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Five ways to fix Project Runway

'Project Runway' has gotten so crazy that there are reports that two designers quit the new season show in the same day. Here are five ways that the show could fix itself and return to its former glory.

Yesterday, there was news that two Project Runway contestants had quit and left the set on the same day. What in the blazes are the producers doing to those poor contestants? Project Runway is all about the crazy nowadays, but it used to be all about the clothes. After the contestants departed, I am sure the producers started rubbing their hands in glee over the craziness they will get to put on screen next month when the show returns to the air. As for me, I am just wishing I could have the show that used to be my favorite reality show back the way it was.

I loved this show when it was about the clothes. Sure, there were outsized personalities such as Austin Scarlett back in Season One, and  that just added some fun to the proceedings. What is any reality show without the crazy people you either root for or love to hate? But once the show moved to Lifetime and lost original producers Magical Elves, there was an increased emphasis on the craziness in the workroom. It was clear that the producers and judges were favoring personalities and sellable clothes over true innovation. It all became a predictable snooze — even the meltdowns weren’t too exciting.

Here’s the thing, though: the show has never produced a truly successful designer aside from Christian Siriano, who won Season Four. So maybe the formula was never right to begin with, and putting designers through a series of challenges just to make them stress out and lose sleep is not a good way to find true fashion design talent. Fair point, but the same could be said of American Idol, which has seen few of its winners go on to real, lasting fame. But at least Project Runway used to be interesting for the viewers.

The only reason I still watch is my undying love for Tim Gunn, but even he has been increasingly muzzled by producers. He used to speak out when he though challenges or judging results were stupid; his Facebook video blogs after each episode were always a highlight due to his candor. He had to stop doing them, though, which is a shame. But even a muzzled Gunn is better than none.

If the show wanted to get back to its old form, it ‘s not too late. Here is how I would, er, make Project Runway work:

  1. Let Tim Gunn be Tim Gunn. His blogs were so refreshingly honest about what it’s like to produce a reality television show. Let him go back to that rather than just being a mouthpiece of the producers.
  2. Stop making the challenges so stressful that contestants flee in the middle of the night. Yes, a certain amount of stress is conducive to reality television, but if the show is that stressful, than no one can produce work of any kind of quality. The show needs to find a balance between putting some pressure on and making the contestants need to call their shrinks in. The point of the show should be fashion, not to see how many people the producers can make flip out in a 24-hour period.
  3. Stop making the challenges so stupid. Last season’s stilt walker episode, I’m looking at you. What could that have to do with the contestants’ future careers in fashion, unless they want to design for Cirque de Soleil?
  4. Stop rewarding boring/poor designers like Michael Costello because their stuff is sellable. If I wanted to see people design clothes for Macy’s, I’d watch Fashion Star. There is nothing wrong with Fashion Star or Macy’s clothes, but that is not what this show began as. There were always challenges involving making mass market, but that level of design shouldn’t solely determine the winner of the season. The fact that the talented Mondo Guerra lost his original season, even if he went on to win All Stars, was criminal.
  5. Change up the judges. This may be the most controversial thing I say here, but I think it’s time. I suppose Heidi Klum needs to stay since she is a producer, but her critiques, along with those of Nina Garcia and especially Michael Kors, are getting repetitive and tired. The show needs some new blood, even if Garcia and Kors still stick around some of the time.

My sixth way to fix the show would be to bring back Magical Elves and move it back to Bravo, but I know that’s not happening.

I don’t hate the show as it is now, and as long as Gunn is around and Tom and Lorenzo still comment on the show, I will stick around. I think too few reality competition shows on TV focus on stuff that is not food or singing, and I appreciate seeing artists at work … when they are not having  nervous breakdowns, that is. Unfortunately, I don’t hold out much hope of these changes happening, and the producers will probably just pull more and more stunts as viewership keeps falling. Please sound off in the comments: do any of you still cling to watching the show despite the fact that it’s gone downhill? And how many of you will be tuning in when Season Ten debuts on July 19th?


Photo Credit: Lifetime

Categories: | Clack | General | News | Project Runway | TV Shows |

9 Responses to “Five ways to fix Project Runway”

June 26, 2012 at 7:06 PM

Give them more time on some of the challenges! I mean really, remember when 1-day challenges were the exception, not the rule? None of these you have 6 hours to think, shop, and sew shenanigans.

Bring back a little bit of the interaction with the models and model picking. Not like Models of the runway levels, but a little bit. There are bonds there, so it’s nice to see that interaction.

Do dual critiques with the all-stars adviser (I forget her name) and Tim. I think it would be fantastic. Most of the judges from All-Stars were surprisingly good.

Focus more on the work and the process, less on the drama. I remember several times, at least during all-stars, that I hadn’t even seen a glimpse of several people’s outfits before runway. I think tape on form was all that was seen. But there was plenty of time to focus on Mondo’s break-down, and Kara’s and Kenley’s co-dependency and bitchy blather.

Maybe make it 90 minutes again. Really, what else does Lifetime have to air that Project Runway is going to bump off?

June 26, 2012 at 7:10 PM

I agree there is not enough time for challenges! A one-day challenge is fine once in a while. but not every single time. No wonder people are running away! I mean, Coco Chanel probably couldn’t have whipped up a great outfit in less than 24 hours, so we can’t expect these people to, either.

