Mike Rowe

Mike Rowe Headshot

Host • Personality • Singer

Birth Date: March 18, 1962

Age: 62 years old

Birth Place: Baltimore, Maryland

In the early 2000s, Mike Rowe established himself as an archetypal Everyman, willing to do nearly anything, no matter how slimy, sickening or scatological, to show the tough work required in the routine maintenance of civil society. The host of Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe" (2003-12), Rowe tried his hand at testing shark repellent, castrating sheep, cleaning septic tanks, wading through or handling nearly every kind of fecal matter and likely vomiting on-air more than any other television host. A former opera singer, he cut his teeth in television by hawking products for QVC, and later leveraging his mellifluous baritone voice into commercial and voiceover work. In 2003, he sold Discovery Channel on "Dirty Jobs," which soon became the network's flagship show, and resulted in Rowe hosting or narrating a number of the channel's reality-TV series including its various "Deadliest Catch" shows, "American Chopper" (2002-10) and "American Hot Rod" (2004-08). His real-guy authenticity prompted any number of corporations to come calling, with Rowe most prominently signing on as the face for Ford Motor Co. in a long-term deal. He would use his growing celebrity as a sounding board for the central theme of "Dirty Jobs"' - the integrity and vitality of skilled trades. Consistently cited as one of the most trustworthy personalities in American pop culture, Rowe translated what could have been a gimmick reality-TV gig into a what he called a concerted PR campaign to re-establish respect for blue-collar labor and the notion of hard work as something to aspire to, not to avoid.

He was born Michael Gregory Rowe March 18, 1962, in Baltimore, MD, the first of three children of John and Peggy Rowe, both teachers, who raised him in the unincorporated suburb of Overlea. Rowe grew up a shy child, his communications skills marred by a mild stutter, and his parents worried he would become a recluse. He joined Cub and Boy Scouts, eventually attaining the rare honor of Eagle Scout in 1979, but it would not be until his first year at Overlea High School that Rowe literally found his voice, under the mentorship of choral teacher Fred King. King nurtured Rowe's vocal talents, helping him to get involved in large choral and barbershop groups, and encouraged his participation in the school's dramatic productions. His parents only discovered he had come out of his shell when, over dinner one night, he told them nonchalantly he had won the lead in the school production of "Oklahoma!" He took his avocation outside school, doing community theater productions and joining, along with King, the Chorus of the Chesapeake. After graduating, Rowe attended the Community College of Baltimore County in Essex, MD for two years, then transferred to Towson University in 1982, where he built his speech and theater bona fides. After graduating in 1985 with a communications degree, he auditioned on a lark for the Baltimore Opera Company, mostly, he later quipped, to obtain his Screen Actors Guild card and canoodle with the ingénues.

He spent six years with the opera, after which he made the full jump to television on another lark. With representatives of cable shopping channel QVC in Baltimore holding open auditions for on-air talent, Rowe bet an operatic compatriot that he could score at least a callback. In spite of his less-than-zealous predisposition toward late-night shilling, QVC hired him for its late-night shift. He moved to West Chester, PA, where the company's studios were headquartered, and began honing a unique on air personality, both personable and sardonic, showing undisguised irreverence toward both the kitschy products and the customers calling in to gab about them. He later claimed the company fired him three times, hiring him back at least two, but that he gained valuable experience in how to be kinetic, conversational and spontaneous on-camera. In the 1990s, he tapped that experience to land a gig with American Airlines, producing and hosting a series of travel shorts to be shown in-flight. Back in Baltimore, he hosted a pseudo-infomercial on area real estate listings, and his smooth baritone voice made him ideal for commercial work, prompting a stint in 1998 as the on-air spokesman for Epic Pharmacy, a coalition of area drug stores. He would also win a lucrative multi-spot stint selling Tylenol.

