Since her persona as nice lady extraordinaire exploded last year, causing a dip in viewership to the tune of a million people, speculation into Ellen DeGeneres’ replacement has been top of mind for Hollywood. And now that she’s officially announced her departure, many are wondering who could take up the crown as the presiding king or queen of daytime television. Might I suggest eschewing with a monarch entirely and elect a mayor: The Mayor of Flavortown himself, Guy Fieri.
Okay, relax. I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t Ellen’s usual timeslot a little early for flame-emblazoned bowling shirts, back-of-head sunglasses, and donkey sauce? No, it isn’t. Guy Fieri, who has been ever-present on the Food Network and in hack open-mic jokes since he won The Next Food Network star in 2006, has received a cultural re-evaluation in recent years. Once considered the absolute epitome of American decadence and stupidity, Guy is now an icon of empathy, warmth, and sincerity. It’s exactly the qualities Telepictures and Warner Bros. Television—the productions company’s behind Ellen—should look for in DeGeneres’ replacement.
It’s impossible to talk about Guy Fieri’s public reappraisal without mentioning Shane Torres’ stand-up defense of the man. Torres’ bit redefines the Fieri name, accusing people of unfairly knocking the celebrity chef for following his dreams, setting up worthwhile (and original) charity efforts, and treating employees with respect, providing them with a living wage and health benefits. Now, if that doesn’t sound like the anti-Ellen, I don’t know who does.
In the last year of lockdown, Fieri’s efforts went into overdrive. On top of feeding the firefighters who put out the wildfires in California (delivering about 2,000 meals for hungry heroes), he also took it upon himself to save struggling restaurants affected by the pandemic. In the past year, he and his Restaurant Employee Relief Fund, which is a partnership between himself and National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, raised more than $20 million for out-of-work restaurant workers (all without the help of Jeff Bezos).
Fieri talks the talk and walks the walk. His signature show Diners, Drive-Ins, And Dives relies on small businesses but also is one of the few reality shows that’s a boon for its subjects. Whereas there is no shortage of post-Kitchen Nightmare closures, the joints and shacks on Triple D regularly see an increase in patronage. According to Eater, the “Triple D effect” means big money for small roadside restaurants, both from the initial visit from Fieri and his follow-up episodes and the never-ending reruns on the Food Network. That’s a real change for real people.
Guy’s other show, the fantastic Guy’s Grocery Games—a mashup of Supermarket Sweep, Chopped, and his flagship series—regularly features working chefs from the Triple D family and abroad. Even the setting for the show is a net positive. His usual set for Guy’s Grocery Games, a fully-stocked supermarket, “allows him to donate $350,000 in unused food to the nearby Redwood Gospel Mission every year,” says The Hollywood Reporter. Furthermore, during lockdown, Guy delivered one of the few quarantine shows that didn’t require mental gymnastics to understand how it was produced under COVID protocols. Guy and his eldest son Hunter package ingredients for celebrity chefs to make at home. There’s no need for social distancing because everyone is participating in their own pod. There’s no need to worry about the lovely panel of judges, who also shine brighter when in Guy’s orbit.
Guy is a real light in a dark time. He regularly gives away prize money to local eateries. Still, Guy’s interest in other cultures feels genuine (his Hanukkah-themed episode is one of the sweetest and most earnest rundowns of the holiday since the Rugrats). Unlike other reality competitions, where backstage drama and celebrity egos seem to take over, there’s a real sense that everyone on the show wants to be there. They actually like Guy, and not in the Ellen fake-nice way. Guy feels like a buddy that you can mess around with, get a funny a nickname from, and expect some gentle razzing from without feeling hurt. In a world where you can’t see the people that bring you joy as easily, it’s nice to see Guy and his friends pal around in a very human way.
Even if Guy Fieri’s faking it, he’s doing a better job keeping it under wraps than DeGeneres. If you’re looking for a replacement, Telepictures and Warner Bros. Television, pick the one that everyone already likes, not another forced, uncomfortable hang. Elect Guy Fieri, the hopeful mayor of morning television.