Fast Company

'Fierce' Viewership

Over the past couple of years, Bravo network has accomplished a paradoxical feat by adding a highbrow-dimension to the reality television phenomenon. That I watch Rock of Love on VH1 every Sunday isn't likely to come up at an editorial meeting (in case you didn't know, the show documents Poison rocker Bret Michaels' quest for surgically enhanced true love), but sharing insights about the week's challenges on Project Runway or Top Chef is a perfectly acceptable way to pass an office lunch hour.

On the surface, Project Runway is a formulaic competition program, with weekly challenges and eliminations and bickering, frequently teary-eyed participants. But there's something about its serious emphasis on artistry that makes the show not just an opportunity to rest one's brain. Each week, the final verdict is based on the opinions of judges whom many of the contestants idolize; with all due respect to Paula Abdul, she is hardly the musical equivalent to Runway's visiting judge, Roberto Cavalli.

This week, however, Bravo lost this captain of its reality show lineup. Starting this November, The Weinstein Company-owned design show will move to Lifetime, a network known more for its clumsily executed original movies than critical nods.

Almost immediately after the story entered my google news feed, so did reports of an impending lawsuit. Bravo's parent, NBC Universal, apparently never agreed to this bizarre-seeming arrangement. According to the suit, The Weinstein Company had closed a deal with Lifetime without honoring a prior agreement that would allow NBC to match any purchase offer on Project Runway.

Bloggers are now reacting to the feud, wondering if the cult show will provide incentive for fans to turn on an otherwise mocked channel. "Is Runway sufficiently ready to wear on Lifetime?" wrote New York Post's Nicole Homewood. "Will you still watch?" she asked readers. Blogging Project Runway conducted an informal poll on its site and found nearly half of its readers to consider the show's move "a tranny mess" (an expression coined by season four winner Christian Siriano).

Despite Lifetime's solidified uncool-factor, it's doubtful that the network change will be enough to turn away loyal fans. Besides, the makeover might be Lifetime's long-overdue ticket to a more diverse audience.

"If Martha Stewart can make a K-Mart line work, maybe Lifetime can make "Runway" ferosh," MTV bloggers wrote.

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