In 2001, Rowe landed a job hosting a History Channel show called "The Most" (2001-02), a look at superlative factoids and artifacts from history. He found more regular work that year, as well, with the CBS affiliate in San Francisco. Doing feature reporting for its "Evening Magazine" show, Rowe was charged with coming up with a signature segment that would be a unique ratings hook for the show. He conceived "Somebody's Gotta Do It," which would look at less-than-savory vocations, as per the first, a preacher who worked part time artificially inseminating cattle. In 2002, he hooked up with "reality-TV"-specialist Pilgrim Films & Television, hosting its show "Worst Case Scenarios," a short-lived TBS series in which he and professional stuntmen demonstrated the best way to survive sundry disasters, as well as taking on announcer duties for the Discovery Channel series "American Chopper." Rowe, meanwhile, used his "Somebody's Gotta Do It" segment as a makeshift pilot, pitching it to Discovery as the seed of a regular series. The network turned him down twice, but Pilgrim Films honcho Craig Piligian eventually convinced Discovery execs to bite, and in 2003, they bankrolled a three-episode miniseries, dubbed "Dirty Jobs."
Produced by Pilgrim, the show saw Rowe examining people working a variety of undesirable jobs such as cleaning up road kill, farming worm feces and harvesting bat guano from caves. The host apprenticed at each job, with cameras following the process through every disgusting step. Rowe's capacity to make light of the situations with funny, unscripted banter set the show apart from most of the contrived, stage-managed reality-TV coming into vogue at the time. Discovery found itself awash in emails from fans and people requesting Rowe to come do their jobs. Looking to find more signature programming versus its documentary specials, Discovery decided to make Rowe the face, and voice, of the channel. In 2004, it greenlit another Pilgrim show, "American Hot Rod," with Rowe as the show's announcer for the first season; made Rowe the host of its special Egyptological programming "Egypt Week" (2004); and, in 2005, brought back "Dirty Jobs" as a regular series. The latter would see him go on to work as a sewer inspector, a maggot farmer, a pigeon-guano cleaner, a pig farmer and a bevy of other tough, blue-collar and definitively anti-glam vocations, in what he would define as a tribute to his grandfather, who had for years been his family's and town's Mr. Fix-it.

Rowe's voice, meanwhile, became familiar on reality TV in ensuing years as he took up narrator-announcer duties on Pilgrim's series "Ghost Hunters" (Sci-Fi, 2004- ) and its spin-off shows; Spike TV's "The Ultimate Fighter" (2005- ); still more Discovery shows, including "Deadliest Catch" (2005- ) and its sequel series "After the Catch" (2007-2010); and the BBC-produced "Wild Pacific" (2009) and "Ghost Lab" (2009-11). The popularity of "Dirty Jobs" and Rowe's growing élan made him a popular booking across media, a frequent guest of talk shows and even a guest-shot as a surly meter maid on Seth MacFarlane's edgy Fox cartoon "American Dad!" (2005- ). His persona as a champion of blue-collar work increasingly made him in-demand as a commercial spokesperson. In 2007, he inked a deal with Ford making the car company a sponsor of the show and Rowe its on-air pitchman; a deal that would become an ongoing one with a number of spots per year. Whirlpool signed him to emphasize its washing machines' abilities to clean-up work clothes from even the toughest jobs, Caterpillar made him the face of its website, and VF Corp. signed him as lead spokesman for its Lee Jeans brand.

On Labor Day 2008, Rowe launched his own website, mikeroweworks.com, intending it to be an interactive forum to promote skilled labor via trade schools and technical colleges and address the decline of skilled blue-collar labor. "We've declared war on work," Rowe said in a video made on his home computer to launch the site. "We've declared this civil war on every traditional notion of labor that I know of We've made work into the enemy and something has to be done to start a conversation on the casualties of this war, because if we don't, then the country's going to fall apart." He would go on to emphasize that message in a side-career as a public speaker, drawing six-figures for addressing national gatherings and trade events. In 2010, Rowe partnered with the Association of Equipment Manufacturers in a public awareness campaign dubbed "I Make America," an effort to encourage reinvestment in the outsourcing-ravaged American manufacturing sector. In May 2011, Rowe addressed those issues, as well as decline of vocational training in schools, in testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Credits

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News aboutMike Rowe