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Franchises Takes Center Stage in Reality TV

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- "Turning average Joes into CEOs."

That's the tag line for A&E's new reality TV show, "Be the Boss."

The show, which premiered this past Sunday featuring nutritional supplement retail franchise Complete Nutrition, pits two lower-level store employees against each other to compete for what is supposed to be a big promotion at corporate headquarters. In reality, the two are competing for the chance to become the owner of a new franchise location (with the runner-up still winning that corporate promotion).

As the economic recovery trudges along in fits and starts, A&E is betting television viewers will relate to the employees' struggles to better their careers, in this case achieving the American Dream by becoming their own boss through franchise ownership.

More importantly, the show highlights that the price for ownership doesn't come without hard work and a key component to any successful franchise: valuable employees.

The franchise industry reported 2.2% growth in September over the previous year, the largest since the beginning of the recession. That suggests franchising is playing a major part in the economic recovery, according to the International Franchise Association.

"As the economy has sputtered, and folks have lost their jobs or are considering a career change, franchising has become an increasingly popular industry for aspiring entrepreneurs to consider," says Matt Haller, a spokesman for the IFA. "Franchising is a proven, structured and very scalable model that can be (and has been) an important component of our nation's economy."

Companies also to be featured in the first season of "Be the Boss" include Auntie Anne's, Signal 88 Security, Molly Maid, Jazzercise and The Melting Pot.

"We have been approached in the past by other reality shows. I think it comes back to the values," says Bill Dunn, president and COO of Auntie Anne's. "The vision of 'Be the Boss' and our vision and values as a company were very much aligned. It was an easy decision to make. It comes back to the American Dream -- recognizing individuals for their efforts and giving them opportunities that maybe they never had had before. They had all the tools, but they might not have had all the financial needs."

"When those doors open [of the winner's store] they're not only going to have the tools, but the ongoing support from our franchise business consultants in the field working with our franchisee partners on a daily basis," Dunn says.

The Auntie Anne's episode airs Dec. 16.

"Be the Boss" was created by the same team behind CBS' hit series "Undercover Boss," which debuted in 2010. In "Undercover Boss," CEOs of well-known franchise brands including BrightStar Care, Fastsigns and Cinnabon don disguises in order to experience the jobs of lower-level employees without being noticed.

The hope is that by hanging out in the trenches, they will gain a better insight into how to improve their companies. What ends up happening in many cases is the CEOs are learning -- in some cases for the first time -- the difficulty and knowledge needed to do each job as well as the motivation behind the workers, many of whom suffer hardships, giving a human element to the show.

Next year, CNBC is expected to launch a show called "Franchised." It too will be a competition in which five contestants, each "high in qualifications, but short on cash," will vie for their own franchise to run.

"It's an emotional once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a shot at the American Dream," CNBC says in a press release.

A spokeswoman said the project is currently in development and declined to comment further.

Three shows covering franchising in less than three years -- why is franchising so hot in reality TV?

Professor Jim Farrelly, director of film studies at the University of Dayton in Ohio, says the shows keep popping up because they are cheap to produce, play well to the prized 18-49 demographic and "reward ordinary people who are just doing their jobs with extraordinary opportunities for advancement."

"Everybody loves a winner and the vicarious thrills that come from experiencing a show like 'Be the Boss' with the tagline, 'From Average Joe to CEO,'" Farrelly writes in an email.

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