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Esther Dere on emotions behind producing ‘Undercover Boss’

Intuition. Collaboration. Creation. These are the most fundamental aspects of her job according to renowned Executive Producer Esther Dere. This British native has a natural curiosity about things, people, and the world, which comes out in her work. She is always working to tell impactful stories, whether documentaries or dramatic tales, and focuses on generating content that is both captivating and beautiful.

Throughout her esteemed career, Dere has shown the world her outstanding ability to generate a stunning cinematic masterpiece. This is evident in many projects she has been a part of, from the acclaimed TV movie Biggie: The Life of Notorious B.I.G. to the new Netflix Original Grass is Greener.

“To be a successful producer, you need to be prepared to put in the hours, be a team player, know that you’ll need to be flexible, creative and be able to talk to all sorts of people in all sorts of situations,” said Dere.

Dere’s initial rise to fame came from working on countless popular television series, including Breaking Pointe, The Taste, Married at First Sight, and many more. A highlight for the executive producer, however, came when she worked on the hit show Undercover Boss.

Undercover Boss is a two-time Emmy Award-winning reality series that follows high-level executives as they slip anonymously into the rank-and-file of their own organizations. Dere was Supervising Producer and nominated for an Emmy in 2016 for her work on this much-admired series. She was responsible for producing the bosses of the episode and crafting and shaping the narrative of the relevant episodes.

“In a world saturated with a lot of content, Undercover Boss is one of the very few reality shows out there that not only entertains but genuinely helps people and aims to drive change. The show really did affect change in some companies and rewarded deserving employees. Sometimes people need a little help to change and it’s nice to sometimes come in and be that help,” she said.

Skeptics believe Undercover Boss is faked, but according to Dere, the level of production that goes into a show like that to keep the ruse and the identity of the boss undercover is unbelievable. It's a production within a production. Dere’s job was to work with the boss and involved everything from picking the best job scenarios that still have the best television optics, to casting, to doing on camera interviews with the boss, to dealing with the logistics of a large moving team across so many locations/states.

The emotional journey of the boss is crucial to a show like Undercover Boss, so aside from the logistics and the mechanics, Dere’s job on the show was also very intuitive, learning how to tap into the psyche of that boss at every stage, to know what they were thinking at every stage and to encourage them to be open and to be vulnerable, a difficult task when dealing with type-A CEOs who are used to being in control. She was vital to the show’s continued success.

“It was great being part of a show that already had a successful history but where I was still able to come in and add a little of my own personality and flair. It was also great to see the genuine reactions of the staff with the big reveal and when they were rewarded. A lot of tears were shed on that show,” said Dere.

Undercover Boss premiered on CBS in 2010, where it has run for nine seasons, soon to have its tenth season in the fall. It has been nominated for seven Emmys amongst the two it has taken home, and Dere feels proud to have been honored on the most prestigious international stage for television. However, that was a secondary reward for the producer.

“The ratings and Emmy nomination and all the other recognition is nice of course, but the best feeling is knowing when you have genuinely helped or been part of the thing that has changed someone’s life for the better. That is what Undercover Boss gave me,” she concluded.

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