« Back

Let me tell you about a guy named Chad, who woke up one morning and decided to clean up The Mississippi River. Why? Because somebody had to do it.

You can see Chad’s story by clicking HERE or visit his website, Living Lands And Waters. And you can start thinking about creating your own story right now. Who knows, if your ideas turn into videos and your videos are good enough then maybe they will end up on television.

You may ask why ”Somebody’s Gotta Do It?” Well, the title has some sentimental value. So, if you want the true story of how Dirty Jobs grew from this exact idea and why I called this “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” read on.

The idea for Dirty Jobs took shape in 2002, over a beer in a waterfront bar called “Grumpy’s” in San Francisco, where I was brainstorming with a TV producer named James Reid. James worked for Evening Magazine, a local TV show on CBS that I had recently been hired to host. On that particular afternoon, we were drinking because our boss was demanding something “different” in the way of a new segment. (It’s a classic request, and one of the great ironies in television – executives always crying out for new ideas, but unwilling to green-light any concept without a proven track record. In this case however, Evening Magazine had been blessed with a dwindling and narcoleptic audience, and the likelihood of pending cancellation, which gave us all very little to lose.)

So we began to kick some ideas around. I had just finished reading “Paper Lion,” by George Plimpton, and the notion of an “immersed host” was fresh in my mind. I liked the idea of trying something truly unscripted, and inserting myself into situations for which I was neither trained or qualified to attempt. James was up for anything, (as long as I kept buying the beer,) but wanted to keep the focus on local, anonymous people. I agreed completely.

Since we shared a lot of the same views on work and celebrity, it was inevitable that those beers would eventually steer the conversation toward the unsung contributions of the people who do dirty jobs. We settled on the title “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” and got the go ahead to start shooting the next day. The first segment was at The San Francisco Zoo, and featured Anthony, The Poo Truck Driver. It only got weirder from there. Within a year, we had shot about 25 segments, and developed a franchise that was garnering lots of new viewers and lots of local press. Evening Magazine was back on the map, and several of the segments were nominated for Emmys. One – Artificial Cow Inseminator, actually won.

Those early segments were only 3-7 minutes long, but otherwise, they were identical in style and tone to the segments you see on Dirty Jobs today. (In fact, some of them are identical, and were re-shot to accommodate the longer format. Poo Truck Driver, Chinatown Garbage Man, and Sewer Inspector being the most notable.) Then, a change in management ushered in a whole new attitude at CBS, and it was determined by a gentler sensibility than my own, that “dirty” was not the right direction for the newly expanded Evening Magazine audience. I was then instructed by the new boss to once again, develop something “different.”

Sensing a pattern, and positive that SGDI deserved a bigger audience, I sent a copy of Artificial Cow Inseminator to Good Morning America, with the suggestion they hire me to host similar recurring segments for their program. I never heard back from them, (though I now appear from time to time as a guest on that program.) I then sent the same tape to a number of other networks, all of who said “no” in a variety of creative ways. (My favorite came from Comedy Central, who wrote, “At this time, our fall schedule does not allow for a talk show that takes place inside a septic tank.”)

Eventually, I approached some people I had worked with years earlier at The Discovery Channel. They didn’t say “no,” exactly, but suggested instead that if I was serious, I should quit my real job at CBS, find a production company with an established name, attach myself as host and co-producer, and let the production company present the idea to the network. I took half their advice, and called a guy I know named Craig Piligian. Craig owns Pilgrim Films and Television, and was one of the original producers of Survivor. At the time, he was producing Discovery’s hit show, American Chopper. I figured he would be a good choice, and I was right. (Besides, back in 2001, Craig had hired me to host a dismal and overwrought series for TBS called Worst Case Scenario, which more than lived up to its name. I figured he owed me.)

Craig and I met, and after watching me get up close and personal with a few dozen dairy cows, he agreed that America might be ready for a reality show that was actually real, and went about the business of convincing Discovery to commission Somebody’s Gotta Do It. At some point, the show was renamed Dirty Jobs, and the format was extended from seven minutes to a full one hour. After three pilots and a year focus groups, Discovery eventually ordered the series you watch today. In March of 2005, I quit Evening Magazine, which is now off the air, (how’s that for something “different,”) and dedicated myself to a life of grime. The rest is dirty history.

