Guy Fieri in Diners, Drive-Ins, and Disasters

Food Network host gets raw behind the scenes

That show was Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

   

PAGE ORDERS A GRILLED HAM sandwich with hash browns at Mickey's Diner in St. Paul, one of the joints featured on the special with Al Roker.

"They make the pancakes here from scratch," Page says. "The navy bean soup recipe was the owner's grandfather's."

Page stops a waitress walking past to thank her for staying "true to the diner."

If anyone should know, it's him.

The first episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives was filmed at the Bayway Diner in Linden, New Jersey. It was here that Page met the man who would become his star.

Guy Fieri had been a small-time chef who won a reality show, The Next Food Network Star, earning him a development contract. Not knowing what to do with the pudgy prodigy, network executives assigned him to Page's fledgling project.

At first, Page worried that Fieri would single-handedly sink the show. With his bleached goatee and indoor sunglasses, Fieri didn't resemble any host that food television had seen before.

But on that first day of shooting, Page quickly realized Fieri was a diamond in the rough.

"He has probably the most natural talent of any performer I've ever worked with," Page says.

Still, it didn't take long before Fieri made his first rookie mistake.

"He started making a lot of mob jokes about people being found dead in telephone booths," Page remembers.

Page decided to get Fieri in line before he made any more of a fool of himself.

"You're not from here; I am," Page lectured. "Nobody here thinks that's funny."

Fieri took the advice, cut out the clowning, and nailed the rest of his lines. The show premiered in November 2006 to rave reviews.

It was intended to be a one-off special. The network had real doubts the gimmick could sustain itself through a whole season.

But fans fell in love. The cameras brought viewers into the kitchens, where they could almost smell the fried chicken and homemade biscuits. No detail had escaped Page's notice—he'd spend hours in post-production tuning the sound of clanking dishes and sizzling griddles.

"Television done properly is simply voyeurism," Page says.

Most of all, the audience loved Fieri. They laughed at his goofy one-liners and oddball charm. Guy proclaimed good diners "Flavortown," praised meals as "hot Frisbees of fun," and bragged that a great dish could be served "on a flip-flop and it would still taste good."

Fieri's onscreen talents and Page's backroom production made for a formidable team. In his 2008 book, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, Fieri called Page a "creative genius" and declared Page Productions "the best in the world."

But as his star power grew, Fieri stopped returning Page's phone calls. When NBC hired Fieri to film the primetime game show Minute to Win It, Guy started canceling shoots with Page. A posse of friends—a bawdy band of homeboys with names like Gorilla, Kleetus, and Dirty P.—trailed Guy everywhere, and his manager, Tom Nelson, took to calling himself "the consigliore." The group became known as the Garlic Mafia, and Fieri styled himself as the mob boss.

"Almost everyone who becomes a star in television develops an abnormal sense of self," Page says. "In the worst-case scenario, they become surrounded by sycophants who tell them everything they want to hear."

   

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FIERIand Page boiled over during a Christmas special filmed in Alaska. It was October 2009, but to maintain "the illusion that it's Christmas," Page asked everyone on set to dress for December. Fieri emerged from his trailer in shorts.

Page fought his star talent and won: "Guy wore long pants," he says, exasperated.

But it was a pyrrhic victory. Page wound up getting chewed out by Fieri, who threatened to complain to the network about who controls his wardrobe. It was a slap in the face for Page, who had always prided himself on making Fieri presentable.

"You have to protect Guy from all of his poop jokes," Page says. "Anytime any woman mentioned 'cream,' Guy went into a sexual riff. When cutting the show, you had to tell the editors to watch Guy's eye line, because it's always on breasts."

Fieri also needed protection from homosexuals, or at least advance warning. Early in the show's run, Page got a phone call from Fieri, who'd just walked out of a restaurant in a huff.

"Guy had decided that the two men running the restaurant were life partners," Page remembers. "He said, 'You can't send me to talk to gay people without warning! Those people weird me out!'"

From then on, show researchers were required to note any indications of homosexuality detected during pre-interviews. (Fieri declined to comment for this story through his spokespeople.)

Former field producer Kari Kloster confirms that Fieri made the odd demand about gay guests, and says she witnessed the star become more controlling on set.

"I spent over a year going on the majority of shoots as one of the field producers, and it was very obvious to me, very early on, that I was one of the only field personnel who felt that I worked for David Page," says Kloster, now a vice president at Page Productions.

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6 comments
joxer36
joxer36

wont watch the show EVER!

Joshua Graf
Joshua Graf

Mr. Fieri once called me a douchebag for no good reason other than his ego was in the way. It still gives me a chuckle.

David Lutchen
David Lutchen

I hear from restaraunt owners he is pretty good guy but from others I hear he is a big Hollywood conceded asshole.

Hoffman Humphrey
Hoffman Humphrey

I saw a guy who I thought looked like Guy in the MSP airport. Turned out it really was him....the leather jacket he was wearing had his name written across the back. >shudder

 
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