Let me tell you about a guy named Chad, who woke up one morning and decided to clean up The Mississippi River. Why? Because somebody had to do it.
You can see Chad’s story by clicking Somebody’s Gotta Do It – Spotlight on Chad Pregracke or visit his website Living Lands & Waters. And you can start thinking about creating your own story right now. Who knows, if your ideas turn into videos and your videos are good enough then maybe they will end up on television.
You may ask why “Somebody’s Gotta Do It?” Well, the title has some sentimental value. So, if you want the true story of how Dirty Jobs grew from this exact idea and why I called this “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” read on.
The idea for Dirty Jobs took shape in 2002, over a beer in a waterfront bar called “Grumpy’s” in San Francisco, where I was brainstorming with a TV producer named James Reid. James worked for Evening Magazine, a local TV show on CBS that I had recently been hired to host. On that particular afternoon, we were drinking because our boss was demanding something “different” in the way of a new segment. (It’s a classic request, and one of the great ironies in television – executives always crying out for new ideas, but unwilling to green-light any concept without a proven track record. In this case however, Evening Magazine had been blessed with a dwindling and narcoleptic audience, and the likelihood of pending cancellation, which gave us all very little to lose.)
So we began to kick some ideas around. I had just finished reading “Paper Lion,” by George Plimpton, and the notion of an “immersed host” was fresh in my mind. I liked the idea of trying something truly unscripted, and inserting myself into situations for which I was neither trained or qualified to attempt. James was up for anything, (as long as I kept buying the beer,) but wanted to keep the focus on local, anonymous people. I agreed completely.
Since we shared a lot of the same views on work and celebrity, it was inevitable that those beers would eventually steer the conversation toward the unsung contributions of the people who do dirty jobs. We settled on the title “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” and got the go ahead to start shooting the next day. The first segment was at The San Francisco Zoo, and featured Anthony, The Poo Truck Driver. It only got weirder from there. Within a year, we had shot about 25 segments, and developed a franchise that was garnering lots of new viewers and lots of local press. Evening Magazine was back on the map, and several of the segments were nominated for Emmys. One – Artificial Cow Inseminator, actually won.
Those early segments were only 3-7 minutes long, but otherwise, they were identical in style and tone to the segments you see on Dirty Jobs today. (In fact, some of them are identical, and were re-shot to accommodate the longer format. Poo Truck Driver, Chinatown Garbage Man, and Sewer Inspector being the most notable.) Then, a change in management ushered in a whole new attitude at CBS, and it was determined by a gentler sensibility than my own, that “dirty” was not the right direction for the newly expanded Evening Magazine audience. I was then instructed by the new boss to once again, develop something “different.”
Sensing a pattern, and positive that SGDI deserved a bigger audience, I sent a copy of Artificial Cow Inseminator to Good Morning America, with the suggestion they hire me to host similar recurring segments for their program. I never heard back from them, (though I now appear from time to time as a guest on that program.) I then sent the same tape to a number of other networks, all of who said “no” in a variety of creative ways. (My favorite came from Comedy Central, who wrote, “At this time, our fall schedule does not allow for a talk show that takes place inside a septic tank.”)
Eventually, I approached some people I had worked with years earlier at The Discovery Channel. They didn’t say “no,” exactly, but suggested instead that if I was serious, I should quit my real job at CBS, find a production company with an established name, attach myself as host and co-producer, and let the production company present the idea to the network. I took half their advice, and called a guy I know named Craig Piligian. Craig owns Pilgrim Films and Television, and was one of the original producers of Survivor. At the time, he was producing Discovery’s hit show, American Chopper. I figured he would be a good choice, and I was right. (Besides, back in 2001, Craig had hired me to host a dismal and overwrought series for TBS called Worst Case Scenario, which more than lived up to its name. I figured he owed me.)
Craig and I met, and after watching me get up close and personal with a few dozen dairy cows, he agreed that America might be ready for a reality show that was actually real, and went about the business of convincing Discovery to commission Somebody’s Gotta Do It. At some point, the show was renamed Dirty Jobs, and the format was extended from seven minutes to a full one hour. After three pilots and a year focus groups, Discovery eventually ordered the series you watch today. In March of 2005, I quit Evening Magazine, which is now off the air, (how’s that for something “different,”) and dedicated myself to a life of grime. The rest is dirty history.