Ten crazy (and not so crazy) ideas to make Project Runway better

>> Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tonight is part one of the finale, Project Runway fans, and as such there is little to prognosticate about. We all know the routine. The designers will be sent home to design. Tim will get his annual use out of his driver's license as he visits each at their homes. One or two of the designers will be creatively blocked and behind schedule, but they'll pull it together. The designers will show up in New York and pretend to be civil after hearing all the behind the scenes trash talk they never heard during the filming. Tim and Heidi will show up with--surprise!--one last challenge, and we'll get the mad dash to Mood and the hurried workroom chaos one last time. Then, next week, the three will at last show their final collections and be judged.

The question on everyone's blogs is, who cares? Worse, will anyone tune in to see if Season Seven is any better?

We don't blame Lifetime, who have put their hearts, souls, time, and money into promoting Project Runway and making it a success. This season was filmed before it even had a home. The new producers though--Bunim/Murray--are justifiably taking a lot of flak in the blogosphere, both in terms of their casting and editing. Honestly, how could an episode with both Bob Mackie and Christina Aguilera have been so paralyzingly dull, boring, and tedious!?

Even Blogging Project Runway--that bastion of Project Runway love and admiration--had to acknowledge their favorite show's collapse. "Longtime recappers have given up on the show, ratings have dropped, commenters are complaining, and maybe worst of all, many fans don’t seem to care what happens next. As we head into the finale, there is no denying that the quality of Season 6 has left us only with a feeling of malaise and apathy." Friends, as BPR points out, The Real Housewives of Atlanta gets better ratings than Project Runway in that time slot.

We have to confess, we're feeling the malaise and the apathy here at Gratz Industries too. If we're honest, we just don't care who wins this season. Like The Scarlett posted in the comments to the above post, we haven't felt compelled to watch any episode of this season even a second time. One week when all our Netflix envelopes were in the mail and we had already watched our recordings of Top Chef and Glee, we ended up pulling out Project Runway Season Two, and we were in love all over again. At the same time, it made it even more painful to realize we no longer loved the show in the same way.

Okay, I'm dropping the royal "we" for a moment here, kids. I kid you not--it takes me an average of seven hours to write up my precaps each week. Seven hours! That's all the preview video watching, the screengrabbing, the Photoshopping, and the writing. It takes me so long to finish those posts that I have to split the work into two sessions--I write the recap on Tuesday nights, and the preview on Wednesday nights.

In the past, I saw that time spent as a labor of love. Now that the love has gone...well, it has just become a labor. I can't tell you the number of times I've asked Wendi if I should bother to keep doing previews for Season Seven. To be honest, there was even a point this season where I considered dropping them.

But we love Project Runway, and we love the online community of Project Runway fans and bloggers. We don't want the magic to end! With that in mind, we offer ten humble suggestions--some crazy, some not so crazy--to make Project Runway everyone's favorite show again:


1) Consistent judging.

All right, everyone's been all over this one like white on a Nicolas outfit, but we feel obligated to point out the threesome of Michael, Nina, and Heidi were only together as judges for two episodes this season. Two! That's criminal. Not only did we lose out on the obvious entertainment value of Michael and Nina, more importantly, we feel, the designers lost out on their guidance. Consider the cases of Uli and Rami. Both are great designers, and both earned final three spots during their seasons. But both were called on the carpet by the judges later in the season for being one note. The judges scolded them, challenged them: push, push, push! The only way the judges were able to do that was by seeing the designers' work week in and week out. The designers need consistent feedback, whether it's Heidi, Michael, and Nina, or Heidi, Nick, and Milla. (You know, to just pick a couple of people. Ahem.)

Realistic? Yes. Lifetime sources are already confirming Michael & Nina back for every episode next season, no doubt helped by the fact that the show will be filmed in New York again, where they and 75% of the rest of America's fashion industry works.


2) Rank the designers, and send the bottom designer home each week.

