“Check, Please’s” new host finally checks in

Catherine De OrioThe last time I’ve seen this much hype for a Friday night television show was during the days J.R. Ewing strutting around Dallas in his cowboy hat and Crockett and Tubbs fighting crime in their flashy clothes on South Beach.

But give WTTW – yes, that WTTW – credit for making this work to their advantage.

After a months-long search to fill the chair left vacant by Alpana Singh, the public television station announced Catherine De Orio as the new host of Check, Please!, which airs Friday nights at 8 p.m.

The series returns for its thirteenth season in the fall, with production set to begin next month.

De Orio, an Elmwood Park native, has been signed to do thirteen installments of the show, a few specials, and to appear at show-related events. She was chosen out of 900 applicants whittled down to seventeen, where each of the finalists did a mock segment.

De Orio’s cred stretches through law and of course, the culinary arts. Her career did start in the arts, but wound up at the University Of Loyola (Ill.) law school instead, where she became a lawyer, but later started going to culinary school at Kendall College. After she graduated, De Orio left the lawyer world behind and began her own culinary consulting company and made appearances on many television shows including Today and Rachael Ray’s syndicated show. De Orio was also a spokesperson for Ball Park Franks and Hillshire Meats. De Orio has also written food colums for several publications.

Earlier this year, Singh announced she was stepping down from the show after ten seasons to focus more on managing the restaurant she owns in the Chicago area. Amanda Puck hosted the series’ first two seasons.

Check, Please! creator David Manilow said in a statement: “She’s a lifelong Chicagoan who has a passion for our city’s incredible dining scene. She’s light-hearted, warm, quick to smile, smart, hard working, and inclusive. Catherine is a published food writer, trained in the culinary arts, adventurous eater, and is known and respected in the restaurant industry.”

Beating the Friday Night Death Slot Curse

The five-month search for Check, Please’s new host generated lots of publicity, and also allowed fans to contribute via online voting. It brings buzz to a show airing on a night where HUT levels are now typically low, and was once dominated by the likes of Sanford and Son, The Brady Bunch, Dallas, Miami Vice, and ABC’s TGIF lineup. The announcement of De Orio as host was front-page headlines on the Chicago Tribune’s website, on Crain’s Chicago Business, generated buzz on social media, and even mentioned on a few local newscasts. It’s what you have to do on a viewer-challenged night like this.

“The Friday Night Death Slot” phrase was coined in September 1967, when NBC moved Star Trek: The Original Series from Monday to Fridays at 8:30 p.m. (ET). When the series moved to 10:00 pm (ET) on the same night for its third season, it paved the way for the show’s cancellation in February 1969. In the last decade or so, the major networks have used Friday nights as a dumping ground for lackluster sitcoms and dramas, and numerous reality programs, though last season both Grimm and Shark Tank have drawn respectable-sized audiences on the night.

In addition to Chicago, local editions of Check, Please! is airing on PBS stations in five other markets: San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix, Miami, and Kansas City.