Hey, guys, it's Mike Rowe, and this is the way I heard it, the only podcast for The Curious Mind with a short attention span recently expanded to require slightly longer attention span, because the only thing that's constant in this life is change.
This is episode number 180, and it's called Micro is nothing but a sell out.
Mike Rowe is nothing but a sell out.
In this episode.
I share Chapter three from my book, which tells the true story of a truly great salesman who never got the credit he deserved for changing the world as we know it. That's followed by a brief rumination on my own relationship with the unsavory business of selling things specifically on the QVC cable shopping channel. Years before, I had the great good fortune of working my way up to the sewer.
After that, Chuck accuses me of selling out a charge that I am more than a little familiar with, and I defend myself as best I can with a few thoughts on the reality of working in commercial television.
It's another riveting conversation between two old friends I like to call the way I talked about the way I heard it, or in this case, Mike Rowe is nothing but a sellout. It's episode number one 180 and it starts right now. And by right now, I mean right after I thank our sponsor, my good friends over at NetSuite.
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Mike, having said all that, I hope you'll appreciate the irony of this episode. Self-deprecating entitled Mike Rowe is nothing but a sellout.
Chapter three on the importance of better driving. Back in May 1932, a 61 year old handyman named John Thompson was tinkering in his garage when he had himself a eureka moment, a self-centered idea that would virtually eliminate bad driving. In those days, bad driving was commonplace and U.S. automakers weren't sure what to do about it. But Thompson believed the problem had less to do with bad drivers and more to do with the obstacles they encountered, specifically recessed gullies, intricate curves and flat horizontal plains.
His idea would promote better driving by eliminating those obstacles.
Six months later, he had a gleaming prototype in his garage ready for action, six months after that patent number one million, 80000 and 80 arrived in the U.S. mail, making him the sole owner of the device that would virtually eliminate bad driving. All he needed now was someone to mass produce it. John traveled all over the United States looking for a manufacturing partner. He visited dozens of factories and presented his prototype to countless engineers. The reaction was always the same.
Great idea, Mr. Thompson, but no thanks. After two years of no, John grew discouraged, he'd never tried to sell anything before and the rejections were demoralizing. He made his last pitch in a conference room full of engineers at a manufacturing facility in Oregon. Good morning, Mr. Thompson. We're intrigued by your design. The cruciform, the conical helix and the self centering aspect, our most innovative. But please explain to us how such a thing can be Mass-produced.
Well, John said with a nervous laugh, I was hoping that's what you fellas could tell me. The engineers said nothing, so John plunged in. He talked about the fundamental problem, the frequency with which drivers wound up getting stuck and the inevitable damage that followed when they continued to accelerate. Then he explained how his device would solve the problem by ejecting the driver before the moment of impact when he was done. The engineers all agreed his idea was brilliant, but simply too hard to mass produce.
In other words, no thanks. Later that evening, belly to the bar, John was staring at the diagrams on the wrinkled pages of his worthless patent when a man with white teeth and perfect hair struck up a conversation.
Don't take it so hard, friend. A no. It's just a yes to a different question. Spare me the platitudes, John said, I know what a no means I hear it every day. The man's name was Henry. He grinned, pulled up a stool and ordered a fresh round of drinks. What exactly are you trying to sell? John handed Henry his patent. Henry didn't understand all the details, but he knew the importance of better driving.
He offered to buy one more round. Then he offered to buy John's idea for a handful of cash. John agreed.
And after that, things happened fast. Henry returned to the company that had just rejected John's idea and asked to see the president, a man named Eugene Clark. Oh, no, said the secretary. Not without an appointment. But Clark's secretary didn't understand that a no was just a yes to another question. Henry smiled his charming smile and showed her the patent he'd bought. This idea is going to eliminate driver error. He said. I can show it to a competitor, but wouldn't you rather show it to the boss yourself?
The secretary looked at the patent like Henry, she didn't understand all the details, but she knew the importance of better driving. She showed the patent to her boss. And soon Henry was sitting across from the president of the company, stretching the truth a bit and posing additional questions that could be answered only in the affirmative.
