A+E Nets’ New Lifestyle Channel Is Using Recognizable Stars to Take on Scripps

FYI will also use homegrown talent

Its nickname is the Little Bread Corvette, and it’s an edible car, though it might not be appetizing to anyone other than the quirky characters behind the YouTube megahit videos, Epic Meal Time. After all, its wheels are made of Rice Krispies treats, it has a working barbecue in the trunk, and the exterior is dotted with food pairings as incongruous as cupcakes and fried chicken.

Epic Meal Empire | Photo: Courtesy of FYI

Luckily for Harley Morenstein, better known as Epic Meal Time’s Sauce Boss, he and his crew have cast-iron stomachs. They also have supersize imaginations that will have room to expand in their first television show on the new FYI network. The food-stuffed car, which seats five, will appear in one installment of a 16-episode series that’s now dubbed Epic Meal Empire.

“Because people will be watching on their TVs instead of a laptop or a smartphone, we’ve made everything bigger,” explains Morenstein.

Epic Meal Empire | Photo: Courtesy of FYI

Epic Meal Empire, complete with the jaw-dropping calorie counter that online fans have come to love, is one of the flagship shows on the A+E-owned channel, a wholesale redo of the former low-rated Bio (which does reach 70 million subscribers). And it may be a potential viewer’s first indication that this will not be a typical food, shelter, do-it-yourself and makeover network. Don’t expect to find formal French cooking or Better Homes and Gardens-style sensibilities when the channel debuts on July 7. Original shows like Tiny House Nation, looking at the extreme downsizing and micro-home trend in real estate, and The Feed, a hybrid road-comedy-food series with Top Chef’s Gail Simmons, will lean more toward the Pinterest crowd than their HGTV-loving parents.

FYI has taken many of its program cues directly from the Internet, in fact. It picked up not just the Epic Meal Time squad, who have scored some 600 million video views, but linked with The Knot for a relationship show called Marry Me Today that will have a groom bringing to life his bride-to-be’s digital wedding board. There’s also a social media hunt for the one that got away, called You’re the One, and an in-person meet-up between online restaurant critics and the chefs they trashed in a pilot called Say It to My Face.

Epic Meal Empire | Photo: Courtesy of FYI

The roster of Gen X-targeted cooking, home and styling shows will favor spontaneity over step-by-step directions, with former Top Chef hipster contestant Spike Mendelsohn hosting a Chelsea Market-set competition called Midnight Feast and urban pioneers revamping fixer-uppers in Rowhouse Showdown.

Jana Bennett, FYI’s president, explains the goal is to have an ad-hoc, adventurous feel, with less prescriptive, more energetic programming than is typical in the genre—more fun, less dry. “The network is inspired by the way the world has changed over the last decade,” says Bennett, who also oversees LMN. “The younger generation isn’t following a rule book—their lives are improvised. They’ve been using a lot of digital tools, and the existing lifestyle programming on TV isn’t reflecting that.”

Epic Meal Empire | Photo: Courtesy of FYI

Bennett already has been seeding FYI in the current Bio slot, rejiggering its lineup for the past several months to emphasize its existing real estate and how-to shows. FYI plans to premiere with 20 to 25 original nonscripted shows, a number that will ramp up quickly.

The Feed is certainly a centerpiece. Top Chef’s popular culinary expert Simmons (who still works at Food & Wine magazine) will host The Feed with superchef and The Taste judge Marcus Samuelsson and food blogger and comedian Max Silvestri in a series about food culture and food trends. Simmons says she was looking for a place that wouldn’t be afraid to try a fusion show that’s attempting to break some boundaries. “This series isn’t easily categorized because it’s not a food competition, it’s not travel, it’s not talk—it’s a combination of all those things,” Simmons says. “It’s like Top Gear with food instead of cars.”

Episodes will go in any number of directions. Simmons and her co-stars may cook for each other, visit celebrity chefs and hot restaurants, and interview butchers or other specialty workers. The show looks to speak to an audience that has a fairly deep food vocabulary, having been raised on cooking shows. The Feed will take “an adventurous and irreverent” look at the subject, Simmons adds, not shying away from pointing out, for instance, how “twee and handcrafted” the world of artisanal food has become. Silvestri keeps the show grounded while Samuelsson provides behind-the-scenes insight from his restaurant experiences.

Simmons believes the time is right to dig deeper into food trends and declutter the food landscape for informed viewers. “Practically anyone who owns an iPhone and goes to restaurants photographs everything they eat and then shares it on social media,” she notes. “We’re at this point in our culture where everybody can join the food conversation.”

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