Whether it’s as a bat cave scavenger — the task chronicled in the first episode of his hit television series “Dirty Jobs” — or revealing what it’s like to be a journalist in flyover country — the subject of a recent episode of his viral podcast “The Way I Heard It” — Mike Rowe has a knack for telling stories.
Over the years, Rowe has worn many hats. He’s been an author and an actor, a show host and a commentator. The nucleus of all these roles, though, is the same: Mike Rowe is a storyteller.
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When asked how best to teach Americans the value of hard work and integrity — particularly in a smartphone era when everyone is accustomed, and even conditioned, to expect instant gratification — Rowe said storytelling is at least part of the answer.
“I don’t think there’s one specific answer or playbook,” Rowe recently told Faithwire when asked how to best restore American culture. “But part of the answer has to be storytelling. We have to do a better job of magnifying people who have prospered or found a measure of happiness by doing the very things that we want to celebrate.”
“The problem is nobody wants a sermon and nobody wants a lecture and nobody wants to be scolded,” he continued. “And I certainly don’t want to do any of those things, either. So it’s a tricky balance.”
Rowe offered an example of how he has walked that proverbial tightrope.
Earlier on in the life of his podcast, “The Way I Heard It,” Rowe, in typical fashion, concocted a story. It was a largely fictionalized tale that conveyed a nonfictional truth about America’s founding president, George Washington.
While there’s some debate among academicians over whether Washington actually added the phrase “so help me God” to the presidential oath of office, it is nevertheless part of American antiquity and communicates a timeless moral truth about human fallibility and dependence upon a sovereign creator.
Rowe stitched together a mythical story about that very phrase. However, he used only real quotes from the Revolutionary War general to weave the narrative. In fact, in a recent podcast episode, the “Dirty Jobs” star interviewed a historian who corroborated the veracity of the Washington quotes he used in his tale.
That is the essence of what Rowe does: He draws in readers, listeners, and viewers with masterfully told stories and, in the process, teaches them valuable lessons — often without them even realizing it.
So successful Rowe has been at this that he attracted the attention of TBN President Matt Crouch, who was immediately drawn to Rowe’s podcast and felt certain the stories he told would be perfectly suited for television.
Initially unconvinced, Rowe shrugged off Crouch’s suggestion. The TBN executive, the son of the late televangelists Paul and Jan Crouch, was undeterred. He quietly took it upon himself to produce three pilot episodes of a series based upon Rowe’s modern-day proverbs, presented them to the TV personality, and the rest — as they say — is history.
Rowe’s new series, “The Story Behind the Story,” a partnership with Crouch, premieres on TBN May 7.
At the end of each episode, which gives the Hollywood treatment to Rowe’s many stories, Rowe sits down with “the son of a preacher man,” Crouch, “to talk about the morality plays that are informing all the stories that I write.”
So far, Rowe and Crouch have produced upwards of 40 episodes.
“It is unlike any show on TV,” he said of the forthcoming series.
What is it, though, that motivates Rowe to anchor his elaborate stories in moral truths? The answer to that question is found on a farm in rural Maryland, just outside of Baltimore, where the now-famed storyteller grew up.
Looking back, Rowe sees his grandfather — to whom he has dedicated his work — as a formative figure in his life.
“He could build a house without a blueprint,” Rowe said of his granddad. “He only went to the seventh grade, but he was an inspiration to me. [He] went on to become a skilled tradesman. … And ‘Dirty Jobs,’ which most people know me from, was a tribute to him. … So finding ways to tell stories of people like my pop really was the impetus for so much of what I’ve wound up doing.”
“Nobody’s more surprised than me to see how that has caught hold,” he added.
After more than 20 years on television, Rowe looks now at the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and sees a fresh audience with a “renewed interest” in hearing stories “that do have something essential to them, whether it’s an underlying integrity or some kind of rumination on a theme that still matters,” like “delayed gratification, perseverance, [or] a decent attitude.”
“I’m attracted to stories about people who are on a mission.”
And that’s what makes a storyteller a storyteller.
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