2009-10-10 / Top News

‘Dirty Jobs’ Crew Returns to Mackinac Island To Film New Episode

“Work is under siege in this country. The attitude of what it means to labor, literally, has just been so redefined we're all so confused. We're upside down. We're trying to create jobs that people don't aspire to...” – Mike Rowe, ‘Dirty Jobs’
By Karen Gould

In the Tea Garden at Grand Hotel, Mike Rowe (right) and crew prepare to introduce a segment that has show producer, Dave Barsky (not pictured), about to change the flag on the top of the cupola at the hotel. Annie Farrell (second from left) of Grand Hotel assisted the “Dirty Jobs” crew during filming. Segments filmed on the Island will be part of a special "Dirty Jobs" episode scheduled to air in March on the Discovery Channel. It will focus on the show's crew. In the Tea Garden at Grand Hotel, Mike Rowe (right) and crew prepare to introduce a segment that has show producer, Dave Barsky (not pictured), about to change the flag on the top of the cupola at the hotel. Annie Farrell (second from left) of Grand Hotel assisted the “Dirty Jobs” crew during filming. Segments filmed on the Island will be part of a special "Dirty Jobs" episode scheduled to air in March on the Discovery Channel. It will focus on the show's crew. Mike Rowe and the crew from the cable program, "Dirty Jobs," returned to Mackinac Island last week for the second visit in two years. They were filming scenes for the final show of the season that will include Mackinac Island venues. Filming ended Thursday, September 17, and the Discovery Channel show is expected to air in early March.

Dave Barsky, show producer, noted this will not be the last time the show is filmed in the Straits of Mackinac.

With three cameras rolling, Mike Rowe (third from left) begins what was to be a brief interview with enthusiastic "Dirty Jobs" fans (in baseball caps) Marilyn and Carolyn Maedel of St. Clair. About 45 minutes later, filming ended and the laughter subsided at Grand Hotel near the pool, Wednesday afternoon September 16. "Did you ever meet anybody who gabs as much as us?" asked Carolyn. "No. Never," replied Mr. Rowe. "To be honest I could try to pretend, maybe, but no." It was the answer she wanted to hear as she continued on with hardly a breath reminding Mr. Rowe of a "Dirty Jobs" episode that was filmed in Alaska. Pictured are (from left) cameraman Troy Paff, cameraman Doug Glover, Mike Rowe, Producer Dave Barsky, Marilyn Maedel, Carolyn Maedel, Coordinator Greg Brandon, and cameraman Dan Eggiman. Missing from photograph are "Dirty Jobs" crew members sound mixer Chris Jones and assistant cameraman Ryan Walsh. With three cameras rolling, Mike Rowe (third from left) begins what was to be a brief interview with enthusiastic "Dirty Jobs" fans (in baseball caps) Marilyn and Carolyn Maedel of St. Clair. About 45 minutes later, filming ended and the laughter subsided at Grand Hotel near the pool, Wednesday afternoon September 16. "Did you ever meet anybody who gabs as much as us?" asked Carolyn. "No. Never," replied Mr. Rowe. "To be honest I could try to pretend, maybe, but no." It was the answer she wanted to hear as she continued on with hardly a breath reminding Mr. Rowe of a "Dirty Jobs" episode that was filmed in Alaska. Pictured are (from left) cameraman Troy Paff, cameraman Doug Glover, Mike Rowe, Producer Dave Barsky, Marilyn Maedel, Carolyn Maedel, Coordinator Greg Brandon, and cameraman Dan Eggiman. Missing from photograph are "Dirty Jobs" crew members sound mixer Chris Jones and assistant cameraman Ryan Walsh. "This is dirty jobs country," Mr. Barsky pronounced. "This is the salt of the earth stuff up here in the U.P. We love it very much and I am going to find a way to come back. There is more to do here for our show."

Dan Hosford (left) of Grand Hotel casually awaits a signal from Mike Rowe. "Dirty Jobs" producer Dave Barsky (right) is uncomfortable in high places, although for this episode of the show, he will climb onto the roof of the copula by Mr. Hosford and change the flag. Dan Hosford (left) of Grand Hotel casually awaits a signal from Mike Rowe. "Dirty Jobs" producer Dave Barsky (right) is uncomfortable in high places, although for this episode of the show, he will climb onto the roof of the copula by Mr. Hosford and change the flag. Mackinac was a top location choice for the episode and a means to show appreciation for the warm welcome and and cooperation extended to the crew in 2007, when two episodes featured work on the Island and at the Mackinac Bridge.

