Why Dirty Jobs Was Once Canceled

In 2021, after nearly a decade in TV show purgatory, The Discovery Channel's series "Dirty Jobs" with host Mike Rowe returned for its ninth season (via Discovery). The 10th season of the hit series is set to premiere in December, 2022 (per Extra). "Dirty Jobs" originally debuted in 2005, and for its original eight-year run it showcased some of America's hardest and most dangerous work (via IMDb). In doing so, "Dirty Jobs" became one of The Discovery Channel's biggest hits of all time. The show had near-universal appeal, providing a glimpse into what life is like for the backbone of America, a fascinating perspective for both (metaphorical) royalty and commoners alike.

At first, then, it may seem a bit baffling why a TV show that was as successful as "Dirty Jobs" in its first run would be kicked to the curb after only eight seasons. While that's a near-"Seinfeld" length run for the show, since the series seemed to be doing so well, you'd assume Discovery execs would keep something as lucrative as "Dirty Jobs" going for as long as they could. After all, if it ain't broke, don't fix it (unless your job is to destroy, like when host Mike Rowe worked a day as a "barge demolition worker," according to his resume). The dirty truth about the "Dirty Jobs" cancellation in 2012 does involve a drop in ratings, but also a change in how most viewers watch TV. 

When 'Dirty Jobs' was canceled, the media landscape was changing

In 2012, "Dirty Jobs" wasn't the only popular cable reality series canceled — that year also saw the end of another successful Discovery Channel series "American Chopper," which at that point had been on the air for 10 seasons, as Today explains. That series, too, was offered a second chance at life in 2020, according to Discovery. With the rise of streaming services, the decision to cancel both "Chopper" and "Dirty Jobs" came at a time when cable network management faced an uncertain future. That trend has continued to today. Based on Forbes reporting, in 2011, one year before "Dirty Jobs" went off the air, The Discovery Channel averaged a bit more than 1 million prime-time viewers, a number which has declined nearly 30% in the last decade.

In 2020, The Discovery Channel got into the streaming game when Discovery Plus was announced, according to CNET. With that added streaming service there was a need for more content, and as a result, some old Discovery favorites like "American Chopper" and "Dirty Jobs" got a new lease on life. Today, shows like "Dirty Jobs" stream on both the traditional cable network and on the streaming service. In 2014, though, two years after the cancellation of hits like Rowe's show, Discovery Communications, Discovery's parent company, seemed unable to figure out a solution for streaming competition. At that time, corporate brass brought in new management, and it worked — as of 2016, Discovery's viewership was growing, The New York Times reports.

Mike Rowe came clean on why 'Dirty Jobs' was scrapped

It seems then that the reasons behind "Dirty Jobs" 2012 cancellation were related to ratings. In an article published on HuffPost in November 2012, Rowe himself explained that just a few weeks before that, he was informed that Dirty Jobs had entered what he called "... a new phase. One I like to call, 'permanent hiatus.' Or in the more popular industry vernacular, canceled," he wrote with his trademark sense of humor. In the post, Rowe confessed the news left him reeling, something similar to his stint as a sea bass fisherman. "My first instinct was to immediately pass the news on to you," Rowe continued.

Roe went on to write, "[F]rankly, it's taken me a few weeks to digest. 'Dirty Jobs' is a very personal show, and it's difficult for me to imagine a future that does not involve exploding toilets, venomous snakes, misadventures in animal husbandry, and feces from every species. As for me, good things are in the works. Not as dirty perhaps, but exciting nevertheless. I'm looking forward to the future, and feeling grateful for the past," Rowe ended his 2012 post on HuffPo. 

The show, however, was not to remain in the rearview mirror forever, because in 2021, a new bundle of delightfully dirty jobs returned to our TVs. Rowe credited the return of "Dirty Jobs" to the fans. "I've been flattered over the last year by hundreds of letters from loyal fans, urging me to reboot the series, and I'm excited and honored to introduce the country to a new batch of hardworking Americans who aren't afraid to get dirty," Rowe said (via Discovery).