FYI President Talks Rebrand and Reality Lessons, Adds Two New Series (Exclusive)

New FYI food competition - H 2014
Jeffrey Moustache

New FYI food competition - H 2014

One of a slew of cable networks to rebrand into a lifestyles-focused destination in recent years, A+E Networks' youngest channel, FYI, enjoyed a strong first quarter on the air — improving its ratings among younger viewers by 25 percent from predecessor BIO.

The reception to the about-face has the network upping its investment in the culinary and home spaces, spinning off inaugural hit Married at First Sight and, now, putting in orders for more series (Late Nite Chef Fight and My City's Just Not that Into Me) that FYI and LMN president Jana Bennett sees as different from the other unscripted fare currently on cable.

"I think audiences will find you if you have real points of difference, both in the subject area and in the treatment of that subject," Bennett tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We've been able to have a different sort of voice."

That voice was loudest with Married at First Sight. The social experiment, which had complete strangers agree to get married, is one reason why FYI has already seen its median age drop by two years and its viewers' household income rise by nearly $15,000. FYI was quick to renew the series, currently casting new couples, and order a spin-off based on the two couples that decided to remain married.

"Although it's a very audacious TV concept in some ways, the idea of meeting someone at the alter, beyond that it's a very true to life documentary series," adds Bennett. "It's not what I'd call a reality show. It's not overly packaged. No one is asking them for a sound bite. It seems that helped it cut through a bit."

After spending years adapting heavily-produced British formats for TLC during her tenure at Discovery Communications, a more hands-off approach to unscripted is what Bennett is looking for in all new series orders at FYI. And while the success of Married at First Sight has Bennett and her team eager to further explore the relationship space, they remain particularly committed to shows about food and the home — as reflected by their latest orders.

FYI's latest new series, Late Nite Chef Fight, arrives on Nov. 22 with a eight-episode season. The culinary competition, hosted by Laila Ali and Vic Moea, pits familiar chefs against one another in food truck battles. The revolving door of guest judges include Top Chef vet Spike Mendelsohn, Michael Chernow, Casey Lane and Chris Oh.

"It's based on a real competition that happens after hours in Vegas," explains Bennett. "These chefs, really for bragging rights, they'll go to food trucks after their jobs and take each other on." (The series is being produced for FYI by Relativity Television and The Jay and Tony Show.)

In 2015, FYI will partner with real estate blog conglomerate Curbed for My City's Just Not That Into Me. It will follow different individuals who are parting ways with their current towns and shows how they pick their next stop. Like Tiny House Nation before it, it aims to address the financial limitations of urban real estate facing so many in their 20s and 30s. Curbed will be integrating editorially on the show and online. Real estate expert Courtney Poulos is hosting with 10 half-hour episodes already in production.