Journeyman and expert, narrator and on-air talent, Mike Rowe is a comforting and familiar face to the Deadliest Catch nation.
These fans have followed the Discovery series for 16 seasons now. And Rowe is back on TV tonight for Discovery’s pregame special, Before The Catch.
Deaths, addictions, demons, killer storms, life-threatening injuries and boisterous Dutch Harbor celebrations held for a lucrative crabbing haul are part of the turn of events Mike Rowe has witnessed and commented on through the years.
Now, he is back tonight to get the dirt, the backstories, and the kernel of truth that each Captain who sets out on the Bering Sea spills, the same way an 800-lb metal pot dumps its fated crabs on deck.
These men have histories with each other, and not all of the history is calm seas sailing.
It’s going to be messy, real, and raw at times, and Rowe’s natural curiosity combined with his even-keeled temperament makes him the perfect curator of these larger-than-life talents — blue-collar guys making a hard living.
What we know is that some of them are quite close, some less so, and in Josh Harris’s case, has stepped in as consigliere, trying to fill the void of the late Captain Phil Harris, Josh’s dad who died back in 2010.
What is Before The Catch?
Discovery narrator Mike Rowe hosts and curates the special virtual talk show. He will talk with all of the captains from the Emmy Award-winning series returning for its 16th season on Tuesday, April 14 at 8 PM ET/PT, followed by Josh Harris’ Bloodline spinoff.
Using a webcam. Rowe will ask the tough questions, asking about the realities of the Alaskan crab fleet and their reactions to the stepped-up aggression of the Russian crab fleet.
Interpersonal loose threads will be pulled as Rowe will get to the heart of the beef, and the alliances of the Catch captains returning. The Captains will likely divulge the obstacles like fierce weather and other factors that affected their run.
“You never know what you’re gonna get when you sit and chat with a Bering Sea Captain,” Rowe said in a press statement for the announcement. “Especially a Bering Sea Captain whose been cooped up for the last three weeks in isolation. Honestly, I have no idea what to expect, but I can promise the conversation will be lively.”
No topic will be untouched and Mike and the captains will open up while being safe, and sheltered in place just like the rest of America.
Mike Rowe exclusive interview
Monsters & Critics: You’re all over the news, and you’ve got a lot of things going on. Even your mother, Peggy, does not stop…
Mike Rowe: No, and continues to upstage me at every turn.
M&C: So many people want Dirty Jobs to be brought back. It seems like, even when you’re interviewed, that’s the top-of-the-list question. What’s your response to that?
Mike Rowe: Well, it’s flattering, first, and foremost. It’s also strange because a lot of those people don’t really know that it ever stopped. The network never stopped airing it.
Dirty Jobs airs 15, 20 times a week in reruns. I think it’s the only nonfiction, unscripted, reality-type show that actually holds up in reruns. It’s pretty incredible.
So… it’s flattering, but I also think there’s something going on in the country, separate and apart from our current drama, that has just made people look backwards through the lens of nostalgia…or whatever you want to call it, and they take comfort in a known quantity.
Dirty Jobs was absolutely a known quantity. It helped shape the topography of cable programming. I think, modesty aside, maybe more so than any other show. Dozens of shows came out of Dirty Jobs.
I think people miss it because it was really unusual in the sense that we almost never did a second take. It was a very honest show.
We filmed sunup to sundown and showed the viewer what we encountered in the order and the chronology in which we encountered it.
So it was really, Dirty Jobs was the making of a show as much as it was a show itself.
We documented the business of putting that show together and traveling to all 50 states dozens of times to meet people you didn’t know existed, who lived in towns you couldn’t find on a map, and we treated them the way Access Hollywood would treat Brad Pitt.
We pointed three or four cameras at them for 12 hours and really got to know them.
So for all those reasons, I think people yearn for something that’s both funny, familiar. Yeah, funny and familiar. That’s the thing.
The landscape is so cluttered. It’s so hard to find a hit in nonfiction. Scripted, different story. We’re probably living in the golden age of scripted television.
I watched Ozark last night, and my jaw just dropped again. It’s like another amazing chunk of scripted entertainment. But non-scripted is really, really tough, because people, I think, still value authenticity.
Production, unfortunately, so often becomes the enemy of authenticity that a lot of non-scripted programming winds up feeling produced or fake.
For its many faults, Dirty Jobs was never that. It was always an honest show, it was always authentic, it was always real, and I reckon those things are for sale right now.
M&C: You took those values though, and that ethos and you applied it to Returning the Favor, that Facebook watch show. How many seasons now or years have you been doing that?
Mike Rowe: Well, the truth is, I just change the title of whatever I’m working on every seven or eight years and just keep doing the same show.
I mean, my job, I think, not to be grand about it, but if you distill it down, I feel like my job is to tap the country on the shoulder every so often and say, “Hey, what about her? What about him?”
Dirty Jobs did that. Somebody’s Gotta Do It did that. We did 32 hours of that for CNN, and it’s now airing on TBN every week.
Maybe the strangest evolution in the history of television, a show that goes from prime time on CNN to prime time on Trinity Broadcasting and still gets an audience. Very weird.
Returning the Favor, we’ve done 70-some episodes. That would be somewhere between four and five seasons. Now we’re in Facebook land, so it’s a slightly different metric.
But in terms of pure reach, it’s so weird. I don’t even know how to talk about Returning the Favor — it has over 300 million downloads.
I just did an episode last week sitting where I’m sitting right now at my desk, remotely, using Zoom and some other technologies with producers also in remote locations.
We’re doing a 15-minute version of the show, and it’s reaching, this first little homemade hot mess of an episode reached over 3 million people.
It’s a very strange world when you juxtapose Facebook to cable. But the business of still just trying to magnify people who are worth knowing and encouraging the kind of behavior that I think we all want to reward, that’s still the ethos of the show.
Jobs was a rumination on work, and Returning the Favor is a rumination on kindness. Both are universal, and both are still in short supply.
M&C: People don’t want to hear from wealthy celebrities sequestered in their luxe second home on how to get through this pandemic.
They’re hungry for the content and stories of people who are getting us through the crisis. Celebrity culture has nosedived.
People are taking back their worth as a worker, even if they’re categorized as not essential…
Mike Rowe: Well, language is important, and there are always unintended consequences of adopting a cookie-cutter approach or trying to say a thing that applies to the most people.
This is how we get platitudes and bromides and really squishy speech in education, for instance.
My foundation really came into existence because of the expression higher education, which to me, implied a whole category of lower education.
Once you start talking about education in terms of its hierarchy, you apply all kinds of value judgments to it, and those judgments apply to the jobs and the work that the various levels of education will prepare you for.
So pointing out those kinds of traps that happen when language is used and precisely is something I’ve become kind of sensitive to.
In this regard, essential workers is a really interesting thing for me to ruminate on because it’s right at the heart of Dirty Jobs. That show was an attempt to find people whose jobs made civilized life possible for the rest of us.
And so, we were affirmatively looking for frontline soldiers in the war on infrastructure, for instance. People charged with keeping our infrastructure up and running were really interesting to me because they often labored out of sight and, consequently, out of mind.
So the search for essentiality, if there is such a word, was at the heart of Dirty Jobs. But this is different because this is a collective, we are literally all in the same boat, which I believe is going to be the title of this Deadliest Catch special, incidentally.
We’re all being asked to do a thing collectively in order for the greater good. In this case, stay in. Now, in that context, there is no such thing as a non-essential worker. 6.6 million people just got laid off, now they go right into the nonsense pile.
If that weren’t true, they wouldn’t have been laid off.
But look at the impact on the economy as a result of their sudden unemployment. It is the exact opposite of nonessential. We’re talking about trillions of dollars of money flowing into the economy to try and offset the consequences of their sudden unemployment.
So it’s a bit nuanced, but the short answer is — all work matters. In an economy like this, all jobs matter.
All jobs are essential because each and every job, whether you’re an Uber driver or a part of the gig economy, or whether you’re a plumber or a steam-fitter or a welder or a pipe fitter or an actuarial accountant or an entertainment reporter.
If you suddenly aren’t working and your personal economy goes down the toilet, that’s going to have an impact on everyone.
And so, I think the word essential is a trap and, while I think it’s fair to talk about workers in terms of those who can save your life and those who don’t, that’s fine.