"When we first came up here and stayed on the Island for the recycling program and then the Mackinac Bridge," said Mr. Barsky, "everybody was already a fan of the show and everyone was so kind to us. Honestly, forget about being treated special and rolling out the red carpet, everybody was just so helpful in getting our job done and teaching us what they do for a living. We couldn't ask for a better environment to work in to present a television show."

The Mackinac Bridge program remains one of the most popular episodes, Mr. Rowe said, and was the first time the show used helicopters.

"People ask me about the Mackinac Bridge all the time," he said. "It is funny because I live right next to the Golden Gate and I drive over it often. To me, the Golden Gate is a big, bold, iconic bridge. Now, I can't look at it the same way anymore because the Mackinac Bridge makes it look like a model, a little thing. [The Mackinac Bridge] is four times longer. It is higher.

"Climbing up the Mackinac Bridge and hanging out with the Bridge Authority here was one of the most important things we ever did on the show. It was the first time a government run bureaucratic institution never said 'no' to me. I jokingly said to them, 'You guys got a problem if I hop up over that rail, walk across that girder, and climb up the cable?' And they looked at me and said, 'If that's what you want to do, go ahead.'"

He did not expect that answer, he recalls.

"I can't believe they said go ahead and do it. That is why that show is so good. We were able to illustrate every vital thing that those bridge workers do, from the point of view of a viewer, not an expert, a viewer. They [bridge officials] got it and I love Michigan for that, and this area. It's a big deal."

Mr. Barsky said he had reservations then of using a helicopter to shoot some of the bridge scenes, although it was needed to give the viewer a perspective of the size of the bridge and the Straits.

"Our show is gritty by nature," he said, "and to add a helicopter sort of adds a polish to the show. So I had my reservations at first, but after I saw it edited, honestly, it immediately went to one of my top five segments."

Mr. Barsky and a team of seven travel around the country about eight months of the year, carrying cameras and production equipment as they follow Mr. Rowe. He crawls through tight spaces, climbs tall towers, works with animals, and casts a humorous light on getting dirty as he takes on the physically challenging jobs of hard working men and women.

For the season finale this year, the show will focus on behind-the-scenes action, including special segments on crew members. Spots around the Island last week were chosen to feature the personalities of crew members, how hard they work to make the show happen, and it focuses on their fears or any other issue a crew member might have, said Mr. Barsky. At Horn's Gaslight Bar and Restaurant, cameraman Troy Paff learned the challenges of bartending, since he has a difficult time making a beer choice and often holds up the entire crew before placing his order. Mr. Barsky, who is afraid of heights, was filmed changing the flag on Grand Hotel's copula. Other scenes were shot at Mission Point Resort.

Often, people featured have never seen a television camera before, said Mr. Barsky, and have no idea how to deal with it, so the crew must work to make them comfortable. Mr. Rowe brings humor to some of the dirtiest jobs and the crew is working right there with him, said Mr. Barsky, as are those people whose job is featured.

"We like to call the people we go to the hosts of the show," he said. "They really are, because they are teaching us. It is truly a group effort."

The show is considered one of the most efficient in television, said Mr. Barsky, who attributes this to the teamwork of the crew. The crew is sometimes able to film an hour of television in one day, which is rare, he said.

"Nobody else does that," he added. "That's a fact."

"Dirty Jobs" is shown nationally on the Discovery Channel and in 173 countries around the world.

"It is a big deal and it freaked me out for awhile," said Mr. Rowe. "Then I decided these aren't bad cards, play them, but, honestly, don't just look at the entertainment value of the show, look at the themes that are under it and what decent thing might you be able to do or what might you be able to talk about as a result of this."

That is when he came up with the idea of mikerowe Works.com.

The show's themes of working in a trade are timeless, universal, and current, particularly based on the country's job market today, he said. The Web site offers visitors a place to chat about work and is a place for trades people and students who want to learn more about a career in a trade. The site also includes information on trade schools, scholarships, and state colleges.