Yes, we're calling for a national Big Board of Shame™. We will even relinquish our imaginary trademark. Consider the benefits: each week, the weakest overall designer is sent home, which means we wouldn't have to endure, say, three agonizing weeks of Mitchell. Better designers would get a pass or two for off weeks as well. Think of how much better the runway shows might have been later in the season if designers like Ra'mon, Epperson, and Shirin hadn't been sent home when they were for mid-season missteps. And being on the bottom might light a fire under some people, while fear of slipping lower would perhaps make designers like Santino heed the words of the judges a little more closely. There would be some complications to figure out--do you send someone home week one? what do you do in the event of a tie?--but the idea is interesting. Besides, let's face it, the judges already do this to a certain extent now. Gordana's much denounced aufing last week is proof positive--Althea made it to Bryant Park on the strength of her previous work.

Realistic? We doubt it. A Big Board of Shame eliminates the drama that comes from anyone being able to go home each week, much like the single elimination NCAA Basketball Tournament, and takes away the power the producers have to bend the rules whenever they see fit.


3) Always pick new models, and eliminate the models based on model challenges.

Pretty simple: with model-swapping comes drama. It also keeps the designers from getting too comfortable. We say, keep 'em dancing. The more radical idea here: turn Models of the Runway into America's Next Top Model Lite and make it an ACTUAL competition. (It's not really "a competition for them too," Heidi--they stay or go based solely on the work of their designer that week.) Give the models mini-challenges that have something to do with that week's Project Runway episode, and eliminate them or keep them based on those competitions. Imagine the drama when a designer gets ready for model selection, and his or her favorite model has been eliminated in the interim! It's like having a sanctioned Julia from Season One, all the time. Oh, and say what you will about Models of the Runway--it has at least done one good thing for the show: it has gotten rid of the boring time-killer that was a repeat of "I'm keeping my model" each week, and given us more time with the designers and their work.

Realistic? Mixing up the models each week? Definitely. Eliminating the models based on challenges in Models of the Runway? It would require a MotR re-imagining, but at this point, it has everywhere to go but down. Either suggestion would be a truly viable way to shake things up without radically altering the format.

4) Force the designers to use color and prints. 

Season Six will forever be known as the Gray Season among fans. Gray, black, white, brown--with rare exceptions, that's about all we got. We never thought we'd hear ourselves repeat it, but as Nina said, "Thank God for Neoprene!" She wasn't kidding. We needed something to liven things up a little. (And yes, we know Neoprene isn't a color--but that one was lime green!) Since the judges weren't around consistently to push for it, the challenges should have forced the issue. Instead, the challenges were too vague, and allowed far too much acceptable use of drab color palettes. This season's only color-inspired challenge, the Macy's "blue" challenge, left us feeling, well, blue. Do a kids' clothing challenge. Or a spring challenge. A "sponsored by Skittles" challenge ("taste the rainbow!"). Anything. But please, make the designers take chances with color and print.

Realistic? Sure. It doesn't have to be every episode, but just somewhere.

5) No more repeated challenges.

Speaking of challenges, let's get this one out of the way right now too--no more repeats! No more art museums as inspiration, no more grocery store challenges, no more generic red carpet challenges, no more wedding dress challenges. (Not even as homages!) Yes, we know six seasons of challenges is a lot of challenges, but there are more original ideas out there. We promise! Look harder. Both Blogging Project Runway and Project Rungay have asked fans for suggestions in the past, and great ideas came flooding in. We have a few of our own. Surely the creative team at Bunim/Murray can generate some new and exciting challenges that will knock our socks off. (To coin a phrase.)

Realistic? In theory. The better question is, Necessary? YES.

6) Anonymous judging.

Here's another of our wild and crazy ones: don't let the judges know whose work is whose. Yes, in some cases, it would be obvious. Designers, after all, are supposed to evince a clear and unique personal aesthetic. But perhaps we could do away with some of the more prejudicial judging we see occur. The judges have their favorites each season, and it definitely influences their decisions. (Really, would Ra'mon have gone home as early as he did if Nina had been around more?)  So we say run those garments down the runway without names attached, and let's see what the judges have to say about the clothes, not the designers...