But in the broader economic sense, I think what we’re about to realize is that there’s no such thing as a nonessential worker.
M&C: Before the Catch has been sold as “a no holds barred,” really gritty, honest conversation with some really colorful guys.
I’ve been following the series since its inception, and I’ve interviewed every last one of them. I spoke to Josh Harris yesterday, who talked about his “Council of Dads” (series on NBC). Johnathan Hillstrand, Sig Hansen, Casey McManus’ father.
Those were the three men that he sought counsel for when he found (Captain) Phil’s ocean charts. Will it be discussed, the importance of those men and their fatherly guidance given up to Josh Harris?
Mike Rowe: Yeah. Yeah. We absolutely talked about it. To what degree it’ll be cut in. I’m not sure. We frankly found an embarrassment of riches. By that, I just mean that, for the first time, we were severely limited by how we could produce the show.
Meaning, we are all in the same boat, isolated, sequestered, quarantined, sheltering in place, whatever. There we are, limited to an image on our computer screen. And so, on the one hand, that was a real challenge.
On the other hand, what it does is it strips bear anything else and leaves me with an opportunity to do something I’ve never done before, which is have a one-on-one conversation with each of these guys.
I’ve talked to all of them countless times, but on TV, only in a group. And so, it was really interesting for me on a personal level to simply reconnect with some old friends.
Remember, we’re going into season 17 production level. 16 is in the can. I mean, how many other shows can you say that about? I mean, the Simpsons, Law and Order? I mean, it’s very, very unusual.
And so, these guys, I’ve known them for 17 years, and I’ve had a chance to watch them adapt, adjust and struggle in the fishbowl under the lens of Hollywood, so I have lots of questions about that.
But for me, I also thought it was really interesting, and this comes out about halfway in the show, just in the course of talking with them one after the next. What’s the country struggling with right now, primarily? It seems like isolation, uncertainty, and fear.
What did these captains live with on a day-to-day basis? Isolation, uncertainty and fear. I think it’s fair to say that Bering Sea fisherman and crab boat captains in particular are uniquely suited to confront corona.
My main objective in this hour was simply to check in with all of them and get their take on this. Just because… everything else feels subordinate.
“Oh, you found the chart.” Great. “Oh, the waves are big.” Got it. All that stuff that goes into the mythology of the show and brings people back year after year.
Specifically, the fact that you can’t script the Bering Sea. All of that stuff is still germane, but there’s now something that so transcends all of it that I just wanted to talk about it personally.
So we did. I think it’s going to be a terrific hour and a really unique hour, but that’s just a very long way of answering your question.
Am I going to take a deep dive with Josh on the men who he’s turned to in the absence of Phil? The answer is, yeah, but probably in a future show, assuming the network wants to do them.
If they do, there’ll be more appropriate times to really dig in on that. But right now in this hour, first and foremost, it’s a catch-up, is what it is.
Because I haven’t done After the Catch in four or five years, something like that.
M&C: And we don’t know if there’ll be an After the Catch for this season?
Mike Rowe: It’s beyond my pay grade. Obviously, we’ll have to see how the show does, but personally, I think the country is starving for this kind of thing.
There’s a moment, and again, I don’t know if it will be cut into the show, but there’s a moment where Sig Hansen bares his soul and tells me in the most certain terms I’ve ever heard of just how frightened he is of the coronavirus and what his day-to-day life is up there in Washington, in a hotspot.
Living with his mother, and trying to care for her, and at the same time, trying not to kill her.
M&C: Some of them are more forthcoming. Johnathan Hillstrand…He’s a blurter. Wild Bill holds his cards closer to his chest, and I feel the same way too about Keith and “Harley” Davidson.
They all have their individual demons. Do they talk about that? Do they talk about what they have to do to not die prematurely from their lifestyle?
Mike Rowe: We’ve had those conversations in previous episodes. We touch on some of it here, but I think the bigger point is the point you’re making, the fact that these guys are at once completely unrelatable in terms of the reality of their job.
I mean, how many people sail right into a typhoon and drop 800-pound pots off the side of the deck in 30-foot seas? I mean, it’s a very, very specialized, unique job. Yet, they’re so relatable. Right?
