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Catwalks and (Legal) Catfights: Lifetime Poaches Bravo's "Project Runway"

While it might sound a bit jaded, it always feels good to be proven right in this town. In the past week, two of my casting scoops (Olivia Williams on FOX's Dollhouse, Bobby Cannavale on ABC's Cupid) have been confirmed by the trades and it feels pretty darn good to be vindicated, especially since many people were, shall we say, doubting my sources.

Speaking of scoops, Televisionary reader Cinemaniac got wind a few weeks ago about a major deal brewing at cabler Lifetime that he referred to as a "game changer." While I was puzzled at the time by what sort of business pact would really alter the cable landscape (especially emanating as it was from women's niche programmer Lifetime), it's all now immediately clear in light of yesterday's announcement.

Lifetime, in case you haven't heard, has managed to close a five-year deal that has effectively poached reality series Project Runway from its perch at Bravo, which developed and made the series the jewel in its reality crown over the past few years. Bravo, you've been auf'd and, damn, does it sting.

Personally, I have a hard time picturing Project Runway, arguably one of the classiest, coolest reality productions around today, moving to Lifetime. After all, who could have predicted that Heidi Klum, Tim Gunn, Michael Kors, and Nina Garcia would suddenly be sharing screen time with Lifetime Original Movies? (Klum and Gunn have completed agreements with the network, which is still negotiating with Kors and Garcia.)

"Fashion is about change, so we're looking forward to saying hello to Lifetime, our new fashionable home for our fashionable series," said Klum in a statement. "We're excited to bring Project Runway to the #1 network for women."

Added Gunn, "Lifetime and I will definitely 'make it work' together. I am very excited to be part of the Lifetime family."

Bravo still has one more season of the reality series scheduled to launch this summer. After that, Runway will shift to Lifetime and the programmers over at the cabler are looking at launching the sixth season in November.

I am not completely convinced that the audience will follow the series. Sure, devout Runway fans will flick over a few channels to catch their favorite program (even if it is way too soon for another cycle this fall), but, for most of the public, there is still a stigma attached to Lifetime, despite the efforts of Susanne Daniels and Andrea Wong to change this perception. Even as Lifetime's Army Wives continues to gain traction, there's still an odd association with the network being slightly more downmarket than Bravo, which appears to attract a younger, more affluent audience. Which is, I am sure, what made this deal so attractive.

NBC and Bravo aren't taking this sitting down though. They've gone ahead and sued The Weinstein Company, which distributes the series, claiming that the company had violated their right of first refusal during the renegotiation process and that they were in talks with TWC about moving Runway from Bravo to another NBC Universal network, possibly NBC itself.

In a statement released to the press, an NBC spokesperson offered the following statement: "NBC Universal has continuing legal rights related to Project Runway, including a right of first refusal to future cycles of the series, which the Weinstein Co. unfortunately has refused to honor. NBC Universal regrettably had no alternative but to bring legal action to enforce its rights to this program, including the right to decide whether it is in the best interest of the company to continue to air the show under the proposed financial terms."

TWC claims that the lawsuit "is without merit." TWC's counsel David Boies offered this statement: "While good for the market for lawyers, it is always unfortunate when parties try to win in court what they have lost in the marketplace."

Broadcasting & Cable notes a possible reason behind the shift to Lifetime: "[TWC] was dissatisfied, in part, that Bravo spawned several competition reality shows that were very similar to Runway, thereby diluting the uniqueness of the show," according to sources, and "had been looking around for another network for a while and that NBCU had the power to bid for Runway and did not.”

It should be noted as well that the July launch of Project Runway's fifth season, so soon after the recent season ended, was agreed upon by NBC under a concession to TWC. If Lifetime does launch Season Six of Project Runway, it will mean that no less than three seasons of Runway have aired during the 2008 calendar year.

I'm a fan of the series and even I think that's excessive. Or as Tim Gunn might say, that's a lot of look...

Stay tuned.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: NCIS (CBS); Biggest Loser (NBC; 8-10 pm); Beauty and the Geek (CW); Just for Laughs/Just for Laughs (ABC); American Idol (FOX)

9 pm: Big Brother 9 (CBS); Reaper (CW); Dancing with the Stars (ABC); Hell's Kitchen (FOX)

10 pm: Secret Talents of the Stars (CBS); Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC); Boston Legal (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Beauty and the Geek.

I've given up on this sad retreat of a once-great reality series, even if the geeks and beauties were finally paired off (too little, too late, I say). If you are still watching, this week's episode ("From Geek to Chic"), the geeks finally get their much-needed makeovers and the teams go to the set of CBS soap "The Young & the Restless" (random), where Michelle Stafford and Joshua Morrow judge the teams on an acting challenge. And, oh, there's another twist at the stair ceremony...

9 pm: Last Restaurant Standing on BBC America.

On the tenth episode of this addictive British import, three couples enter Raymond's latest challenge: to come up with exciting microwavable meals and pitch them to two high street stores, creating an innovative and original dish that also has mass appeal, producing eye-catching packaging, and offer an informative and personable presentation. This could just be the challenge that makes or breaks them when they learn what might fly in the restaurant doesn't work on the supermarket shelves.

9 pm: Hell's Kitchen.

After last week's ho-hum season opener to this tired reality franchise (and a tersely worded letter to Gordon Ramsay), I'm ready to shut it down myself. In this week's episode, the contestants are tasked with slicing halibut into six-ounce fillets and then one member of each team is tasked with serving as maitre d' during the dinner service. Yawn.

10 pm: The Riches on FX.

On tonight's installment ("Slums of Bayou Hills"), Wayne encounters a bit of a hiccup when an important investors meeting brings trouble in the form of one of Doug's old Princeton buddies; Dahlia finds living an honest life difficult after she appeared at a police station to admit she is a parole violator.


Ouch. That sucks for Bravo. The truth is, though, I don't think "Runway" is as hot a ticket as it once was. A lot of people have lost interest over the last couple of seasons and I think even more will lose interest when it moves to Lifetime. Especially as they're planning on doing so many! If they're so concerned about "diluting the uniqueness" of the show, they should maybe think about spacing the seasons out a little more.
Anonymous said…
I'm a little confused about the timeline of seasons five and six. The next Fashion Weeks in NYC are in mid-September, and then February 2009. The season-five finalists would need at least 6-8 weeks to design their collections, so that's at least late July through early September. The show would therefore be in production, what, June and July?

Are they seriously planning on filming two seasons back to back? It's the only way they'd pull it off; they'd actually be filming season six while the previous cycle was still airing. Way to dilute the franchise!

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