CNN's Mike Rowe out to rewire Baltimore's image

Mike Rowe looking for ways to 'make Baltimore as cool as it can be, as accessible as it can be.'

Update: Since this post appeared on Nov. 6, Rowe and David Simon, the creator of HBO's "The Wire," have had a back-and-forth on their blogs about the city's image. It started with Rowe's Nov. 6 post below. Read Simon's subsequent post here, and another from Rowe here.

After an interview last week with me that will appear later this month in Sun Magazine [you can now read that interview here], Mike Rowe talked off the record about a project he hoped to become involved in aimed at changing Baltimore's image away from the one he saw largely created by such TV shows as "Homicide: Life on the Street" and "The Wire." He said details had yet to be worked out.

Rowe, host of CNN's "Somebody's Gotta Do It" series, posted today on his blog about the project under the heading "Rewiring the Wire." So, it appears some details at least have been worked out.

Here's some of what he told me.

"OK, so 'Homicide' comes along and puts Baltimore on the map, maybe one of the greatest shows ever," he said. "But in the history of bad press, I mean, good God, this is a nightmare for the tourism bureau.

"So, we're talking about ways to kind of – without turning it into a sappy love letter – make Baltimore as cool as it can be, as accessible as it can be though the 'Somebody’s Gotta Do It' kind of lens.

"So, I'm going to go back in a couple of weeks and talk to them about ways we can make everything from 'The Star Spangled Banner' to Federal Hill cool and accessible and fun and blah, blah, blah.

"So, if you're interested as that shapes up and we can talk about it. ..."

I told Rowe I was indeed interested and thought it would make for a very good story.

Rowe, a very creative guy, started "spitballing" about a possible show within a show with cameras from CNN following him as he tries to find the person tasked with changing the image Baltimore has acquired in part from TV dramas.

"Look, send the cameras to shoot me trying to figure out how to make Baltimore a popular tourist destination, because somebody’s gotta do that," he said. "That's actually somebody's real job. So, we'll find the person in the city who's tasked with this basically PR challenge."

Here's some of what Rowe, who grew up in Baltimore and graduated from Towson University, wrote on his blog today about the shape the project is taking:

Some of you might remember a gritty crime drama called “Homicide: Life on the Street.” It was on in the 90‘s. More recently, you might recall another gritty crime drama called “The Wire. It too, was critically acclaimed, and profoundly influential. Both shows took place in Baltimore. Both shows were very popular. And both shows convinced millions of Americans that Baltimore is a fantastic place to buy drugs, find a whore, or get murdered. Better yet…all three at once!

As you might imagine, this unfortunate association has not escaped the people in charge of nurturing Baltimore’s reputation as a destination city. Now, after extensive surveys and multiple focus groups, I’ve been invited to participate in a modest PR campaign called “My Baltimore,” a straight-forward attempt to remind the masses that there’s more to my hometown than heroin and gonorrhea.

Unfortunately, the masses are expensive to reach these days, and money is tight. Consequently, The “My Baltimore” campaign will consist of print ads and radio spots, but no television. But then it occurred to me that I host a TV show that’s almost never confused with a “gritty crime drama.” What if I brought my crew to Baltimore and did a segment about the people who are trying to save the reputation of a city that’s been consistently portrayed as a den of iniquity?” Somebody’s gotta do it, right?

Then – in what can only be described as a transparent effort to dramatically simplify my own life while doing something nice – I thought, why not do a whole episode while I’m there? “SGDI – The Hometown Edition!”

Read the full post here, which includes Rowe asking fans for suggestions for the show.

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