   Leave a comment | Bookmark and Share

13 Comments

    1. HI MIke; fantastic new concept thanks. I just got to do it. It being a part-time weekend DJ for WGTY 107.7 Gettysburg PA Been going it for 20 years rare for me to take a weekend off because I just got to do it and because I love it alot Congrats on your new show it is sure to be a big hit

      Robert Boyer | 07/04/14 | 11:19 pm
    2. Hello Mr Mike,
      I’ve seen for the first time a bit of your show from YouTube as it’s not aired in Italy (at least I think it isn’t, it’s like 5 years since I’ve watched TV), and your program is a beautiful small masterpiece in the gigantic mosaic of the television business.
      I’ve only worked in two different kinds of jobs: one during the summer as the driver’s assistant in a drinks wholesale in Jesolo, a beach resort in North East Italy; currently as a machinist for the past thirteen years and in the last 5 years as a CAD-CAM programmer.
      I sure cannot compare AT ALL these two jobs with any of your dirty ones (although I’m not saying “dirty” in a derogatory manner): the summer one was basically physically demanding as we’ve loaded/unloaded a lot of weight, and relatively dangerous in some cases as we’ve used handcarts going up & down slopes and stairs; as a machinist with all the modern equipment in the workshop filled with safety gizmos it’s more difficult to be in hazardous situations, unless one is actually being a nuthead.
      I recall in high school writing an essay about what we’ve done during summer, specifying that if there weren’t people doing that type of job (I was the rare ones in class who actually had done that while others worked too but in much less physically demanding environments) there wouldn’t have been anyone keeping up with tourists’ demands to drink. And I was actually experiencing mixed feelings: on one hand I was doing something that many hadn’t done (a lot quit after the first couple of days!) and that was quite a proud feeling -albeit might be a weird one-, and on the other hand I was somewhat upset that we weren’t recognized for what we’ve done, always working behind the scenes, so to speak, since we’ve loaded/unloaded most of the times in private areas. Sometimes in public roads, but mostly not.
      Mine was a small experience compared to those daily workers who perform in MUCH harder environments than I can ever imagine, but it made me open my eyes to the hidden jobs that, without them and without those great men & women, our modern cities would never EVER live the way it does now. It’s just like our bodies: the majority of us doesn’t realize the jobs our cells are doing in order to make us live, and we are basically so focused on the exterior, superficial side of us, not on the hidden aspect that really, deep down, makes our existence possible. But if the cells won’t perform the way they do, we’re screwed up. And so are our cities and our lifestyles if we don’t have the hidden aspect that doesn’t perform well.

      A big Thank You to every person working on a daily basis on professions most of us fear and feel repulsion. I wish You all the very best in life.
      Thank You too Mr Mike. :)

      Rex Balsarin | 09/09/12 | 4:42 pm
    3. Dirty jobs are sexy.

      KiAnna | 06/22/12 | 7:48 pm
    4. That was a great story Mike..You never know what will happen when you have an idea and just need someone to give you that chance. Well it paid off and you have millions of fans who watch your show each Tuesday night. It is good to know that you are so passionate about what you do. Keep up the great work and stay dirty.

      Donna Coleman | 03/18/11 | 9:07 pm
    5. Love the show mike. We would love for you to see our dirty event and maybe come help us clean up. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5D8of4N9ko VIVA LA TOMATINA EN RENO!

      Josh | 06/18/10 | 10:37 am
    6. mike
      i love your show. the best episode yet is the coal mine.
      keep up the great work.

      chenelle | 02/09/10 | 7:38 pm
    7. I just wanted to take a moment to say “THANK YOU MIKE”!!! It takes someone special to be so dedicated to doing the jobs that no one wants to do. Watching you, it’s obvious that you love what you do, and that you truely appreciate those of us out there with less-than-desireable jobs. I myself am a preschool teacher. I spend every day with 10 screaming 2-year-olds. It’s a stressful job that you MUST LOVE in order to do it and I often feel underappreciated. It was so refreshing to see you step in to my world for a day! Your mission to show the world that everyday life is possible because of the people who do the dirty work is admirable, and I can not praise you enough for it. I’m a huge fan and never miss a show. Keep doing what you’re doing, and keep loving it! Your dedication to singing the songs of the un-sung heroes is just the inspiration people need to keep going in their own lines of work. I’m thinking of ways to help you with your “MikeRoweWorks” mission…I have some ideas involving vo-techs…I’ll be in touch!

      Corinne Bostwick | 12/30/09 | 9:26 am
    8. Hi Mike

      Back Again. Only to reiterate the fact that you need a female influence on your show. Im sure the male population would get a charge out of watching a GIRL do a quarter of the Dirty Jobs that you do.

      Love the Show

      cheryll | 12/23/09 | 2:01 pm
    9. Mike, after watching you do things that nobody should do I realize just how good I have it at my work. Thanks for showing us that no matter how bad our job is … someone else has it just a bit worse..

      Thanks again..
      Steve

      Steve | 10/19/09 | 11:32 am
    10. Mike, I really like your show – it’s refreshingly different in a sea of boring reality TV. I look forward to seeing more Dirty Jobs, keep up the nasty, smelly, sweaty work!

      Nick Thorley | 10/19/09 | 8:47 am
    11. I love this story… I’m in the process of doing something similar, and you’re a real inspiration. Love the show, love the jobs, can’t wait to see more this season.

      Nick Coleman | 10/08/09 | 4:17 pm
    12. Mike,
      Love your show-I have been watching it since the beginning. The best one ever was the monkey ranch.-I spotted my pants on that show.

      However keep up the great work!!

      Oh yea- a lot of goods things have been invented over drinking beers.

      John Bruce | 09/29/09 | 8:58 am