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TV and podcast host Mike Rowe first became a public figure on the national level by getting dirty. On his Discovery Channel show Dirty Jobs, which first aired in 2003, Rowe would travel the country and profile workers who, well, got dirty.
“[Dirty Jobs] wasn’t a lecture, it wasn’t a sermon, it was an honest look in the day on the job not of a host, but as a guest,” Rowe tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I was basically an avatar on that show.”
Now Rowe, who has built something of a cult following on Facebook and launched a podcast called The Way I Heard It, is returning to TV in a significant way. Later this year, Discovery Channel will reboot Dirty Jobs, but beginning Sept. 20, Rowe will also produce and serve as the narrator for one of Fox Business Network’s new “FBN Prime” shows, How America Works.
“Essential work has become headline news again … and with it, a heightened interest, I think, in the way we are all connected and the way with all these jobs really do keep civilized life on the rails,” Rowe says. “The essential challenge is to magnify that which is out of sight and therefore out of mind.”
Rowe says that the COVID-19 pandemic changed the public’s perception of our infrastructure, noting that many office workers were able to seamlessly work from home thanks to fiber-optic cables that most of us will never see. But it also changed his perception on the role of work more broadly.
“Dirty Jobs was the granddaddy of essential work shows, but now, on a personal level when I look around, you can’t describe certain work as essential without also implying that certain other kinds of work is nonessential. And I don’t feel good about that,” Rowe says. “Everybody is essential to somebody, even if it is just themselves. And there is no such thing as nonessential work. That is a different message than the one I started with 20 years ago. It is still hard, it is still dirty, it is still smelly, the shows I work on still have that element to them, but I no longer believe that there is anything nonessential about any job.”
It’s an element that Rowe hopes viewers will take away from How America Works, which will profile the people who keep that essential infrastructure — be it water or electricity, internet or roads — intact and working.
“Every now and then the headlines will catch up to the themes of a show, and when that happens, the show is suddenly made relevant in ways that the producers and the host and the network didn’t intend,” he says.
That being said, Rowe is first and foremost a host and producer. And while he won’t be on camera for the Fox Business program, his goal is very much in line with what he is doing on Dirty Jobs and on his podcast: to keep viewers entertained and engaged.
“It’s very tempting, if you are in my position, to look beyond the entertainment value of a show, to try and find a larger theme, and then to try and tell a story about why that theme is important. The problem with doing that, is that it’s boring,” Rowe says. “It might be true! And I believe in my case it is. It might be important, and in my case, I believe it is. But we are still in the entertainment world, and we have to put out shows that fundamentally engage the viewer, and either nourish them or delight them or horrify them or keep them engaged.”
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