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February 28, 2018

Mike of All Trades

Facebook Watch series Returning the Favor is Mike Rowe's latest endeavor.

Melissa Byers
  • The Returning the Favor crew.

    mikerowe.com
  • Returning the Favor "Crown's Point"

    mikerowe.com
  • Returning the Favor "Against All Odds"

    mikerowe.com

Mike Rowe does a little bit of everything.

Known as the host of Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs and CNN's Somebody's Gotta Do It and his own podcast The Way I Heard It, he has yet another endeavor on Facebook Watch, Returning the Favor. Amid all that, he also finds time to run his foundation, mikeroweWORKS, focused on closing the American skills gap.

Returning the Favor, in its second season, is a series in which Rowe meets with people across the country who are giving back to their communities. Although he was at first resistant to doing a "feel-good" show, he ultimately decided that the time was right for a light-hearted version.

Rowe has a strong social media presence, so producing the series on a relatively new platform, Facebook Watch, seemed the right venue.

TelevisionAcademy.com had the opportunity to ask Rowe a few questions recently.

How did you get into the entertainment industry?

I memorized the shortest aria I could find and auditioned for The Baltimore Opera. That was back in 1984. I didn't understand Italian, and had no idea what I was singing, but they hired me anyway. God bless 'em. My plan was to use my AGMA card to buy my SAG card, (which you could do in those days,) and then go about the business of becoming a movie star.

That didn't exactly work out, but other doors opened as a result. Lots of doors.

What draws you to a project?

Well, after five years in the Opera, money. I took a job with QVC in 1989, where I worked the graveyard shift for three years. After that, I freelanced for everyone until Discovery bought Dirty Jobs in 2003.

These days, I'm still partial to getting paid, but I prefer projects that allow me to tap the country on the shoulder and say "Hey, I met somebody over here I think you should know." I rely a lot on behind-the-scenes-footage, and do whatever I can to bring the viewer along for the ride. I also look for projects that are consistent with my foundation.

What's your foundation all about?

It's called mikeroweWORKS, and it evolved out of Dirty Jobs. At base, it's a PR campaign designed to help close America's skills gap. Specifically, we're focused on calling attention to roughly five million skilled jobs that don't require a four-year degree. Over the last 10 years we've awarded about 5 million dollars in work-ethic scholarships to nearly a thousand people.

What led you to doing Returning the Favor?

I've always avoided traditional "feel-good" shows because I don't care for the way they manipulate the viewer. But it seemed like the right time to give people something in their feeds that wasn't political, depressing, divisive or completely cat-dependent.

So I suggested the idea of documenting the making of a show that endeavors to reward the kind of behavior we'd all like to encourage. A light-hearted look at bloody do-gooders. Facebook was game, so off we went.

Why did you want to do a show on Facebook Watch?

It wasn't Watch that initially attracted me; it was the opportunity to produce a show that I knew the people on my page would love. I've got about five million people there, and I've always tried to engage with them in a way that's authentic and real. In a lot of ways, I've been "programming" my own page for the last few years with all sorts of mini-segments.

Honestly, I looked at this show as a really elaborate post. I still do.

Are there differences between working for a traditional platform vs. this new digital one?

The basic business of production isn't different at all. You're still out in the world with cameras, dealing with all the issues and moving parts that make producers crazy. But there are plenty of differences in dealing with a company that already has 2 billion viewers.

For one thing, the numbers are staggering. Season 1 of RTF has already been viewed about 200 million times. That simply doesn't happen in broadcast or cable. But mostly, it's the fact that I'm delivering a show specifically for the people on my page. That's not something I could propose to a traditional network – at least not with a straight face.

From Dirty Jobs to commercials, podcasts to narration, and now this new venture, what are your career goals? What would you like to try that you haven't done?

My goal has always been a variety of projects with a consistency of brand. At the moment, I'm really happy with how congruent things are.

Dirty Jobs still airs on Discovery 10 times a week. Somebody's Gotta Do It has found a new home at TBN, and appears to be one of their top shows. The Way I Heard It is the number one short form podcast in the country, Facebook is ordering new episodes of RTF faster than I can deliver them, and the foundation is firing on all cylinders.

There's also some other stuff in the works which I'd hate to jinx with any premature blabbing. So I guess my primary goal at this point is to see if I can keep the wheels from coming off the bus…
 
 

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