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'Fashion Is Not for Sissies': An Oral History of 'Project Runway's' First 10 Years

Heidi Klum, Michael Kors, Nina Garcia, Tim Gunn, Harvey Weinstein and more share memories of the addictive reality show that brings the drama of high fashion to the masses.
Miller Mobley

PART 3: Reworking the Pattern (2008-2009)

After a three-year legal battle, on April 1, 2009, The Weinstein Co. acknowledged it had sold Runway to Lifetime without giving NBCUniversal a chance to match the offer and settled out of court, paying an undisclosed sum. Despite the controversy, the season-six premiere drew 4.2 million viewers, only slightly down from season five's finale more than a year earlier.

STORY: Heidi Klum Praises Katie Holmes' Style, 'Project Runway: All Stars' Gig

Cutler: When all that was happening with the courts, we were taping season six in L.A., which was the hardest one because everything was new: the network, location, production company. It wasn't that we were unaware; we just weren't following the politics. We kept our heads down and waited to be told when and where we would be airing.

Lipsitz: Dan [Cutforth, executive producer] and I had made the decision to move on from Runway prior to our deal with NBCUniversal [Magical Elves has a first-look agreement with the company]. We felt it was time; it would be a clean break with the show moving to Lifetime.

Jonathan Murray, executive producer (Bunim/Murray): Lifetime and TWC approached us to come on board to run the show after Magical Elves decided to stay with NBC/Bravo.

Rea: I was scared. It was such a great show with such a high standard that if anything went awry -- whether it's our fault or not -- everybody's going to be looking at us.

Murray: My agent said, "If this show doesn't work on the new network, Bunim/Murray is going to get the blame." It was challenging. The show didn't come with an owner's manual. We had to figure it out as we went.

Rea: Before we started, I watched 50-something hours of Runway -- every episode, over and over.

Murray: The marching orders from the network were to keep it exactly the same. The big concern was to make sure viewers, who had been so loyal to the show, were comfortable with the move to Lifetime. As the production company who had done shows like Real World and The Simple Life, there were jokes like, "Are they going to try and put a hot tub on the runway?" gruber Our goal was to understand how our show DNA fit into Lifetime's DNA. How to keep our show authentic to the original fans and blend that to bring in more viewers. Sometimes it's not a partnership. [The network] will say, "Meet the new boss, and change this and this." But it wasn't that way. Lifetime wanted the show for what it was. I think that's unusual.

Cutler: Actions speak louder than words. We went from a 6o-minute show to 90 minutes [beginning in season eight]. It's a testament to how supportive Lifetime is of the franchise.

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PART 4: Future of Fashion (2012)

Gunn: People ask me, "Aren't you getting tired of this?" Do I get tired of teaching? Every semester there's a whole new crop of students, and they're invigorating and energizing. That's how I feel about each season.

VIDEO: Behind the Scenes of Heidi Klum's 'Project Runway' Photo Shoot

Klum: Also, people ask, "What's different this season?" What are we going to change? The show works the way it works. We don't fake things. It's a real show about how clothes are made, and we don't want to change that.

Sharenow: Fashion changes through time, as does Runway in that sense. It really is the perfect format because of these ongoing elements. The heart and soul of the show is really the designers, and that changes every season.

Cutler: Whenever the show ends, we collectively want it to be on a high note. I don't think we are concluded now by any means; we still have fresh ideas. I think we will know when the time is right.

Weinstein: Part of what I am most proud of with Project Runway is giving all of these young people the chance to get their foot in the door, so I hope we can continue that for some more time to come.

Murray: There's no question [about season 11]. When we started the Road Rules and Real World challenges years ago, we found a new way to bring viewers back. We've been doing that for 23 seasons now. I'm hoping we get to do 23 seasons of Project Runway All Stars, which means we'll have 30 to 40 seasons of Runway.

Klum: We're going to have the ramp, and we're going to be wheeling in with our air tubes. We'll be walking with walking sticks onto the stage.

What do you think?

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