Image conscious

Catwalk leads to German pubcaster gig

The downturn in America's global image may be a hot issue during the upcoming presidential election, but at the moment in Germany it's in the capable hands of ex-model, ex-U.S. paratrooper and flamboyant catwalk choreographer Bruce Darnell.

Darnell's shouts of "Drama, baby! Drama!" have entered the culture since he became a juror on Heidi Klum's "Germany's Next Top Model" casting show. As a catwalk coach, it was Darnell's job to turn healthy German girls into decadent sex kittens by exhortation and example — and there aren't many German boys who walk as well as Bruce does in 4-inch heels.

Darnell's variegated persona — one moment he's screaming at a modeling hopeful to move her butt, the next he's bursting into tears when she's kicked off the show — makes him the perfect foil for the emotionally reserved Germans. Here, praise often takes the form of a muttered "not bad" and criticism is almost invariably delivered by proxy. Darnell's obvious relish of both can have the effect of a skinny-dip in the ocean after a daylong meeting.

Now, following his "Top Model" success and a series of lucrative ad contracts, Darnell is getting his own reality series on pubcaster ARD starting in February. Working title: "Bruce."

"It's women — and men, too — who just don't like the skin they're in," ARD spokesman Burckard Roever said in describing the show. "Bruce isn't a therapist. His specialty is his open and empathetic personality, as well as styling and fashion and posture. He'll talk to the candidates about their body language, and that will hopefully help them be more satisfied with themselves."

The idea of bringing Hans and Heidi Six-Pack to the man who trod the boards in Milan and Paris for such designers as Hermes and Calvin Klein is not quite as far-fetched as it may seem. Born in New York in 1957, Darnell grew up in Colorado and studied sociology there for two-and-a-half years before joining the U.S. Army. He came to Germany as a paratrooper and then kicked off his modeling career here in 1983.

With "Bruce" scheduled for an early-evening time slot Tuesday- Friday, some commentators are calling Darnell a "secret weapon" to beef up ARD's weak youth demographic.

"Bruce is anything but a secret weapon," said ARD program director Guenter Struve in a recent interview. "But his manner of speaking and interaction does appeal to younger people. A coaching format on ARD will certainly be the most sophisticated in the genre."

An American teaching sophistication to Europeans? The image of the U.S. is indeed in capable hands, at least in Germany.