Starring: Mike Rowe
Forget about "Armed and Famous" and "Survivor." If you really want a dose of reality, tune into the Discovery Channel, Tuesday nights at 9, for "Dirty Jobs."
What you won't see is a bunch of people stuck in a contrived situation. What you will see is host Mike Rowe profile and work with people who have nontraditional, dirty and sometimes downright dangerous jobs.
It's currently one of the most popular shows on Discovery, right up there with "Deadliest Catch," an ode to the harsh lives of Alaskan crab fishermen, which Rowe also narrates.
"Dirty Jobs," though, is Rowe's baby. He's the creator and says he always knew a show that turned the cameras on people who are never, ever the center of attention would be a hit.
He just didn't know how much of a hit it would be when he and a friend pitched it to Discovery.
"I thought it might be good for three hours [of film]," he says with a laugh during a phone interview from his San Francisco home. "No one was supposed to watch this thing. When they did, obviously Discovery was, like, 'Mike, let's ride the horse that's runnin'."
So in spite of the fact he was -- and continues to -- work on "Deadliest Catch," "Dirty Jobs" went into production. The show began its third season on Nov. 28. He has about 130 jobs filmed, and Discovery says it's been picked up for another 30 episodes. Each show usually includes three jobs.
With so many irons in the fire, he's not home much these days. Last year he spent 260 nights on the road with his five-man film crew, doing everything from inseminating cows by hand to collecting water snakes on the shores of Lake Erie to slopping hogs with the cooked and reeking remnants of Las Vegas buffets to blasting coal out of a small mine in eastern Pennsylvania.
Part of the fun of the show is that viewers never know what to expect. That's because Rowe doesn't, either.
"The show is a by-product of being sent out with no preparation, no script, no agenda, not much left but an honest point of view," he says. "And that's what we try to present."
Rowe clearly loves the work and enjoys the people he interacts with. The former QVC pitchman, Baltimore opera singer and San Francisco "Evening Magazine" host has found his niche. And the show just wouldn't work without him. His good-natured charm, sly wit and willingness to try just about anything, even if he fails hilariously, makes the show addictive.
"People are scared not to appear as an expert, or appear completely brave," he says. "It's just nonsense. The world is not full of experts and brave people."
He and his crew, who are with Rowe through his most horrible tasks and often are seen on the show, spend at least a day on each segment. They film from sun-up to sun-down, and Rowe actually does the work. There is no cheating.
As for finding new "dirty" jobs to tackle, there is no shortage, he says. Viewers send in suggestions for segments, and they get hundreds per week. Of course many are repeats, but there are enough new ones suggested that Rowe says he's not worried about running out of ways to try to kill himself.
When asked what he's done recently, he laughs and says it's "just a blurry smear." But he admits to cleaning the boiler out on an old steam ship, scooping dead fish from a pond and climbing and greasing the 140-foot mast of a sailing ship.
Because of the show, Rowe has been called upon to visit major corporations as a motivational speaker. He finds this development somewhat interesting.
"[The show] has big giant themes underneath it," he says. "I think people are anxious to be reminded of them. I debunk corporate platitudes, like 'work smart, not hard.' Work hard, not dumb. ... I think we forget the other side of the coin. [The people who do physical labor] allow the whole machine to run. I believe that, and they believe that, and it's a good message. I'm happy to get it out there."
And we are happy to watch.
Susan Banks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1516.