Mike Rowe has deep Baltimore roots that he says served him well during a decade as host of Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs." From spending a day on "Sesame Street" helping Oscar on his dirty jobs, to serving as pitchman for Ford F-150 trucks, the Towson University graduate has become a ubiquitous TV presence in his jeans, jersey, work boots and baseball cap.
Last month, the 52-year-old performer launched a new show, "Somebody's Gotta Do It," Wednesday nights on CNN. The series, which features people who are passionate about their jobs, opened strong, drawing about a million viewers, with half of them in the highly coveted 25-54 age range.
I've been seeing you in connection with Baltimore-related stuff this fall. There's a funny video you did at Camden Yards before one of the League Division Series games with Detroit, for example. Have you been back more?
I was born there, and I spent the first 25 years of my life there. And my parents are still there. And my old friends from high school are still there. And my old girlfriends are still there. And with all respect to Thomas Wolfe, you can go home again, and I do it as often as I can. The rule is simple: If I'm in the time zone, I gotta go to White Marsh and kiss the ring.
You grew up in Baltimore County?
I was in Overlea. My granddad was there forever. In fact, when they put in I-95, he moved his house to the top of a hill flanked by Stemmers Run on one side and the exit ramp from 95 on the other, and it was brilliant, because he essentially hemmed us in to about 120 acres that we didn't own but nobody else could develop.
Do you think that connection to the outdoors helped shape you into the persona viewers see on TV?
I think it did. … We heated the house with a wood stove. We had half a dozen horses on property we didn't own but on a stable that we built. We had chickens. We had what my mother called a garden, but was actually a half-acre of corn.
Sounds kind of idyllic.
We would go back every weekend and either cut down a tree or find one that had fallen, my granddad, my father and I. We would cut it up; we would split the wood; we would stack the wood. If you're trying to raise a son, it gives you a chance to say things like, "Chop your own wood; it will warm you twice."
Plus, having a granddad next to you. Grandfathers today — I think they're kind of missing from the national conversation today.
One of the aspects of your TV appeal is that you project a clear, confident, uncomplicated notion of masculine identity at a time when there is a lot of confusion or uncertainty about it.
Rather than making it about gender ... to me, we're living in a non-linear world. ... But the truth is we are linear creatures. Everything unfolds one after the next. And that's the thing we've become disconnected from. I mean, most people don't know where their food comes from. We're confused about the fundamentals. How does our food wind up on our plates? How exactly is it that when I flick the switch the lights come on?
How do you see your TV image?
Two things happened. One, I got a lot of press because I was the subject of a homily in a big church service in the Midwest. The same day, I was nominated as [D-Listed] Hot Slut of the Week. …
The hot slut thing is great, because I wanted to ask if you think of yourself as a sex symbol.
Wait, I lost to Bea Arthur.