Mr. Clark, I just heard from General Motors. They want millions of these things. Your engineers say it can't be done. Should I ask someone else to give it a try or do you want to give it another shot? Clark picked up the phone and summoned his engineers back to the conference room once again, the engineers examined the prototype and said no. They blamed the practical limits of a cold steel forge and the many challenges of scaling a product of this size.
But the engineers didn't realize that a no was just a yes to another question. When Clark asked if they wanted to keep their jobs, they went back to the drawing board and did come up with a way to mass produce Henry's prototype, at which point Henry flew to Detroit to persuade General Motors to place a massive order for a million devices that did not yet exist.
You can guess what happened next, Henry got a meeting with the president of General Motors and persuaded him to test the prototype driver performance improved dramatically and General Motors offered to buy Henry's idea. But this time it was Henry who said no because Henry had no intention of selling his driving system to just anybody.
He wanted to license it to everybody.
Ultimately, General Motors ordered millions, then Chrysler, then Ford, then the Department of Defense, Henry's patented technology wound up inside every new car on America's highways, Henry's bank account that wound up packed with 65 million in today's dollars.
As for John Thompson, well, he got screwed. There's really no other way to put it. The aging handyman had been right all along. He knew the problem with bad driving had less to do with the drivers themselves and more to do with the obstacles they encountered. He was the one who replaced those troublesome gullies with the unique tapered cruciform. He was the one who looked at those horizontal planes and saw what an ingenious conical helix could do. His patented self centering drive system solved the chronic problem of overtalking by automatically ejecting drivers before they could cause any serious damage, not human drivers, mechanical drivers.
That was the breakthrough that dramatically increased the speed and productivity of American assembly lines. But the breakthrough was not named for the man who invented or designed it. It was named for the man who bought it and sold it over and over and over again. A salesman who knew that a no was just a yes to a different question, a guy named Henry, whose last name is still synonymous with the screw that made him rich, and the screw driver that made him famous.
Phillips. Over the years, I've had the good fortune to speak on behalf of some pretty remarkable companies Ford, Caterpillar, Discovery, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola, to brag ever so humbly about a few. But long before I became the Ford guy, I was selling water purifiers door to door and magazine subscriptions over the phone and hosting infomercials. I was also hawking a variety of dubious products between the hours of three and six a.m. on the QVC cable shopping channel.
Back in 1990, QVC was having difficulty recruiting show hosts, experienced salespeople, weren't comfortable on TV, experienced TV people weren't comfortable selling things. So QVC stopped hiring experienced people and started hiring people who could talk about a pencil for eight minutes. That was the audition. And for reasons that would probably take a psychiatrist to unpack, I was able to discuss the features and benefits of a Dickson Ticonderoga number two ad nauseum. I was hired and placed on the graveyard shift for the three month nocturnal crucible called the Probationary Period.
In hindsight, it was a fantastic way to learn three hours of live TV without a script, with no prompter, no delay and almost no supervision, just a producer named Marty, a former host who slumbered at his desk while I worked for me. It was a true baptism by fire, partly because I'd never been on TV before and partly because there was no real training program. Aspiring hosts were left to figure out for themselves how best to discuss the bewildering array of products that they were charged with presenting.
On my first shift, I walked onto the set at precisely 3:00 a.m. for robotic cameras faced me controlled by a crew of operators hidden behind the pain of smoked glass 20 yards away. I sat behind a desk on a pie shaped stage that rotated every hour to reveal a new setting from which to hawk new categories of pabulum. That particular hour was called Ideas for Your Home. What type of home? Hard to say, given the products I'd been asked to sell every five minutes or so.
A stagehand would bring me some gadget I'd never encountered before the Amcor negative ion generator. I hand painted Hummel figurine, the first cordless phone I'd ever seen, the first karaoke machine. The supply of products was endless and the products themselves were profoundly unfamiliar. It began with something called a kaszak, a paper grocery bag lined with Mylar guaranteed to make a crinkling sound cats supposedly find irresistible. Yeah, it's a real thing. It's out there online. You can actually watch me trying to sell this thing on YouTube, talking about the Cats Act for a whole ten minutes.
