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Full bio (from the Fall 2007 issue of Classroom to Community Express)
To the world, Mike Rowe is the host of the Discovery Channel’s popular Dirty Jobs series. In each episode, he serves as an apprentice to the men and women who do the sometimes dangerous and dirty jobs that need to be done – such as cleaning up toxic bird waste, diving for golf balls in alligator-infested waters, and removing road kill from our streets.
To many in Baltimore County, however, Rowe is also known as a graduate of Overlea High School and the son of two former Baltimore County teachers. He is remembered for his stage performances in high school and then for going on to sing professionally with the Baltimore Opera. Many in the Baltimore County community have followed Rowe’s career as he sold more than $100 million of simulated diamonds on QVC and appeared in several dozen Tylenol commercials. He also hosted Worst Case Scenario for TBS, On-Air TV for American Airlines, The Most for The History Channel, No Relation for Fox, New York Expeditions for PBS, and Evening Magazine – a local program on San Francisco’s CBS affiliate. Along the way, he has narrated more than 1,000 hours of television and has performed in dozens of theatrical productions.
Rowe’s affiliation with the Discovery Channel began before Dirty Jobs. Discovery sent Rowe to the Valley of the Golden Mummies to host Egypt Week Live! and to the Bering Sea for the filming of Deadliest Catch, the network's series on Alaskan crab fishing.
Below Rowe answers some questions about his career:
How did your school experiences prepare you for your career?
A successful career in broadcasting depends largely upon an understanding of how regular people work and function in the real world. I think, in this way, a public education was more valuable than a private one and certainly more relevant to what I do for a living today. As for college, it's still tough to beat a broad-based liberal arts education, and I'm grateful to have had one. It might not guarantee any one thing in particular, but it's helped me immeasurably in sounding smarter than I actually am.
What do you like most about your work?
The variety. In the last three years on Dirty Jobs, I've had more than 150 different gigs. I've shot in every state and on most continents. I've met an extraordinary number of really unique people, made some lifelong friends, and laughed a lot. I also really love the fact that Dirty Jobs is such a simple hit. No script, no agenda, no Hollywood pressure to constantly up the ante. The level of creativity and freedom on Dirty Jobs is very high and very unusual in television.
How did you approach your career? What qualities were most important?
Luck and realistic expectations. The entertainment business creates far more failures than hits, and it's filled with people who only swing for the fences. Basically, everybody's looking for stardom, and that sort of mentality creates an opportunity for anyone not motivated solely by fame. Personally, I was always more interested in a career that gave me a lot of free time, so I looked for projects that wouldn't suck the life out of me. There is no shortage of them. I've worked as an actor, an opera singer, a game show host, a spokesperson, a pitchman, a narrator, a writer, and a producer. I've hosted game shows, reality shows, and talk shows. I didn't get in the business to get famous. I got in it because it suited my lifestyle.
So what happened? How do you explain your current renown? Dirty Jobs is a hit show.
Basically, I miscalculated. I pitched Dirty Jobs as three one-hour specials. My goal was to become the guy that Discovery would send to places like Everest, The Titanic, Egypt, etc. I wanted to be their “specials guy.” To make that deal work, the network wanted to launch a mini-series featuring me. I pitched Dirty Jobs, and more people watched than anyone ever expected. It blew up almost overnight. So much for six months off every year…
No. A hit show wasn't part of the plan, but I'm not inclined to complain. Dirty Jobs has a good message, and it reaches millions of people around the world. It's evergreen and will probably be around long after I'm gone. That's cool.
What's the message of Dirty Jobs?
There are several. Mainly, it's that dignity and humor can exist in unlikely places. Balance is in short supply these days, and people with dirty jobs seem to have more of it than the rest of us. They have a perspective and an understanding that keeps them from being defined solely by their work. It's a perspective worth celebrating, I think.
What do your parents think of all this?
I think they're puzzled, but pleased. My parents both taught in Baltimore County Public Schools. I think it's safe to say they're sympathetic to those with dirty jobs…
What advice do you have for current students on choosing/building a career?
I'm a fan of the “reverse commute”: Watch where the masses are going, and head in the other direction. I think the best opportunities are currently nonexistent positions that will eventually be created by the people who really want them. I would suggest doing that. Don't worry about a job. Find an industry that you like, and then figure out a way to make money in it.
Photos supplied by The Discovery Channel.