FYI: Rowhouse Showdown Rebuilds the Reno Genre

Josh and Geoff talk to host Carter Oosterhouse about their design plan on Rowhouse Showdown.
Rowhouse Showdown (Photo: Zach Dilgard / fyi)

The new network fyi comes out of the gate with the renovation competition Rowhouse Showdown. FYI: It’s fantastic.


Rowhouse Showdown airs on the new cable network fyi Wednesdays at 9pm. The first episode is available now on their website or you can catch the premiere tonight.


This 10-week competition has three couples completely renovating comparable rowhouses in Cincinnati one room at a time. The team whose house has the greatest increase in appraisal value at the end of the competition wins $50,000 and a spread in Dwell magazine.


First, fyi is a rebranding of A+E Networks’ now-defunct Bio channel. The network’s theme appears to be lifestyle in a DIY-Fabulous mould. In other words, this may be the landing pad for lifestyle shows like Project Runway reruns rather than lifestyle shows like Intervention.

As for Rowhouse Showdown‘s specific pedigree, host Carter Oosterhouse was one of the designers from TLC’s Trading Spaces. The main judges on the show are designer Kathy Kuo (who has worked with Halle Berry and Renee Zellweger, and was a designer on ABC Family’s Knock First) and Cincinnati real estate contractor Jim Bronzie. The production company is Jane Street Entertainment, which has done Kitchen CasinoSweet Genius, and Chopped.

Who is Rowhouse Showdown For?

Anyone who was disappointed with American Dream Builders and who may be pining for the dearly departed Design Star.

What Works

I don’t want to oversell this, but the format for the competition may have solved the problems with every other renovation competition. The cast is only three teams of two and no one gets eliminated, so you can get invested in the characters and see how they will (or won’t) roll with the punches throughout the series. Two of the pairs— Krystal/Ken and Katie/Dan—are couples, which means there is an Amazing Race type relationship at play as well.1 It will be interesting to see if killer fatigue kicks in around episode seven or eight. Given the sense of humor demonstrated by the editors in the premiere, that will be something to look forward to if and when it happens.

The fact that Rowhouse Showdown takes place in Cincinnati is another major selling point. One of my issues with Dream Builders specifically, though it could be applied to the entire genre, is that southern California houses do not present significant architectural challenges or character. Having the show take place in an area where renovations are more of necessity than a luxury adds stakes to the process. The East Price Hill neighborhood where this show takes place dates back to 1874, so there will probably be some surprises hiding in some of the walls or floors as the projects move from room to room.

What Doesn’t Work

The show described the neighborhood as rebuilding, which naturally sets off the gentrification warning buzzer. Further adding to that discomfort was a bit of staginess that seemed to take place when the contestants were exploring their respective properties. One of the rooms, which was described as having an odor of cat urine, had graffiti on the wall reading “smells bad.” Someone allegedly broke in to spray paint that?

The game mechanics are a little irksome as well. I love that labor costs have to be part of each team’s budget, which gives a realistic sense of how much can be saved if you do the work yourself. However, the prize for winning a given week’s challenge is stealing $1,000 from one of your opponent’s budget for the following week’s challenge. The teams don’t directly interact with each other except during shopping trips and supply deliveries, so this source of potential conflict seems tacked on. Extra time or a bonus carpenter (each team is provided with one already) would be more effective.


I am totally in the bag for this show to the point that it is going to be getting dedicated coverage here at WEIO. If this is the type of programming we should expect from fyi, there may be a new channel added to the favorites list.

  1. It was implied that Josh/Geoff are a couple also, but it was not explicitly stated in the first episode.  

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About Mike McComb 669 Articles
Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it "TV Camp." After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: