On TV show, 'you're fired' really means out the door

Job loss is reality at small businesses in new Fox program
2013-05-23T00:00:00Z On TV show, 'you're fired' really means out the doorThe Associated Press The Associated Press
May 23, 2013 12:00 am  • 

This time "you're fired" is more than a Donald Trump catchphrase. Fox is turning the firing of real people from real jobs into prime-time entertainment starting this week.

The network will begin airing "Does Someone Have to Go?" tonight (at 9 p.m. on KMSB Channel 11 in Tucson).

It's a series where cameras go into small businesses and employees are compelled to rat out underperforming colleagues. At the end, they choose one co-worker to recommend for firing.

Productivity and personality, not the economy, are at the roots of the employment decisions in the show. A firing isn't necessarily mandated - probation or options like anger management counseling are considered. Within the three companies profiled for the six episodes, people are fired, said Mike Darnell, executive in charge of alternative programming for Fox.

Tonight's first episode focuses on Velocity Merchant Services, a company based in the Chicago suburbs that sells credit card processing machines. Sixteen employees participate, and the show quickly labels them: the procrastinator, the motor mouth, the jerk, the slacker and the tattle-tale.

Each employee is interviewed on camera talking about colleagues, then everyone is called into a conference room to see what the others said. They are also told each other's salaries, before voting on three of their colleagues that most deserve firing, a process that reduces one woman to tears.

One by one, an employee's picture is removed from the screen, until only the three "losers" remain onscreen. One is the mother of company founder Dema Barakat, judged by her colleagues to be a management mole who is paid too much.

Next week: choosing who among the three get to keep their jobs.

The show's executive producer, Cris Abrego, said it is "absolutely not cruel. It's not like a random firing. … It really is a process of them proving their value to the company."

Why would a company put itself through this? Publicity is alluring, particularly for a small firm, said Geoff Wilson, president and CEO of 352 Media Group, a Florida digital marketing agency that seriously considered being part of the show. Producers offered to pay the company $25,000 to participate and would spruce up the office to make it more camera-friendly. Each employee who agreed to be part of it would be paid $1,500. Producers would contribute $10,000 toward a severance package for anyone fired, he said.

Velocity, or VMS, is a family-run company that had hit a plateau, said Danoush Khairkhah, CEO and Barakat's husband. Its biggest problems were with personalities, not with business, he said.

He was interested to see how his employees would perform when given the chance to take issues into their own hands. They knew what they were getting into, he said, although they didn't know specifically they would see film of colleagues criticizing them or learn their salaries.

Things have improved at VMS since the show was filmed over five days last December, he said. Employees are taking more initiative and aren't afraid to speak up about problems.

Khairkhah and his employees haven't seen the show yet. They plan a party tonight to all watch it together.

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