Realistic? Never in a million years. There's too much drama to be had in confrontations on the runway--between designer and designer, and between designer and judges--for them to ever do it. Maybe as a one time stunt, but not as a regular format change.

7) Bunk the boys with the girls, and let them have some down time.

Let's take a lesson from Top Chef here. Enough of the boy/girl suites and the five hours of back home time. Get the designers a big brownstone to live in together, and give them time to play house! Okay, yes--it's expensive to put sixteen people up in a house in New York City for three weeks. We don't care. Make it work! How lame was it when Christopher was all alone in the boys room last week, talking to himself? Great drama there, guys. We've been enjoying the heck out of Top Chef this season, and so many great moments have come from the time the chefs spend together back at the house or out to dinner together. But when in the world would the Project Runway designers have time to share a beer, even if they did live together? For the love of sanity, let the designers have more down time, okay? We know it's a time-honored PR tradition to deprive the designers of sleep so much that by week ten they are zombies, but enough already. We'd like to see what kind of work they consistently produce when they're at the top of their games.

Realistic? Yes. And long overdue.

8) Mini-challenges.

While we're sticking in the Bravo knife, why don't we turn it? Yes, we gave The Fashion Show a shot, and no, we didn't stick with it for more than a few episodes. But we have to admit--the mini-challenges were an interesting way to mix things up, and we've always loved the Quickfire challenges on Top Chef. Would it be so awful to have a sewing skills competition? A sketch-off? Name that classic designer from a picture of their work? Style that model? Make a little black dress? Design a shoe? A hat? A handbag? Winners get immunity or other advantages. Losers get shame heaped upon them and feel lousy. And even if the "Quick Sew" took the designers an hour, through brisk editing we could see it in ten minutes. It's a good idea. Steal it. We won't tell.

Realistic? Yes. Again, that ersatz Project Runway did it, so why not? We need something that will surprise the designers--and us.

9) More two day challenges.

What was with all the one day challenges this season? By our unofficial count, there were only three two-day challenges this whole season--and two were the first two episodes of the year. Again, it's this feeling that the designers have to be run ragged. Enough! Give them time to actually put some thought into their designs and do some really beautiful work. If you always give the designers $100, thirty minutes to sketch, thirty minutes to shop, and ten hours to finish a look, you're going to get a lot of cheap, quick, unfinished crap. That's great if you're just looking to give Nina something to bitch about, but what about giving her-- and us--something to rave about? The five remaining designers didn't even have two days to finish the pieces that would decide if they made Fashion Week or not. Ridiculous. Slow down the pace for the designers, and let their personalities come out--both in the workroom, and on the runway. Good editing will ensure the pace isn't slow for us as well.

Realistic? Absolutely.

10) Up the stakes.

One hundred thousand dollars? Pshaw. Let's give the winner ONE MEELLION DOLLARS! Seriously--start a line for $100,000? What is this, 1967? How many of the past winners have produced a line with that cash? Anyone? One hundred thousand dollars may give a designer the kind of mad money needed to live and work in New York when they're just starting out, but we doubt you could produce much with that kind of dough. Some sci-fi series cost $1 million an episode to produce. (Or more!) Surely there are enough sponsors to put together a sweeter deal?

Realistic? Well, one million dollars might be a little ambitious--but is $500,000 out of the question? And if that were on the table, would it affect the casting? Are any of this season's designers worthy of half a million dollars in prize money?

There you have it. Our modest proposals for rejuvenating our favorite reality show. Season Seven has been filmed and is already in the can, as they say in show business, so we'll just have to hold our collective breaths and see if the producers have come up with any ideas for rejuvenating the show on their own. All we can really say is: yeah, it needs it. Lifetime, Bunim/Murray, we'll tell you the same thing we tell the gimp we have locked up in the basement: we're tough because we care. We enjoy Project Runway, and we want to see it succeed.