No one bought any. Then they brought me a lava lamp, which I attempted to open on air to see if there was lava inside, there wasn't no one bought any of those either. Then they brought me something called the health team, infrared pain reliever. It looked like a miniature flashlight with a cord attached. It cost twenty nine dollars and ninety nine cents and promised to relieve arthritic pain with healing infrared light when applied directly to the troubled area.
With eight minutes left on the clock and not one cogent thing in my head, I looked into the camera and said, Folks, I'm going to be honest with you. I have no idea what this thing is or how it works.
Frankly, I'm skeptical about the healing power of infrared light. But if you have one of these objects, call the 800 number on the screen, ask for Marty. He'll put you on the air.
Maybe you can tell me if it actually works. Ten seconds later, something extraordinary happened, someone called in, a nice lady named Carol explained exactly what the product did and told me she was very satisfied with hers. She also told me I had pretty eyes after that.
Things got weird, but more fun. With each new product.
More viewers called in to explain what the gadget was and how it worked. These were not testimonials. These were tutorials. The viewers had taken pity on me and begun to do my job for me. Sales picked up. Marty woke up. Like I said, things got fun. Years later, while narrating a nature documentary, I learned that young wolves, when confronted with bigger, stronger wolves, will sometimes roll onto their backs and expose their bellies. According to the narrator, the submissive posture they adopt is a way for weaker wolves to show they're not a threat, according to my veterinarian.
This is the same reason my dog pees on me when I come home.
He respects my authority. I'm not sure I buy that. In fact, I'm pretty sure Freddie is just incontinent. But I do believe there's more than one way to sell something for me. The secret was to admit my vulnerability on camera and quit pretending that I knew more than I did to adopt my own submissive posture. If you have a home and a family, you want to keep them safe, there are no exceptions to this rule, whether it's safe from a break in or a fire or a flood or a medical emergency, simply safe home security delivers award winning 24/7 protection.
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Well, that was interesting and, well, we'll hold on, Chuck it, they're always interesting, I mean I mean, come on, you take some of the surprise out of your voice, you know, when you do these things and it'll sound more like a compliment.
You didn't pick up the sarcasm.
No, I didn't know. But that's but that's because we're hundreds of miles apart today. And and that level of nuance doesn't come screaming through my zoom connection.
That's true. That's true. Yes. So this is the first time we're doing this where we're not actually in the same room.
And so far I prefer it. Well, it's certainly certainly does make for a more pleasant aroma, that's for sure.
Anyway, the first thing that that occurs to me about this episode, the the tile, as as we've said before, it's always the tile and then followed by the grout Facebook.
So with chapter three and the Phillips screwdriver is that it's really the value of salesmanship, the value of being a good salesperson.
It's a hero story that the hero of this story is, is not just Henry Phillips. It's the, as you said, the the art of of the sale. And it's also a cautionary tale because, you know, John Thompson, you know, he he did it all right.
I mean, he was the innovator. He had the vision. He he did all of it. And in the end, he took it in the neck, you know? And so, you know, there's so many stories about, you know, great innovators and there's so many stories about great businesses that empower those innovators. But in the end, I'm always interested in the stories where there's there's one guy, one woman, you know, underneath it all who who somehow made the whole thing happened simply by selling it.
You know, it's interesting. Years ago, I read a book by Art Linson, who was a famous producer, and and he described pitching a movie and and they bought it on the spot. And this was the pitch a day in the life of a car wash set to music.
Richard Pryor car wash, right? Yeah, yeah, yes.
And Mr. T and Mr. T.. Mr. T..
Yeah, Art. Art Linson said that. And it just it goes to show you that it's not enough to build the the best mousetrap.
You need someone who knows how to sell that that best mousetrap. Oh yeah.
No, look, it's a point I made to a lot and dirty jobs where where innovators get all the credit. You know, it's and every company today, especially up here, you know where I live, Northern California and of course, Silicon Valley, they all they all see themselves through the lens of their ability to innovate. But one of the things we tried to do on dirty jobs was talk about the importance of imitation. And nobody wants to brand themselves as the great imitator.
