"Project Runway" fracas isn't pretty

Sun Apr 13, 2008 5:50pm EDT
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By Andrew Wallenstein

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Not even a catwalk catfight could prove as riveting as the behind-the-scenes sideshow that enveloped "Project Runway" last week.

With NBC Universal contesting in court the move of the unscripted series from its Bravo home to rival Lifetime, the TV industry has a war on its hands worthy of its own reality show.

But with all the attention on the boldfaced names battling over "Runway" -- series producer Harvey Weinstein and NBC honcho Jeff Zucker -- there's a deeper shift of cable's aligned forces only true programming wonks can appreciate.

Picture ABC losing "Grey's Anatomy" -- that's what Bravo faces with the loss of "Runway," one of its longtime hits. While the network is no one-trick pony, possessing one of cable's deeper benches, "Runway" clearly was one of its marquee attractions.

A better comparison than "Grey's" could be offered by more recent TV history. Think back to 2001, when "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" switched channels from the WB Network to UPN. The loss of the former network's signature hit spelled the death knell for a once-mighty brand.

"Runway" actually could end up being the second series to jump from NBC Universal to a Disney property, given that sitcom "Scrubs" is likely on the move from NBC to ABC next season. (Lifetime is a 50/50 venture between Disney and Hearst Corp.)

The "Runway" fracas also might bolster Weinstein and Zucker's reputations as blustery tough guys, but this fight also is meaningful for executives who might not make headlines but are royalty within cable. The big winner has to be Lifetime CEO Andrea Wong, who has slowly been doing the programming equivalent of a face-lift on the grandma of networks. She couldn't rightfully take credit for the network's latest hit, "Army Wives," because it was developed before her reign, but this one's on her.

And what of Oxygen? NBC Universal's latest acquisition now has to face off against its biggest competitor with an asset it brought to power. Ouch.   Continued...

<p>A model exits the runway during the Project Runway Spring 2007 fashion show in New York September 15, 2006. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid</p>