He does not believe in the platitude "work smart, not hard," and considers it one of the worse pieces of advice he has ever gotten.

"What nonsense that is, and you'll see it hanging on posters in corporate boardrooms hanging all over the country," he said. "It's ridiculous. Work is under siege in this country. The attitude of what it means to labor, literally, has just been so redefined we're all so confused. We're upside down. We're trying to create jobs that people don't aspire to. They'll take them because they are desperate for work, but there is no love of shovel-ready jobs that there used to be. That's got us in a mess, you know."

Mr. Rowe, who admits to sleeping about four hours a night and is on the road three weeks of every month, said he devotes as much time to the Web site as he can. Since its launch on Labor Day last year, he has hired people to help with it.

He is quick to say he loves his job and he is serious about his work.

"Dirty Jobs" started out on a San Francisco show as three features called "Somebody's Got To Do It." Mr. Rowe had the intention of highlighting jobs his grandfather had done. The man was born knowing how to fix things, he said, including building a house without a blueprint.

Mr. Rowe admits that he did not inherit his grandfather's talents and so turned to entertainment for a career. Although he comes off on the show as being easygoing, he is serious and passionate about the promotion of skilled trades and those who have the talent for a craft.

"I do believe, whatever your job is, if you approach it like a trade, you'll be better for it," he said. "There are many performers who simply are in the business because they want a measure of fame, or notoriety, or money and they are imitating everybody around them. And that's OK. That's what the business rewards, but if they worked it more like an electrician, or a carpenter, or a welder approaches their work, I think they'd have a lot more success. Most people who do what I do don't really look at it that way, and even though I don't really have any of the talent my granddad did, I do remember very clearly the way he looked at work and I try and approach my career that way."

For "Dirty Jobs," he said, the crew looks for people who may not be doing what they had envisioned, but rather have taken a different path, and still brought enthusiasm to their job.

"Don't follow your passion," said Mr. Rowe. "You take your passion with you and you go out into the world passionately looking to make your way. This business of following your passion is not what we expose on 'Dirty Jobs.' All these dirty industries that people are avoiding, we feature people who went toward them on purpose and then they figured out a way to make money and then they figured out a way to love it. To me, that's the lesson that ought to be out there and those are the role models we ought to be finding. People who have figured out a way to love what they do, not because they had a dream of doing it, but because they are practical people who need to make ends meet and they are out there in the world with the rest of us.

"To me those are the people with stories worth telling," he added.

Mr. Rowe has found those kind of stories and people on Mackinac Island.

"I don't think anybody on Mackinac lives here by accident," he said. "It is not a place you pass through. This is a place you come to and while it is all vacationy and fun and tourist driven as an economy, the reality of living here takes work. You've got to ship stuff in, you've got to dig into the rock, and you've got to hang on.

"It can't be easy to live on an Island that doesn't really grow anything, doesn't mine anything, it's all got to come to you. The people who are here are deliberate people who made an intentional choice and as a rule, I like being around deliberate and intentional people. They're interesting. They know who they are. They tend to know what they want. I like 'em."

In addition to "Dirty Jobs," Mr. Rowe is the voice on Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch" and a spokesman for Ford Motor Company. He has turned down movie and television offers and book deals.

He has accepted a few endorsements like Ford Motor Company, which fits the theme of "Dirty Jobs."

"Ford is in Michigan and this is one of my favorite states," he said.

He is not sure how many more seasons "Dirty Jobs" will continue to air.

"I haven't had an original idea since 2006," he admits. "All the ideas for the show come from viewers. As long as they keep coming, as long as my shoulder holds out, my knee doesn't collapse, I'll keep doing it. I don't know when it ends, or how."

Along with Mr. Rowe and Mr. Barsky, crew members visiting the Island last week included cameramen Troy Paff, Doug Glover, and Dan Eggiman, field coordinator Greg Brandon, sound mixer Chris Jones, and assistant cameraman Ryan Walsh.

In addition to Mackinac Island, episodes filmed this year in the Upper Peninsula include building a log cabin in Rapid River and working on the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie. They are expected to air in November or December.

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