But, you know, it's always there, right? I mean, you can give all the credit in the world to Apple for coming up with the with the iPhone, you know, that we rely on. But it's the ability to make the same the same damn phone, you know, a gazillion times over that made them profitable. And it was the ability to make the Philips screw and the Philips screwdriver a gazillion times over that made Henry Philips rich.
Right. So, yeah, you know, it's it's it's fun to look at people and companies in terms of how they see themselves. And by and large, innovation is always good and imitation or duplicative ness is always bad. And of course, that's that's stupid because you don't have one without the other.
Interesting. Interesting. He said with great wisdom.
Well, I mean, just due to what did you say, duplicate isn't duplicitous, duplicitous ability to duplicate. That's right.
But well, not necessarily duplicative means the ability to imitate or duplicate duplicitous is a form of mendacity or deception.
And perhaps that's why so much negativity is associated with with with duplication, because it sounds so close to a form of deception and ripping somebody off.
There you go. Ripping somebody off, which again, is right at the guts of this story. I'm sure John Thompson, looking back on it, lost a lot of sleep because, look, he made a mistake.
He wasn't really ripped off, but he got tired, he got worn down and a salesman came out of nowhere and made him an offer he couldn't refuse. A guy who knew that. No was just another word for. Yes, that hadn't been said yet. Or however I put it in the story. Yeah, yeah, you put it a lot better in the story. The Pentagon and in fairness, it was written down at the time. So you were just trying to recall it out of thin air.
So this brings me to the question that I believe you have been I've seen it on your Facebook page asked of you many, many times. And I would like you to comment on it thoroughly and fully at this moment. And this question is, it goes something like this, Mike.
Why how did you become such a sellout?
Yeah, well, I mean, the the grout is really the beginning of the answer to that question. I, I started my my career, as, you know, not not really as an actor or or a host or whatever it is. I do. I was a salesman. You know, that's the first success I ever had at anything was I was trying to sell something and the first job I ever had on TV. The first steady gig was QVC.
And of course, that's the it's not only the epitome of a sales job, it is in the eyes of many people, the nadir of a sales job. I mean, it's a it's a it's a 24 hour infomercial. QVC is there's there's very little at least at the time, you know, nobody looked at QVC and thought, wow. Yeah.
You know, that's what I'm shooting for as a guy who wants to be on the TV, if only I could get there.
But to your point, you know, nobody knew who I was or what I was doing really back in 1989, 1990. And after dirty jobs, a lot of people did know me. And they and they knew me as a guy on TV who was doing a very specific thing. He was shining a light on lots of different people and lots of different jobs that were typically unsung and unloved. And people really liked that mission and I loved it myself.
But when I started making commercials for Ford and Hewlett-Packard and Motorola and Caterpillar and Master Lock and Home Serve, you go down the list. I mean, you've known me for two years. I've I've worked for a lot of different companies and I made a lot of different commercials. But when people saw me doing that for the first time, it just it just looked like I grabbed the money and ran. And in fairness, I did.
But my long time ago, in my defense, I've been doing it my whole life.
I mean, it's really interesting, Chuck, the the the way actors and viewers to you know, they they draw the line between commercial TV and commercials and they draw that in a really clear way. So it's it's one thing to be on television, commercial television. It's another thing to be in a commercial. And so the value judgments that people make between the two are incredible. If you're in a commercial, you're a sellout. If you do anything to affirmatively or seemingly compromise the identity that people most associate with you, then you're seen as, you know, either, you know, incongruent or inauthentic or selling out.
So when people call people sellouts today, you know, I, I think they do it primarily because you suddenly did something that didn't live up to their expectation of who you were. And in the interest of full disclosure, who I am has always been a guy who who who paid the bills by figuring out a way to sell something. Do you remember William Peterson, famous actor? And the name is familiar. Peterson was in, I think it was NCIS and he was in a lot of movies.
He was in a movie called Manhunter and there was a big dust up back in 2009 or 2010 where he had a fit.
