An Interview with Check Please! Creator David Manilow
Check Please! Arizona, part of a James Beard and four-time Emmy award-winning TV program, is also Arizona PBS’ highest-rated series, and on Sunday, March 20th, creator David Manilow will be joining the line-up at the fourth annual Check Please! Arizona Festival. Manilow founded the original Chicago-based Check Please! in 2001 and since then this successful format has expanded to San Francisco, Miami, Kansas City, Phoenix, Seattle, and now abroad to Vienna, Austria. Contributing to the show's success is a formula involving an engaging and knowledgeable host with three guests who visit and discuss their fellow diners' restaurant suggestions.
At the festival, Manilow will participate in a panel entitled “Check, Please! Confidential: Meet the Creators". This week I had a chance to welcome this acclaimed television producer to Arizona and learn more about his popular show.
We're happy to have you headed to Arizona. Have you visited before? Yes, I have. I’m looking forward to it. I’m coming out on Friday. I’m sure I’m going to enjoy it.
What was your inspiration for creating Check Please? Chicago is a great restaurant town and there wasn’t really a TV show about restaurants, and my background is television. I kind of understood why there wasn't a show, because the typical on-camera reviewers get recognized and treated differently, so it’s not always a real honest review. I constructed something where it was regular people that would change every week. You would have a very diverse perspective from three different people and a little bit of passion because each restaurant is being recommended. It would also be an anonymous review because the restaurants would not know who the reviewers were.
So a more authentic approach to reviews. That’s what I was efforting and that is what we have been able to accomplish over the years for sure. If you keep the standards high, try to make it interesting and diverse, and you explore, I think that it will work.
How many cities are you in now? Six. I started one in Vienna, Austria but it’s just in its first season so it hasn't gotten on the air yet.
How do you see the Arizona market? Well, I think it is still emerging. For instance, when I started with Miami, it was not really as robust as it is now, and I think the Arizona market has the opportunity to keep on growing and becoming more interesting. I think competition in the world of restaurants and food makes everything better. As you get more and more interested in restaurants, you all start doing more creative and challenging things. I think that just happens over time. When I started in Chicago 15 years ago, it was the same thing. It was an interesting restaurant town, but not nearly as it is now.
I moved to Phoenix in 2008 and have seen so much growth in our culinary scene. Yes, I think that will continue. I think that is just what happens. When a place gets more and more interesting, it is like the rising tide. Everyone starts to do more creative and more diverse stuff. The customer base is looking for more creativity and what’s new, what’s challenging, and they experience more things and everybody wins. The chefs want to challenge themselves too. The future is very bright.
How do you choose people who host the show? Typically we have a process and people audition, and then we narrow it down. We think about somebody who can make the conversation interesting and can be relatable and have some expertise. You really have to offer the expertise to allow the conversation to elevate.
The engagement factor is important. And hopefully our viewers learn something as it goes along too, so it’s not just the basic - what’s the food like, what’s the service like, what’s the atmosphere like. Hopefully you’ll learn something from the host. In the different cities we’ve had sommeliers, chefs, food writers and things like that. They’ve always had some kind of food or drink knowledge.
Do you have any favorite Phoenix restaurants? It’s been too long since I’ve been there so I don’t think it would be fair of me to answer. To be honest, as a brand, we don’t really have an opinion, so even if you asked me what my favorite restaurant is in my neighborhood back home, I don’t think I’d answer.
What are your plans for the future? We are always looking. We have some possibilities in other cities, and hopefully I can do more overseas as well. We take it one show at a time.