Sashay by 'Runway' is blocked

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The future of the sixth season of "Project Runway" is up in the air after a judge ordered Lifetime and the Weinstein Co. to stop any promotion, marketing or airing of the reality show until NBC Universal's dispute with the producer is over.

The preliminary injunction against the Weinstein Co. follows April's bombshell announcement that TWC was moving Bravo's signature series to Lifetime in a five-year deal, starting with its sixth season. NBC Universal, Bravo's parent company, filed a breach-of-contract suit against TWC aimed at preventing "Runway's" jump to Lifetime.

New York Supreme Court Judge Richard Lowe III found that an unsigned 2003 license agreement between the producer and NBC was enforceable and that an amendment giving NBC the "right of first refusal" for additional seasons of the show as well as spinoffs did exist. The judge also denied TWC's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

"The overwhelming evidence demonstrated that the Weinstein Co. violated NBC Universal's right of first refusal to future cycles of 'Project Runway,' " NBC Uni said.

The Weinstein Co. said it will appeal.

It is understood that production on Season 6 of "Runway," now under way, will not be affected by the ruling; however, the decision puts on hold the airing of the new season on Lifetime. The network had first intended to debut the show in November, then later pushed it to January.

Bravo is now airing Season 5, which wraps Oct. 15.

"It's unfortunate that the people hurt most by this ongoing dispute are the loyal fans of 'Project Runway,' " Lifetime said. It added that it would pursue all measures to uphold its "valid and binding agreement" with TWC.

Lowe also showed concern for the viewers in his 43-page ruling. However, he did point out that in the history of the show, there have been hiatuses between six and 13 months.

The ruling also gave an inside look at how the deal between TWC and NBC soured.

Lowe's ruling referred often to testimony from both sides given at a hearing in June, which included NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker; NBC Entertainment co-chair Marc Graboff; Jeff Gaspin, CEO and president of NBC Universal Television Group; Harvey Weinstein; Eric Roth, who at the time was TWC's executive vp business affairs (he recently moved over to New Regency); and TV ratings expert Arthur Bell.

The judge wrote that tension between Bravo and TWC started in mid-2006. Weinstein testified that he had a particular dislike for Bravo head Lauren Zalaznick, claiming she interfered with production of the show.

In August 2006, Bravo indicated it planned to exercise its option to Season 4, which producer TWC refused, then allegedly used the opportunity to "escalate its demands for additional licensing fees for providing the cycles." During negotiations for Season 4, disputes arose as to whether the unsigned 2003 licensing agreement was even enforceable and whether it even contained a holdback provision, which regulated the amount of time between seasons.

To resolve the problem, Zucker and Weinstein held a powwow in January 2007. The meeting resulted in an amendment to the 2003 agreement: NBCU would option both Seasons 4 and 5 immediately and air the two seasons sooner than NBC desired and on an accelerated timetable and that the holdback period would be reduced from 12 months to six. The period was later reduced to one day.

NBCU also negotiated the right of first refusal to license future cycles and agreed to not air future episodes on Bravo beyond Season 5. It's understood that NBCU was negotiating to air "Runway" on another of its networks. Alternatively, Bravo could continue to air past Season 5 if NBCU agreed to a package deal that would include TWC's movie library.

WMA's Jim Wiatt, who reps TWC, confirmed the agreement via e-mail, writing, "Harvey intends to live by the terms of the letter you sent."

But on Feb. 2, TWC inked the deal with Lifetime for the sixth season of "Runway." Bravo and NBC were unaware of the agreement until April, when Lifetime and TWC made its announcement.

Lowe wrote that "Weinstein continued to allow plaintiffs to believe he was negotiating with them for more than two months while, in fact, he had already signed a deal with Lifetime."
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