You know, he was shooting, I think it was NCIS and an SUV pulled into the frame and it was a Chevy SUV. And you could tell this because it was a big Chevy logo on the grill.
And and Peterson was like, get this thing away from me. And the director was like, well, look, I mean, Chevies, you know, they are the sponsor of the show. You know, we're not trying to be gross about it, but but William realized he was in the shot with a Chevy logo and he realized that that shot was being put in the show in exchange for money that was coming to the network. And that's how his show gets paid for.
It's how dirty jobs gets its how it's how everything gets paid for. But he took umbrage, you know, and he wrote a big piece and an articles were written about this moment praising William Petersen for stepping away from the Chevy logo in order to protect the purity of his crafts and the ethics of his of his chosen vocation. And then 20 seconds later, there's a commercial for Chevrolet on NCIS.
And it just struck me, you know, why in the world is it different, you know, for an actor to take such a high ground on a show that's paid for by the exact same sponsor, which is just a long way of saying I never saw much of a difference between being on commercial television and being in commercials that air on commercial television.
I get that now. What I thought you were going to say was I I sold out before I had anything to sell out.
I sold out before I had anything to bargain with. And so, yeah, that's probably a better answer. I probably should have given you that. But look, it's it it's no less true than what I just said. But in the moment. You have no idea what your what your career is like, you know, in the moment, look, you're a guy. How many jobs have you had in this industry?
How many? Literally thousands. Right.
How many commercials have you done? How many voiceovers have you done?
I stopped counting it over when I. After a thousand. Yeah. I mean, I have no idea. But what I remember vividly is sitting down for the first time on the QVC cable shopping channel in the middle of the night. I was 27 years old. And suddenly those four robotic cameras turn in my direction and I pick up a widget and start talking about it. And that for me, was the moment where I realized, OK, this is an opportunity.
I'm on television, I'm in millions of homes.
I have to figure out how to do the actual job.
But the so like the job was a mystery, but the opportunity wasn't. And I could see with absolute clarity this if I can figure this out, this is a way that will lead on to another way. And so it it only struck me as as good and interesting and challenging in hindsight.
Well, yeah, it looks like, well, you'll do anything for money and and guess what, at 27 working in this industry, I would write, I would have done anything. And after QVC, I don't I can't even think of, you know, the number of commercials that I that I appeared in. But also, you know, before QVC, the number of things I did, you know, whether it was selling magazines over the phone or any of the other things I mentioned in the story.
I mean, that I never said no to any job that required some level of of salesmanship.
Look, there is one line in this that stood out to me in the very beginning where you said I sold water purifiers out of my trunk. And I remember this moment in your life because I was in New York at the time. But you were selling these things like they were hot cakes. And, you know, when people ask me, you know, about you in terms of your salesmanship, there's two responses I give. You can sell water in a rainstorm or pawn to the pope.
That's like my standard answer.
And, well, believe me, how many how tell us about the the water purifiers out of your trunk.
Well, OK. But but let me remind you of the last line of that chapter, which basically had to do with the submissive posture. Yes. Right. And and and realizing that sometimes the best way look, if you can't be an expert, then you might as well embrace your your ignorance, you know, and that's you know, I, I, I realized that less like really realized it on the air at QVC for the first time on television.
But I learned it actually for the first time with these water purifiers. The company was called NSA, believe it or not, not the National Security Administration, but the National Safety Associates. And they were out of Tennessee and they offered these charcoaled charcoal water purifiers treated with silver. And it was the silver in the charcoal that that allowed you to never have to change the filter itself. The silver would purify the charcoal and you would have these, you know, this this this turnkey easy to use water purifier.
It would sit on your sink. It's about the size of a thermos. And and that's what it was, you know, and and the way the whole organization was structured into one of these pyramid schemes.
Right. So it's everybody in it who was making a bunch of money, was making money by buying a whole lot of water purifiers and then, like, putting them in their garage and selling a few and then signing somebody else up to sell water purifiers and then selling them their water purifiers for slightly more money than they had purchased them for. Right.
And so in the end, you know, none of it works unless the product's any good and the consumer actually likes it. But the shortcut for people was this, this pyramid multilevel marketing opportunity. Now, I didn't understand any of that. All I knew was that in Baltimore, where we grew up, the water tasted like it came out of a swimming pool. There was all this chlorine in it.
And so they they they gave you something was called a reagent. It was like you would test the in in your pool water with the same stuffs. Except here you would go to somebody's house, you would fill up a glass with their tap water and you would squirt a couple of drops of this reagent in it. And if there was chlorine in the water, it would turn it yellow. I mean, look just like.
Urine and there was so much chlorine in our water that everywhere I went, you know, you could smell the chlorine in the water and then I then I'd hook up one of these water purifiers and screw it into the faucet and take water out of the tap and then squirt the same drops into that glass of water.
And there was no yellow. And you could spell you could smell none of the chlorine. And so immediately you could see this thing was working and the water really tasted better. And what sold me on it is I, I immediately bought one and put it on my sink and loved it. And so then, you know, I didn't want to ask my friends to get involved in this.
I just thought if I can put these on sinks everywhere, then I'm people who own those things will want to keep it right.
So what I did was I bought 40 of these things from the company for I think one hundred and twenty dollars apiece. And the retail was one hundred and eighty dollars. And so I would make sixty dollars on every sale. So I had 40 of them. And so I gave them to 40 people who I knew drank water.
Ever did you find them. And I said I said, do me a favor. I'm involved in this company, I've got this product. I really like it. I don't want you to buy it, but I know you and I would love your opinion. So just put it on your sink and use it for a couple of weeks and then I'll come back and collect it, you know, and then you can tell me what you think. And everybody, of course, said, yeah, all right.
So they hooked it up to their faucet. And 40 people used 40 of these things for about two weeks. And then I went back to thank them and collect them all. And only two of them gave me the unit back. 38 people bought it. So I, I made thirty eight dollars times sixty pretty quick. And then I went back to the company and they sold me 40 new ones. And this time though, they sold them for they sold two for eighty dollars instead of 120 because that's the way it works.
The more you buy from the company, the the better price you get and you keep selling them for one hundred and eighty dollars. And of course, I had an easy pay program and a convenience charge program.
So long story short, I didn't do anything that I was supposed to do in terms of multilevel marketing. I did get a few people involved because I wound up making 20 or 30 grand, which is pretty good, you know, for a 25 year old kid in Baltimore trying to make ends meet. But I never made any money doing the multilevel thing.
I just ordered hundreds of these things and gave them to every single person I knew and then went back to collect them two weeks later. And nobody wanted to give them up because they actually worked. And so, yeah, when I was doing that. Chuck, you were in New York City, I think, at the American Academy. Yeah. And so I just I remember thinking at the time, you know, man, all my friends, you know, Ricky had gone to L.A. to find his fortune.
You were in New York, you know, and I was in Baltimore driving around in my Honda Civic, hooking up water purifiers to strangers. Sync's hoping they would buy it two weeks later.
So, yeah, long way of saying when people say, oh, man, you really sold out, didn't you?
Yeah, it's a matter of fact, I did about thirty years before you met me.
That's fantastic. You brought up the submissive posture. And that is that's sort of the that's the thing that you did at QVC.
And I you know, that's the thing you did with the water purifiers.
Well, it's the thing I did on dirty jobs. I mean. Yeah, that's right. Yeah. Look, I had an OK business, you know, after QVC, I had hundreds of jobs and I did a pretty good impersonation of a host. And I write about this in the book, you know, but but it wasn't until I realized in my in my hosting career that I was a better guest than I was a host. And that, you know, that happened years later because the dirty jobs.
But again, the lessons and the lessons happened with water purifiers, magazine sales over the phone. You know, it was it was the same kind of thing with those. And, of course, on QVC that that was the big one, letting telling the viewer when you when you look into the lens and honestly tell the viewer, I mean, honestly, that you don't know your ass from a hot rock and you could use some help, then people will help you.
And I mean, it's the same lesson Mark Twain learned painting the fence. Right. And The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It was the same lesson for me. You know, if you if you if you're not quite sure what you're doing, ask for help. And if you ask for help publicly, then people will pity you. Well, yes, a little bit, it's authentic, but it's it's a it's being honest, it's being real.