You mean Joanna Coles, right? She was awesome, and I wouldn’t mind seeing her on the regular show. All-Stars showed how the format could still work if it’s shaken up a bit with some new blood, I think.

Doing the 90-minute shows is one of the things I have liked in the Lifetime era. In theory, you get to see more of the workroom that way. And it has to be better than The Client List, right?

Maybe we should produce the show!

June 26, 2012 at 9:47 PM

I pretty much agree with everything you said, especially regarding the muzzling of Tim. His recaps became far more interesting and informative than the actual show. It breaks my heart a bit that he’s proven himself to no longer be the “truth teller” he always claimed to be.
C’est la guerre.
Also loved that you mention TLo, they provide such a wealth of insight into many shows, a real education.
As for tuning in I can’t say that I’ve actually done that for a while, not like I used to anyway. Now I just usually catch an episode during one of its umpteenth reruns and if I don’t, I don’t.

June 26, 2012 at 11:16 PM

Those designers quit within the first week of shooting then new season! What kind of crazy pressure could they be enduring in week one?!? It’s funny how you mention that the show has ampped up the drama over the actual design competition (agreed) and the notion that moving it back to Bravo would help. Tim Gunn recently had this to say about Bravo: “Bravo has evolved in such a manner that I think we’re too feel-good for Bravo. Project Runway is a feel-good show.” I don’t know. If you’re driving contestants away after the first seven days, I don’t think anyone is feeling good about it. I think you kinda have to point the finger at Bravo for the show’s evolution because with the success of the Real Housewives franchise — and you know people tune in for the fights — all of these shows have had to adjust their game play to go for drama and conflict over actual competition. And you’re also correct about rewarding people who make “sellable” clothing (like Gretchen). If that’s what they want, they should specify that up front so the truly innovative designers don’t waste their time or try to conform to something they’re not. I am glad that Mondo was vindicated on All-Stars, but like you said, he should have won his season. Back to basics would be a step in the right direction for this show. And let Tim Gunn be Tim Gunn!

June 26, 2012 at 11:38 PM

Chuck, they probably chose crazier people than usual, come to think of it.

Fell good? Bah! Anyway, come to think of it, Bravo is not to great these days, since op Chef has gone downhill. I guess I wish the show were back on the Bravo of 2008 or so.

I agree the should be honest about wanting sellable clothing. At least then we’d never have expected Mondo to win the first time around.

Maybe they should just take a couple of years off and come back with some new blood, a new talent pool, etc.

June 26, 2012 at 11:35 PM

TLo is the best. Their fashion commentary has made my fashion commentary (which I do sometimes on my personal blog) a lot better.

I am n all-or-nothing TV watcher, which is probably the only reason I watch every episode of PR.

June 28, 2012 at 7:32 PM

please do not get me started on All-Stars. Getting rid of mila when she had the freshest best outfit when she was eliminated but look there’s the guys that everyone loves even if their shit is lame nowhere near fashion in the art sense of the word. what a joke, when she was tossed I stopped watching period. No taste for the avante garde present/future at all.

Yeah on the mondo thing nice he got one. Seriously the judges were like meth fiends for earthtones that season. I was in her camp when the show started (not for long) but there was no way she was it for the season.

July 4, 2012 at 12:15 PM

Project Runway films on a 28-day shooting frame, with 2 days allotted for each show. This is because the multimillionaire judges time is very valuable and can only be allocated for specified chunks of the year. That is never going to change, and has never changed. There was just as much time stress in early seasons.

The finale schedule has changed: season-1 got five months to make clothing for Fashion Week and season-9 got five weeks. That is likely permanent as they have settled on a June-July shooting schedule and a November Fashion Week finale. This also produces more decoy contestants, as everybody still in on the episode which will air in November has gotten to make a collection. Last season 9 contestants got the coveted Fashion Week exposure they crave, not just the 3 “finalists”.

Despite the mythology, Christian Siriano is NOT the only success from Project Runway. Austin Scarlett and Santino parlayed a two-year Lifetime TV series, and Chris March got one season on Bravo of his own show. Daniel Vosovic has shown collections at NYC Fashion Week many times over the years. A majority of contestants has used P-R as a springboard to advance themselves, which is all that the show ever promised to be. Siriano already had shown a collection at London Fashion Week BEFORE he appeared on P-R, so how much P-R had to do with him selling himself as a brand afterwards is debatable, because he was ready for the big time.

July 4, 2012 at 12:40 PM

Liann, I never said the overall shooting schedule had changed–but there are ways to put more time pressure on with the challenges without changing the shooting schedule, and I believe that has happened gradually over time. Time stress will always be part of it, and I understand that. However, I would be in favor of fewer episodes if that meant more two-day challenges, but I doubt THAT will happen!

I think I misspoke (well, misstyped or exaggerated for effect) when I said “truly successful”– I am of course aware that people have had success. But in my opinion, the only winner who has the level of recognition that I would expect of the “next great designer” is Christian Siriano. Of course, plenty of the other contestants and winners are doing well out of it. I agree that his success isn’t all due to PR, though, but that just strengthens my overall point.

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