Mike Rowe hosted or voiced just about every type of documentary or shopping series out there before bringing Dirty Jobs to the Discovery Channel. And he may never have created the series that showcased America’s trade workers without a special phone call from his mom.
Mike Rowe was brought up loving his Blue Collar life. But when he graduated from Towson University, he took a drastic turn from his upbring and went into showbiz. One of his first gigs was hosting a show on the QVC Shopping Channel. And in an interview with Plough, he said that experience was invaluable.
After leaving QVC, he hopped around as a freelancer working for all the major networks. And he liked what he was doing. But along the way, he started to lose his roots. And that didn’t sit well with him.
“I became slowly disconnected from the things that I grew up with – where my food came from, where my energy came from, work, history; all of the things that I valued as a kid, I began to take for granted.” he shared.
Then one day while he was working with CBS, his mom called and their conversation led to a big epiphany.
“Your grandfather’s ninety,” He recalled her saying. “He’s not going to be around forever. It would sure be great if he could turn on the television and see you doing something that looks like work.”
And Rowe admitted that “she had a point.”
A Phone Call From Mike Rowe’s Mother Led to ‘Dirty Jobs ‘
When Mike Rowe’s mother called in 2001, he was working for a series called Evening Magazine. The now-canceled show was based in California’s Bay Area, and it highlighted everything interesting about the local community. One day, Rowe went to the producer and suggested a changeup.
“I went to my boss and said, ‘Look, why does this show always have to be hosted from a winery or a theater opening? Why can’t I go to a construction site or a sewer?'”
And Rowe’s boss replied by saying, “Do whatever you want, Mike. Nobody’s watching the show anyway.”
And with that, the true basis of Dirty Jobs was born. Shortly after the conversation, Rowe took his crew into a sewer system and hosted Evening Magazine underground.
“My guide was a sewer inspector, and together with my cameraman, we crawled through miles of unspeakable filth,” he remembered. “And I learned all sorts of things about sewers along the way. It was weird and funny and fascinating. I was also covered in roaches and attacked by a rat.”
The night the episode aired, his local station got a lot of phone calls. Some people were angry that they watched during “dinner hours,” and called for Rowe’s “immediate dismissal.” But most of the callers loved Rowe’s new take on the series. And people started writing to Rowe “with invitations.”
“It was always the same thing: ‘You gotta meet my dad, my brother, my uncle, my cousin, my sister. Wait till you see what they do.'” Rowe said. “We were showing work, real work that real people really do, and there was clearly an appetite for more.”
The experience gave Rowe the idea to create a series that shined a light on trade workers. And he was able to sell the idea to the Discovery Channel right away.
“That’s how I got reconnected to work,” he added. “But it started with a phone call from mother.”