It's not trying to pretend. It's it's that's why you are a good salesman, because you don't try to be a salesman. You don't try to pretend you know more than you do.
And it only took me. 43 years to figure that out, I mean, honestly, I mean that it's not a. It's not a new lesson, it's it's learning the same lesson over and over and over and over again, and it really wasn't until dirty jobs that it actually sunk in and that all the stuff that had happened before was kind of. Kind of preparing me for that moment when I just completely let go of being a host and just said, look, I'm I will I'll give all that up, I'll give all that up in order to work next to somebody who actually knows what they're doing on camera.
And if I can figure that out, then maybe, you know, maybe people will forgive me for doing, you know, from not only making mistakes on camera, not only for getting information wrong, but for just being honest about it. So there's one more thing I want to hit before we close this down.
And that is when I just recently learned, like earlier today, that you that the show, your new home came after QVC. Yeah.
And I mean, I know what this is, but the audience doesn't. So can you tell the story of how you got how you landed the gig at your new home and what it was?
Well, your new home is a show. It's the longest running infomercial in the history of infomercials. It's still on the air. I'm not in it anymore, but I.
I helped start it and I was in it for 15 years and not not long, you know, and I didn't write about this because it's just so damn weird. But but it is true. Not long after I started QVC or started working there, a real estate guy in Baltimore saw me in the middle of the night selling cubic zirconium. And he called and he said, Mike, you know, my name is Dave Handbury and I've been watching your show on QVC.
And if you can talk about a fake diamond, you know, for eight minutes, then you can talk about a new home. And, you know, basically the problem was the the real estate market, like the the the consumer individual real estate market is very, very different from from developments.
Right. If you're if you're a developer and you put together a new community, then you're going to be selling those homes in that community for years. And so that means you need to be on the air doing something to help support it.
And that meant that there could potentially be a show about the homes in these new communities.
And the idea for the show was I would go to a model home which is already decorated. Right. So it's kind of like a set. And I would sit in this home and I would talk to the person responsible for selling it. And as we talked about the various features of the home and the community, the viewer would see footage. So it was just an unapologetically simplistic show that required me to wear the same basic khakis week after week and a blue button down shirt.
And I drive to these developments and I'd sit in these model homes and I would talk to these realtors about why you should come out and take a look at this property. And if it sounds boring, it's because it was. But what happened was these things, it started to air after CBS This Morning every morning in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. At ten thirty, it came on and, you know, we would shoot a whole bunch of them together, so and then edit them later.
So every week I'm wearing the same shirt and the same khakis and drinking coffee out of the same mug, wandering through a different development, talking to a different realtor. So it was a way for people to not only shop for a home they might like, but get decorating ideas and mostly just wake up. You know, after a big Saturday night, you're still lying in bed. It's Sunday morning. There's Mike. He seems friendly. He's walking through a house with his cup of coffee, showing off places you might want to live.
This crazy show was so popular, it was an infomercial. Remembers paid for by the buying, by the builders and developers. It was so popular that it had a rating. Most infomercials don't have ratings. They gets what they got. A hashmark zero point zero is the audience. But this thing was the number one show in its timeslot in Maryland. So we we started selling commercials in the body of the infomercial and I was in those commercials, too.
So there I am, you know, selling a house in Hagerstown and then another one in Baltimore and then another one down in Glen Burnie. And then we pause for a commercial with Conchas lumber. And I'm in that commercial. And then we come out of that commercial and then I'm in another development somewhere a little south of Gettysburg or maybe outside of Richmond. And then we go to another commercial. What a sellout you were.
But but but you know, you're right. I know you know what I did.
You can't to really put a bow on this. The moral of the story is you're only a sellout if you pretend you're not.
I think and. You know what, you I, I still remember feeling like, man, all my friends have gone off to New York or L.A. to pursue their their dreams, and I am back in Baltimore selling water filters out of the trunk of my Honda, selling real estate on Sunday mornings on an infomercial and just just doing things that I mean, for me. I look back and I, I don't see any of it as a sell out.