Oh, and if you're stuck for an idea for a fun challenge, may we suggest Project Runway bloggers as models one episode?

See everyone in seven, when we predict the winner of Project Runway Season Six.


ePastor James November 12, 2009 at 2:09 AM  

Love almost all of these suggestions.

My only criticism comes from you enjoying Top Chef this season. Srsly? This is the absolute WORST season of TC in history. It's full of completely boring personality-less chefs. We can't taste the food, so we need the entertainment, and they bring none. They've had to force the Robin storyline down our throats each week--sickening. Eli is a pitiful presence and should be put out to pasture. They've overawarded too many of the chefs--it's ridiculous that the same 3, sometimes 4, chefs keep winning everything. And boring. This season will only be redeemed if Jennifer stuns me with a win. But I won't watch to find out.

I thought last season was considered the most disappointing, but definitely no more! It was at least full of awesome characters, such as Ariane the cougar, Stefan hitting on Jamie, Fabio being Fabio, Carla being HILARIOUS, and other such signs of awesomeness. Yes, we ended-up with a complete douchenozzle for a winner and the Hosleah love story was repulsive, but other than that, it was a wild, crazy, and fun season.

Season 4 and 3 (even though I kinda despise Hung's personality and immaturity in the kitchen, and Dale was the one to root for) are superior.


But I bring this to you to present my theory: Season 6 is the death knell of almost every reality show! Think about it: Top Chef season 6--full of obnoxious people and a who-cares result. (For most people, anyway...*coughsneeze*.) PR6, gray gray gray gray. American Idol 6: SANJAYA. But just for good measure, Melinda Doolittle was robbed by that wookie and that beat-boxing tool. So You Think You Can Dance 6: A mess. Should've stayed in the summer.

The only exception is Survivor: Amazon, because Rob Cesternino is the best player to ever exist and Jenna rocks.

But I sure hope this is the case w/ PR. If season 6 is just the token hot mess season, that means next season will likely be a complete return to form.

Mimzy November 12, 2009 at 10:02 AM  

If they even put half of your suggestions into play they would make the best season of PR ever. That said, this season was so boring I kept falling asleep and turning off the episodes. If season 7 isn't any better I'll probably stop watching it altogether.

Tbone November 12, 2009 at 10:34 AM  

Please don't give up Alan! You remain a pillar of hope. If we lose you, all may be lost.

I can absolutely rally around suggestions 1,3,5,8(b) and 10.

Regarding #10: I have long advocated that the paltry nature of the prize is barely worth the momentary spotlight that these designers receive. Yes, an extra $100k is nice but ask any designer who has done this and you will quicklyu learn that it is barely enough cash to get a collection off the ground, let alone shown, marketed and sold. A precious few designers hves been able to parlay their appearance on PR into any sort of sustainable career.

The problem with this (and suggestions 7 and 8b) is that it dramatically increases the cost of production. This show has always been produced on the cheap. But I think an investment in the production would definitely pay dividends in qulaity and hopefully bring more viewers and more sponsors to pay for it all.

I really think the long, drawn out legal battle took its toll on this production. The judges and designers all seemed to be going through the motions. The choice of challenges was completely uninspired. As has been mentioned, they didn't even know if what they were doing would ever be seen, and it shows.

I think S7 will be far, far better and PR will get its groove back.

Alan November 12, 2009 at 10:55 AM  

@ ePastor James: Your theory about the season when a reality show finally turns sour is interesting--you watch far more reality television than we do, so we'll defer to your expertise! We have a similar theory about when television dramas are at their BEST: season three. Many of our favorite shows really hit their stride around season three, as the actors finally know their characters and the writers are willing to take some chances with story. We really are enjoying Top Chef this season though--we like the personalities (particularly Kevin) and we think the Vegas angle and its associated quirks and challenges has added a lot of surprise to the season. And talk about a show able to come up with great new challenges--how about that blindfolded team quickfire? We were on the edge of our seats. Top Chef also has a knack for bringing back challenges and not making them feel like retreads: Restaurant Wars, in particular, never seems to get old. They've made it into an institution.