I mean, this one is addicted to cigarettes. This one drinks a little too much. This one struggles in his marriage. This one struggles with his kids.
This one’s insecure. I mean, it’s just the stuff of humanity, and when Phil died in ’10, and I talk about this with Josh too, I said, “I’d been on the show since the very first episode.”
I hosted the first episode, believe it or not, back when we weren’t sure what the show was, or whether or not it actually needed a host. I didn’t realize until Phil died why people were really watching the show.
I wrote a eulogy for him, and I put it on my website, and it crashed. I have a pretty big site, it takes a lot to crash my site and it did. And people responded.
I just wrote about my experience of knowing the guy, and it was really a rumination on authenticity. But billions of people read that, and I realized in reading through all of those comments that Phil’s death, he didn’t die in a rogue wave. He didn’t die like in The Perfect Storm.
It wasn’t the thing that he lived with day after day. It was an embolism, cigarettes. And it was just so common, and his struggles with Jake and Josh trying to raise his kids while he’s working with his kids. How many people look at that and can relate? You know?
I realized in 2010 that there was, in spite of the way the show is produced, and in spite of the way it’s promoted, in spite of the big scary music and the big waves and the epic spectacle of it all, in spite of all of that, underneath it are two things and both are important.
The first is the fact that you can’t script the Bering Sea, and the second is the fact that you know these guys. They’re more relatable than we imagine.
M&C: I feel like we’ve been thrown into a great depression and people don’t realize it yet. I was born in the ’60s, I know you were born in the ’60s.
We had grandparents who lived through the Great Depression, and we heard stories as kids. I’m sure you did. What’s your prognosis for us in sort of like a macro?
Then bring it to the work that you do and how you report on America.
Mike Rowe: I loved that you use that word. In my office, we have a shorthand phrase called micro-macro. It’s a way for my partner to remind me to stay in my lane. I’m micro, right.
I like to talk about macro topics because I’m interested, but really I’m a dilettante. I’m not an expert on the economy. I’m not an expert on education.
My foundation gives you permission to talk broadly about those things, and I do, But the reason my foundation is called mikeroweWORKS is because it’s one at a time.
It’s an individual proposition. So looking forward, I believe that skilled trades-people are going to be in demand like they’ve never been in demand before.
I think the business of equipping people with a useful skill is going to become job one. I think the challenge of getting higher education under control in terms of price is going to be a big thing.
I’m looking for silver linings, April.
And if there’s a silver lining to COVID-19, it might be that the egregious cost of college might be forced to come down because people are going to realize just how compelling and easy it is to get a worthwhile education online.
After a couple months of doing this, of Zooming and GoToMeetings and learning online, all these things, I don’t think we’re going to go back to the way it was.
I mean, in my own office, if I can get nine or 10 people to be as efficient now as we were when we were all in the same office, that’s really interesting.
Now, we miss the camaraderie, it’s not a replacement, but if you work from home Tuesdays and Thursdays and come to the office Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, how much time do you save in the commute?
How much energy do you save? I am always looking for unintended consequences because they’re always out there, and I’m seldom correct in my prognostications, but personally, I’m going to double down on my own foundation.
We’ve so far awarded over $5 million in work ethic scholarships. I think we can do a lot more in the coming years. We’ve helped about 1,000 people get training for good jobs that actually exist. I think we can help thousands more. And so, on a personal level, I’m going to continue doing that.
Maybe, there’s talk of a reboot of Dirty Jobs.
I don’t know, but I would do it, simply to give myself a better platform to talk about these other things and to revive a show that I know people loved.
So I wish I had a crystal ball. I do think the country’s in for a reckoning.
I do think our cheese has been moved and we’re going to have to get used to a new set of rules, but I also think in the end, we’re still going to have to eat what we kill.
We’re still going to have to find out a way to get meaning out of our chosen vocation. And, hopefully, this will all prompt us to look a little differently at what an essential job really means and why it’s important to have a balanced workforce.
Before The Catch premieres and airs on Tuesday, April 7 at 8 PM ET/PT on Discovery
Deadliest Catch is returning for its 16th season on Tuesday, April 14 at 8 PM ET/PT followed by the kickoff of Deadliest Catch: Bloodline at 9 PM ET/PT.