And for the same reason I look back at Ford and I look, look, look, look at the show we're working on right now, me and you.
Yeah, I was thinking about that. Yes.
Think about six degrees. This show, incidentally, is going to pop up early in January on Discovery Plus, which is a new streaming service. Chuck and I've been working on it for the last year. And it is a year really last two years.
Yeah, a little something we did during a pandemic.
Well, it's finally done and we're really excited about it.
And, you know, I don't want to go too far down the rabbit hole, but in the context of a Phillips screwdriver, in the context of innovation versus imitation, in the context of everything we've talked about, what is most interesting, about six degrees. It is paid for by AP, the American Petroleum Institute. It's paid for by hundreds of companies who provide oil and natural gas to many, many millions of homes.
Right. It's this this sponsor came to me before I went to a network and said, hey, we we like what you did on dirty jobs.
And and we know that you're a friendly voice. We know that the energy industry is controversial. But we also know that you've you've been very kind over the years to the way you've portrayed not just solar and wind, but but oil and natural gas and fracking.
Your mind is open. And we would love to be a part of whatever your next project is.
So. Am I a sellout? Maybe, but I'll tell you, I took that meeting and after it I knew that I, I know I had a partner and then I talked to you and Mary and then I talked to, you know, different people in the industry. And we actually did something, a form of imitation, if you will. We imitated the old Texaco model, right. Texaco theater, you know, oil and natural gas paying for events at the Kennedy Center.
Right. I mean, that used to happen all of the time, and it still does, although most people don't talk about it.
But we are about to premiere a show on a brand new platform, a discovery platform, the leading provider of nonfiction in the world made possible in part by the generous support of a sponsor who signed on for that show before it even existed without even knowing where it was going to wind up or what it was.
Yes, that's right. And so, look, the moral of the story is whether you're John Thompson or whether you're Henry Phillips or whether you're a guy hawking, you know, water filters or real estate or TV or dirty jobs or whatever it is this idea that you can somehow arbitrage the importance of asking for the sale out of the art, out of the equation, out of the transaction. That's crazy. There is no such thing as selling out when you're in the world of commercial television.
And I don't know what the world's going to look like a few years from now. But I do know that in the end, Chuck, anything you and I enjoy doing is going to be paid for by somebody. It's either going to be a network or a producer or the talent or a sponsor.
And if I have my druthers, it'll be the sponsor.
Right, right. Right. Great.
Well, that is a good place to to reel it in.
First of all, I want to just let everybody know that if you would like to hear you just heard Chapter three of Mike's book, The Way I Heard It by Mike Rowe, which is based on this podcast, if you would like to hear it all in its entirety without waiting every week for the next chapter sellout can you can get the book sell out wherever you can get the book sell out. You know where to get the book sell out.
Anyway, I thought that was disgusting.
Was it really the way you just so shamelessly, unapologetically and ham fisted turned what was otherwise a really interesting half hour conversation into a shameless plug for for the book that these poor people are already listening to? Many of them have already read it for crying out loud. And here we are sucking up their valuable time, telling them how to how to buy another copy of it. I mean, is there no depth to have you? No shame, sir.
I'm just saying Christmas is right around the corner, you know, and maybe he don't want to waste water in a rainstorm. Porn to the pope. That's right.
None of it happens without you guys. You're very kind to listen. Thank you for the feedback on what I can only call a bold new format for this for this podcast, which somebody on Facebook recently described to me as two dudes talking. That was great.
That's pretty good. Look, there's no accounting for taste, but if you like if you like what you just suffered through. We'll be back next week to do it again. Chuck wasn't lying. The book is available and we are now officially over our allotted time, actually.
Hang on. We won't be back next week. We'll be back in the new year. Is next week the new year? No, no, no.
This this is. What is this? Oh, you know, I'll tell you what it is. It's pandemic time. It's Tuesday at three thirty in the morning and nothing else matters.
It's Tuesday at three thirty. All right. All right, brother. Thank you. Thank you. Thanks, everybody.