'Fire Me' pranks catch co-workers off guard
By John Kiesewetter
Enquirer staff writer
Never had a co-worker climbed on top of the dress rack on all fours to clean it, in the 30 years Edith Silverman has worked in retail.
Never had a fellow employee done a cartwheel in the middle of Julia's boutique in Kenwood. Or knocked over so many mannequins.
All in one morning.
"She knocked over everything in the store," said Silverman, 83, a sales clerk. "It was comical."
CBS hopes viewers will find it amusing, too. Half of the premiere for the new hidden-camera reality comedy series, "Fire Me ... Please" (9-10 p.m. today, Channels 12, 7) was filmed in August at Julia's in Sycamore Township and Awakenings Coffee & Tea in Hyde Park.
Employees at Scrapbook Central in West Chester Township and Alligator Purse in Hyde Park are punk'd in the third episode (9 p.m. June 21).
Ceiling "security" cameras in each shop recorded the outrageous antics of a first-day employee in each store. They were competing for a $25,000 prize from producers to the person fired closest to 3 p.m. Two prizes are awarded in each episode.
None of the regular employees knew about the ruse. Only the store owners - who were ignoring their cell phones - were in on the elaborate prank.
But not everyone was amused.
"It was the worst day of my life," said Janice Kelly of College Hill, Awakenings' senior employee. Obnoxious new employee Kurt Basa complained that the coffee was too hot, screamed at customers and took away their newspapers.
"He didn't listen. You couldn't teach him anything. I just wanted to jack him up and throw him out the door," Kelly said.
Cincinnati was one of four cities chosen for the four-episode summer series because the "Midwest work ethic played great into the comedic element of the show," says producer Eric Schotz, president of LMNO Productions.
Since 1989, before it was called "reality TV," he has been making such alternative programs as "Kids Say The Darndest Things," "Guinness World Records: Primetime" with Cris Collinsworth, "Celebrity Boot Camp" and "Man vs. Beast."
"Cincinnati gave us a tremendous cross-section of the nation. Not everybody looks and acts the same in Cincinnati, while in Los Angeles everyone wants to be on TV. You go out to buy a dress in Cincinnati, and you don't look for cameras. For doing a reality show, it was the perfect place," Schotz says.
Julia's employees didn't question owner Suzy Jacobs when she installed an elaborate security camera system on a whim last summer, or told them she had met a young woman named Katie Wise at Kroger's and hired her on the spot.
"We believed her. She does things like that," says Kelly Richardson, 23, who was hired in her initial interview with Jacobs for Julia's (which moves next week to 8165 Camargo Road, Madeira.)
Cameras catch an exasperated Kelly behind the coffee bar saying that she's "about to have a breakdown" after Basa yanks a newspaper away from a cappuccino-sipping customer.
"I never, never suspected anything about being on TV," Kelly says. "I just thought there was something wrong with this guy, that he had some screws loose. I never want to experience that again."