As you say, here's hoping PR Season Six was just a hot mess, and Season Seven straightens out again!

DancerInDC November 12, 2009 at 11:07 AM  

Amazing suggestions! Hear hear! I especially like your suggestion on the models. Part of why I haven't like MotR is they just sit around a lot, and get to do fun things, while the designers are sleep-deprived and scrambling to get work done all day. Put those women to work!

One other idea/suggestion regarding the models - why not up the ante a little on the interaction between model and designer? I'd love to see a challenge where the model is responsible for explaining the garment and defending in front of the judges. The designer would simply be present to hear the criticism.

But I concur with James - I don't get your love of Top Chef this season. It's been as drab as the gray gowns on PR.

Alan November 12, 2009 at 11:14 AM  

@ TBone - Thanks for the double 8 catch--I always make some kind of mistake with numbers! I'm cursed. I've corrected that in the post now--so for readers of TBone's comment, 8(a) means number 8, and 8(b) means number 9. :-)

The $100,000 prize really is an issue. It's a lot of money, no doubt--I'd love to have $100,000 right now. But I'm not looking to start a fashion line. I'm sure for someone like Chloe, $100,000 was great for investing in the business she already had. But to *begin* producing clothes for Fashion Week runways? I'm reminded of Leanne Marshall's first runway show after she won her season--the looks were great, but it took place in an out-of-the way, rented space in Manhattan with a smallish crowd. I don't mean to take anything away from her accomplishment, but it wasn't in the tents at Bryant Park, and I have to wonder how many industry eyes it really reached. She just didn't have the money for anything bigger.

Yes, a larger prize ups the cost of the show significantly. But Lifetime paid a LOT of money, both to the Weinsteins and in legal fees, to get Project Runway. I think the least they can do now is invest some money in the show itself, not just the acquisition of it. Project Runway, when done right, is VERY popular, and can presumably make back that money in ad revenue. And again: SPONSORS. PR has never been shy about pimping its sponsors. I don't know--I'm talking about the business side of things like I know what I'm talking about, and I don't. All I know is, a sweeter pot would change the complexion of the show, and for the better.

And yes, I'm sure the legal battle took its toll. In many ways, this was always going to be the "lost season" of Project Runway. But the cast and producers need to understand, if they want to keep viewers, they're going to have to start acting like this show is fresh and exciting again--and MAKE it fresh and exciting again.

Thanks for reading, TBone, and for the thoughtful comments...

Tom November 12, 2009 at 11:29 AM  

I LOVE your ideas and would love to see Anonymous Judging (by the same 3 judges and 1 guest judge. PERIOD) and the Big Board of ShameTM ... but even if they don't take any of these ideas to heart, it is beyond clear that the shows needs a shake up!

David Dust November 12, 2009 at 11:40 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Dust November 12, 2009 at 11:43 AM  

Alan -

Brilliant suggestions. And I hear you about the many hours it takes to put together your Project Runways posts. All told it takes me about 6-7 hours to complete my recaps. And since my readers had mostly given up on the show, it just wasn't worth my time anymore.

Regarding the "Bloggers as Models" suggestion ... I wouldn't mind strutting down the runway in an XXXXL version of the Chris March / Christian Siriano "Avant Guarde" EXTRAVA-ORGANZA. That would be pretty fierce.

I think they should do away with the Models of the Runway competition/show altogether. The one thing I liked about Bravo's "The Fashion NO" was the fact that the models were never mentioned. Just like in real-life, the models were there to be walking clothes-hangers and nothing else. It's not politically correct, but it's how the fashion industry works.

