Mike Rowe’s awesome challenge to TV critics, TV industry

I love Mike Rowe, really

Mike Rowe’s new CNN series Somebody’s Gotta Do It may seem a lot like Dirty Jobs, since he travels the country to meet interesting people and participate in their lives, but Rowe told TV critics recently that it’s not as much about actual jobs. But what the series will retain–besides production company Pilgrim Studios–is its fourth wall-breaking commitment to actual reality television.

During a press conference, Mike Rowe lamented the state of reality television, telling TV critics:

“I don’t know what nonfiction means anymore. I don’t understand what reality means anymore. I don’t know how you guys can review a show or write about a show using those terms in a way that it’s like that line from The Princess Bride. My dad said this to me the other day reading about reality shows. He’s like, ‘Michael, I don’t think that word means what you think it means.’

He talked about his own series’ attention to reality, saying, “It’s that it’s not so much about breaking the fourth wall, which everybody loves to talk about. It’s ignoring the fourth wall. It’s just not there, right? That’s the important thing to do. That’s what I want to do in this show really more than anything. I just don’t want to bullshit the viewer anymore into thinking that a thing is bigger than it is or smaller than it is or more dangerous than it is.”

While he gently mocked TV critics–“Some jobs are just simply too hideous to contemplate … I mean, I love you guys. I don’t really understand, to be candid, how your brains work”–he also issued a significant challenge to the room:

“I think the coolest thing about your job, if I were sitting out there, would be to challenge some of the terms that get thrown around today and challenge people to bring more what you call verisimilitude back to the proceedings.”

Yes, reality television needs more reality. And I’m glad Mike Rowe and CNN are contributing, just as many other shows are, even though they might get lost in the parade of scripted crap. And I hope critics and journalists take up the challenge, and that networks and producers contribute to the conversation by ignoring the fourth wall, too, and being honest with viewers.

Mike also talked about how the show will be different from his cancelled Discovery Channel series:

“It’s not so much about vocation, although we’ll see that. There’s a big shot of avocation. As far as the somebody who’s gotta do it, in my head anyway, it’s not just the person we’re meeting. In a self absorbed way, it’s me. This is the show that I want to do. I’ve always wanted to do it. Somebody had to give me an hour of primetime. That turned out to be CNN, God bless ‘em. Somebody’s gotta produce it. That turned out to be the same production company I worked with on Dirty Jobs. Somebody’s got to program it. That’s the country.

So all that stuff comes together in a way that I hope will lead to a really transparent, organic, and I’m just going to say nonfiction show, but I’m going to put it in quotes because I don’t even know what nonfiction means anymore, in this world. But on Somebody’s Gotta Do It, at least I understand the term.”

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.