When Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives launched back in 2007, nobody could’ve predicted that it would become one of the biggest food shows of all time. The Food Network took some risks by working with a new producer on a show covering a style of restaurant — the greasy spoon — that had not been featured prominently on the channel before. And while Fieri was a rising star on the network, the Platinum Prince himself was not particularly knowledgable about the restaurants featured in the title of the show. “I’ve never been to a diner, really... but I’ve been to a lot of dives,” he remembers telling a producer before shooting began. But despite this unusual set of circumstances, something clicked during the filming of the pilot, and Fieri and his producers laid the groundwork for a food TV behemoth. On this, the third day of The 12 Days of Guy Fieri, it’s time to look back at how Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives was born.
The accidental magic of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives
Back in 2004, Guy Fieri was a young entrepreneur growing his chain of “pasta grills” in Santa Rosa, California. A natural-born entertainer, Guy had auditioned for the pilot of a Food Network barbecue show in the early 2000s, but gave up on his small screen dreams when that show went nowhere. After learning about the casting call for the Next Food Network Star, Guy’s friends convinced him to film an audition tape and send it in. (“It’s me being a smart-ass,” Fieri recently told Brian Koppelman.) The tape got Fieri a slot on the second season of the show, which he completely dominated, winning the competition and snagging a six-episode deal for the series that would become Guy’s Big Bite.
Around this time, David Page, a former ABC and NBC news producer, was pitching a bunch of show ideas to the Food Network. As Allen Salkin notes in his book From Scratch, Page was on the phone with a network executive named Christianna Reinhardt one day, when he got asked if he had any pitches about diners. Bluffing, the producer said he had an idea for a program called Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, a name Page reportedly made up on the spot. Reinhardt was intrigued by the idea, and after reading a brief summary that Page put together the next day, decided to green-light the pilot and put Fieri in the hosting role.
Guy’s shaky understanding of the diner scene quickly became apparent to Page and the rest of the crew on the first day of shooting at the Bayway Diner in Linden, New Jersey. But Fieri didn’t let his his lack of expertise sink the shoot. Instead, he turned on the charm and tapped into his instincts as a chef/restaurateur. Here’s Fieri’s account of that fateful day from a recent episode of Brian Koppelman’s The Moment podcast:
I meet the producer, and he’s giving me this whole list of things, and I’m like, “What is going on?” And he goes, “Do you have a shirt?” And I said, “Yeah I’ve got this work shirt, this Dickies work shirt, with the big panel on it.” That’s where the bowling shirts and all that come from, and I’m in shorts and flip flops. And he says, “Go ask these questions.” I said, “Okay.” So I walk in on the line, and the place is jamming. It’s a diner, it’s open, it’s working, and people are talking, and there’s a camera guy over my shoulder. A lady’s sitting there, and she doesn’t have any coffee, so I’m filling a little coffee. ...
So I’m moving and jiving, and the hash browns are starting to burn. So I flip ’em, and we’re talking, and we’re going back and forth, and I asked all my questions. And [the producer] yells, “What is this? Come outside.” He goes, “What was that?” And I said, “Listen, as a chef I can’t be on the line, shutting down [the owner’s] world.” And he said, “Can you do that again?” And I said, “Can I do that, what I did right there? Yeah... we’re in the groove, baby.” And he threw his clipboard down and said, “We’ve got a hit!”
The shooting of the pilot eventually took 17 days, but Fieri, Page, and the production team hammered out the style and format for the entire series during the shoot. “This guy was really a genius,” Fieri told Koppelman. “This producer really had a vision of what the show would be.” The Bayway Diner, meanwhile, got so popular after being featured on the pilot that owner Mike Giunta expanded seating to a tent outside his tiny diner, and launched a lunch truck and catering business to keep up with the demand.
Stay tuned for more tales from Flavortown tomorrow, as we continue The 12 Days of Guy Fieri.
• The 12 Days of Guy Fieri: Car Trouble in Flavortown [E]
• The 12 Days of Guy Fieri: A Look Back at the Pretzel Cart That Started It All [E]