality plays a role in the decision making process versus knowledge of the industry and experience?
MD - Well that's actually a great question. I would say, that obviously experience, knowledge qualifications they're all really important. But ultimately, the determiner for me usually came down to character. How much time these candidates really been at the companies, they got to see the candidates next to each other as opposed to isolated from each other in interviews. And usually what the companies said to us afterwards was, 'you know we came in here looking for someone with this, but in the end, someone has blown us away because of their character, because of who they are deep down.'
So it's not so much about personality, because personality only takes you so far, but character, actually who you are, what your work ethic is, how you're actually going to behave on the job, how you're going to work with others, you know all those other character things usually determine whether people are successful or not successful. I think those are the things that this format managed to illuminate and this process managed to reveal to these companies who are looking for their next great person.
I love the twist you throw in where guest employers can jump in and make an offer to one of the candidates before the featured company has a chance to do so. What inspired that element of the format?
MD - Well in my original idea, that was something that happened right at the end of the show, right at the point where there was a final offer and another company could come in and offer you a job that would compete against that. But when I started working with Mark Burnett, on this idea, when CBS paired me up with Mark, which I was delighted to do, Mark really was a big advocate for having that twist play more in The Middle of the show and less right at the end.
I think the interesting thing about that, many of us have been faced with that issue in our careers; do we take the job we were definitely offered, or do we hold out to try to get the job that we might want a little more. Usually though we have weeks to make that decision, we can talk to our family and our friends, and really get some genuine advice on it. And I think here we are asking our candidates to make that decision really over a commercial break
LL - Yeah, I think it was extra excrutiating given how challenged this economy is and the fact that so many of the candidates were jobless at the time. So that part of it was a pretty nerve-wracking experience.
Do the companies decide which challenges the candidates will face or do you have a hand in that as well?
MD - Oh yeah, we do very much. That was something that we worked very hand in hand with the companies. We figured out what they were looking for and we would throw out a bunch of ideas. Once they told us the characteristics or the character, what the things they really wanted to test for, we usually devised challenges. But then the companies gave us a lot of feedback on them and we amended them. And I think those challenges were really, really effective in separating out the weak from figuring out who the best people were. It wasn't exactly what you did. Very often it was how you did it.
And I feel that all the time as an employer. Especially when I'm working with younger producers. They're not always going to have success but I want to see that the effort they make and the way they go about it is right. And that was really instructive for us again and again.
THE JOB airs Fridays at 8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT on the CBS network.
Photo credit: David M. Russell/CBS