No one said the fashion world was boring.
In a major TV shakeup, Project Runway will say auf Wiedersehen to Bravo and jump to cable rival Lifetime this fall, it was announced Monday.
Bravo and NBC Universal, which owns Bravo, were not amused. They declared war on former Miramax honchos Harvey and Bob Weinstein, whose new venture sold the series to Bravo in 2003, and filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the brothers' namesake company. (View the lawsuit.)
In a statement, NBC Universal said it had dibs on future seasons of Project Runway, and charged the Weinstein Co. of sealing a deal with Lifetime before Bravo had the chance to match the offer.
"NBC Universal regrettably had no alternative but to bring legal action to enforce its rights to this program," it said in a statement.
The 13-page lawsuit, filed Monday in New York, accuses the Weinstein Co. of "engag[ing] in sham negotiations" with NBC Universal, and calls the company's new five-year pact with Lifetime an "invalid agreement."
Lifetime is not named as a defendant.
The suit was noted, if buried, in Lifetime's and the Weinstein Co.'s joint press release trumpeting the programming coup. It said NBC Universal "declin[ed] to compete for the right to have Project Runway." NBC Universal said it "categorically denied" that statement.
For its part, the Weinstein Co. argued that NBC Universal was trying to "win in court what [it] lost in the marketplace."
"We believe that this lawsuit is without merit," David Boies, an attorney lawyer for the Weinstein Co., said in a statement.
As announced, Project Runway will strut on over to Lifetime in November for the launch of what the network said will be the show's sixth season. For those keeping count, the show's fourth season just concluded last month. Lifetime said its math wasn't in error, indicating a fifth Runway season will play out on Bravo between now and November.
Heidi Klum will continue as host on the show's Lifetime version; Tim Gunn will continue as mentor to the designers.
Klum and Gunn were both quoted in the release—Klum reminding that "fashion is about change," and Gunn dropping his catchphrase, à la "Lifetime and I will definitely 'make it work' together."
Deals with judges Michael Kors and Nina Garcia haven't been closed yet, a Lifetime spokesman said.
But all bets would be off if Bravo's and NBC Universal's lawsuit prevails. In addition to unspecified damages, the companies want the court to declare that they have the right to match the pact that the Weinstein Co. reached with Lifetime.
It was unknown what effect, if any, the upheaval will have on Tim Gunn's Guide to Style, a makeover series that Bravo awarded Gunn last year. (Gunn might have answered the question himself, noting in his statement that he was "very excited to be part of the Lifetime family.)
Project Runway premiered on Bravo in 2005. Its just-concluded season scored the show's highest ratings yet, averaging 3.8 million viewers an episode.
The show has been nominated three straight years for the Reality-Competition Emmy (and, like so many others, lost all those years to The Amazing Race). Just last week, the series scored its top honor to date, when it was tapped for the prestigious Peabody Award.
The lawsuit details the show's development history, along with way getting in digs at the Weinstein Co. Specifically, it notes the production company "has not been involved in any successful television programming beyond" the design series.
Painting itself as the hero, NBC Universal says Bravo "was the only one willing to give the program a chance." It says the network and its corporate self "spent an enormous amount of time, energy and money" in "transforming [the show] from an untested concept into an unqualified critical and commercial 'hit.' "
The lawsuit alleges that in January 2007 NBC Universal agreed to push up the premiere of season five of Project Runway in exchange for the Weinstein Co. agreeing to honor the right-of-first-refusal deal. It quotes Harvey Weinstein as essentially telling NBC Universal chieftain Jeff Zucker: "You can only have in your life five true friends, and I consider one of my friends. And I'm telling you, I will not embarrass you.' "
(Originally published April 7, 2008 at 1:01 p.m. PT.)