This would also give much more opportunity to use different types of people as "models" during the challenges. Like "extremely overweight snarky male bloggers", for instance. :)

One last thing - this season of Project Runway has been so lame that I'm actually looking forwad to "Launch My Line" on Bravo. I know ... pretty scary...


Alan November 12, 2009 at 12:00 PM  

@ DancerinDC: Perhaps we're in the minority about this season of TOp Chef then!

@ David Dust: We always enjoyed your recaps, but we know the feeling--lots of time and effort, but is the show worth it? And do you bail on the future because of the present? It's like following a sports team--how many losing seasons does it take to break a loyalty?

And as for XL outfits, yeah, I'm with you there too. I'd definitely be a "challenge," both in terms of menswear and size. But I'm putting it out there right now: I *would* wear a kilt.

madisonfw,  November 12, 2009 at 12:15 PM  

Oh no, please don't stop doing your wonderful preview/prediction posts! I look forward to them every week (even though I rarely post a comment) and really appreciate all the effort you put into them.

Love your suggestions for improving PR next season, especially your call for consistent judging and more 2-day challenges. With such short time frames, I think it's easier (and safer) for the designers to fall back on their "standbys" rather than stretching themselves.

Can't say I care much about who wins this season, but I always love seeing Tim visit the designers at their homes!

Anduzep November 12, 2009 at 12:18 PM  

It's so great and at same time so sad that we all share the same feeling about the show this season. I gonna said I still have hope for season 7 and I really looking forward to seeing the new challenges and the designers.

About season 6, yes it was kinda dull and it really makes me sad because this is the firts time I actually do the recaps and like you said it takes a lot of time and it seems a little bit worthless but then again I think is wonderfull that all the bloggers share our ideas and suggestiond to make it work for next season.

I like suggestion 5, 6 and 8. #1 should be a must for each season.

See you en seven !

TropicalChrome November 12, 2009 at 2:18 PM  

I agree with most of your suggestions, but most especially with the underlying one: Something Must Be Changed (because things cannot get better without change). I have enjoyed your recaps/predictions - most of the time they've been more entertaining than the episodes themselves!

I've been blaming their new casting process for the lackluster runways, but now I agree the too many one day challenges was also a major factor. And as I've said, what walks down that runway is the payoff - and we were robbed.

Heidi November 12, 2009 at 8:18 PM  

I like Models of the Runway. I like getting to know the models as real human beings. I have grown close to the models and gotten to see their personalities and tastes. And I do not consider myself to be a particularly politically correct person.

suzq,  November 12, 2009 at 9:31 PM  

Alan, David and other recappers,

I'm a big, huge fan and I AM SO GRATEFUL that you put so much time into your recaps. They really do add value to the experience of watching PR and this year, YOU'VE BEEN NEEDED MORE THAN EVER!

Let's hope it's better next season.

Big thanks to all of your for your efforts!

sody pop,  November 13, 2009 at 5:58 AM  

I've been wanting to see anonymous judging on Top Chef for a long time. Especially since we can't taste the dishes, it's hard for me to believe that the boys are better than the girls most of the time on every season... But back to Project Runway, anonymous judging could totally work, without losing the face-to-face confrontation with the designers. Reveal the judges' scores before bringing the designers up on the runway to be questioned. We'd see which outfit would win blind. Then, if a designer says something which makes the judges appreciate a garment in a new way, they can promote the design to the win - but it would be transparent. If judges consistently promoted some designers or demoted others after the blind scoring, we'd know.

motormouth November 15, 2009 at 1:21 PM  

yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.

desertwind,  November 19, 2009 at 4:41 AM  

Thanks for helping us get through this season.

Together, we can!

(ain't it a shame they've already filmed season Seven? I wonder if they paid ANY attention to what fans were thinking of Six while doing so?)

(I don't know why they're not broadcasting 7 until January. Another anonymous Bryant Park showing? Weird.)

Once again -- Thanks. I always check your pre-show post.

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