‘Project Runway’ Back Where It Began

Project Runwayis back on Bravo, with season 17 beginning March 14. Bravo launched Project Runway in 2004, where it aired through 2008 before shifting to Lifetime.

Bravo has ramped up the prize package this season. The winning designer used to take home $100,000, but the jackpot now stands at $250,000.

Shari Levine, Bravo’s executive vice president of current production, spoke with Multichannel News about making Project Runway more relevant for today’s viewers. An edited transcript follows.

Shari Levine

Shari Levine

MCN: How did Project Runway end up back on Bravo?
Shari Levine:
We were blessed! [Laughs.]

The Weinstein Company went into bankruptcy. There was a negotiation and Lantern ended up purchasing their assets, and Runway was part of their assets. We negotiated with Lantern and we got it.

MCN:Was it emotional, having the show come back?
SL: I was the exec in charge of Runway seasons one through five. It is personally amazing to have it back. I think everybody at Bravo brightened and said, yes, it’s finally time for Runway to come home.

MCN:What’s different about the show?
SL: We did a deep dive into where is Runway at this point in time, what is relevant about it, where are the places where it could be improved. It was very clear that the prizing package needed to be major to attract big talent. It was increased from $100,000 to $250,000.

With that, we were able to attract more experienced designers. For the less experienced ones, what would be helpful to them was a real serious mentorship. We offer that with the CFDA [Council of Fashion Designers of America] this season.

We brought social media more into the context. Different episodes have moments where the designers take photos of their looks, which are posted on our website, and people vote for their favorite looks. Those are manufactured and sold with Nineteenth Amendment. That felt like a relevant response to how people see clothing today.

This season really is reflective of the world out there. It has an incredibly diverse cast, from an age standpoint, a race standpoint, a gender standpoint. We have the first transgender model walking the runway for us. We have a very diverse judging panel. We have models of all shapes and sizes. We have designers who excelled in plus-size models, we have plus-size models walking the runway.

It is not just about skinny fashion people. It’s about real people. It’s about seeing yourself out there, as well as who you aspire to be.

MCN:Do you ever see things on other unscripted shows where you think, that might work for Runway?
SL: I don’t think so. Runway is its own thing. The production company that originally made the series for us, Magical Elves, is making it again. They have a particular eye that works really well for us. They get us, they get our tone, they get our sensibility. Their shows work on multiple levels. They have brought Runway to an interesting new place. It’s more what they have brought as opposed to what happens on other shows.

MCN:What has enabled Project Runway to last for 17 seasons?
SL: It is a show of the heart. It is exciting to watch, it’s fun, there are interesting personalities. But at its heart and soul, it’s people who are passionate about what they are doing — they are putting their all into the different looks they are making.

You are part of their journey. You understand their ambition, you understand what is driving them and there is great play-along. You see the looks evolving and get to your own sense of, I like this, I don’t like this, this person is in trouble, I don’t know how they’ll get themselves out of that. That looks terrible. And if it looks terrible now, how will it look going down the runway? There are always surprises in terms of how they pull it out and what you see walking down the runway.

There’s a play-along in terms of what you like versus what the judges like and how they’re going to respond. It’s interesting to see what your eye picks up versus what the judges’ eye picks up. So it works on multiple levels.

But as I said, it’s a show of the heart. There’s so much heart and soul in it. You just go along for that ride.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.