CBS Has No Plans to Pull Controversial Reality Show The Briefcase

Exploiting a choice between greed and benevolence

Is it possible to offend people from all walks of life while simultaneously helping families who are experiencing financial setbacks?

It seems CBS' new series The Briefcase is doing just that. 

The show features struggling American families, one of which is gifted a briefcase containing $101,000. But the windfall comes with a catch. The recipients are given information on another family, struggling as badly, if not worse. Some have children with disabilities. Some are wounded military veterans. All of them need help.

The family given the briefcase of cash has to decide whether to keep the cash or share it with the other family. The casting so far would seem to show The Briefcase chooses families who put the strangers before themselves.

If you're not offended, you're probably touched.

But in a made-for-reality TV twist, both families are soon forced to make the same decision. Unaware the other family received the same briefcase and offer, unsuspecting families agonize over whether to keep the money or share it. They visit each others' homes, where the guilt piles on. Broken appliances are revealed. Artificial limbs are spotted.

Critics call the show exploitative (what reality show isn't?) and it has the Twitterati in an uproar:

Comedy Central's The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore recently went off on the "condescending" show, saying "CBS has found a new way to exploit the underprivileged for the sake of ratings."

Despite the backlash, Adweek has learned CBS is not considering pulling the show. The ratings are simply too strong. In its debut episode last Wednesday, The Briefcase finished first in households (4.3 rating / 08 share) and in viewers (6.87 million) and second in the two younger demos of adults 18-49 and adults 25-54. The Briefcase is up +13 percent in households and up +75 percent in adults 18-49 compared to the same night last year.

CBS declined to comment on the negative attention the show has received. 

The Briefcase seems to be both a win/win and a lose/lose scenario. Yes, a needy family is going to receive a pile of cash. But it comes with shame, heartache and public humiliation. Even worse, a well-deserving family that decides to keep the money is going to be viewed as greedy.