Project Runway star Tim Gunn dishes on moving to Lifetime and turning down Bravo's The Fashion Show
When he calls, Gunn has just finished an earnings call at his other job, as chief creative officer at Liz Claiborne Inc. (has there ever been a cooler job title?). The retail market is tough, so the news wasn’t great, and he was juggling the fallout just before ringing me up.
And when he hears he’s called three hours early by mistake, he wants to know if the time is okay for ME.
“Part of (my attitude) is seeing this happen to me after you turn 50,” said Gunn, who is such a TV star, he’s going to get his own Marvel comic book during Fashion Week. “The wonderful thing about my really blessed life, is I don’t run after these things -- it just seems to happen.”
What’s happening on Thursday, is that Project Runway is debuting on its new home, the female-centered Lifetime cable channel, after producers sparked a legal battle by unexpectedly yanking the show off Bravo last year. The move makes a lot of sense: Lifetime is seen in more homes than NBC-owned Bravo and the show’s old home garnered a bit of criticism for seeming to take the series for granted in recent seasons.
Now the show is about to debut in its new home after a delay so long, producers taped two cycles of the show, one in Los Angeles and one in New York. Despite all the furor, Gunn found time to talk for nearly an hour about the mystery that is Project Runway’s blockbuster appeal.
Is it difficult to talk about a season you filmed so long ago?
“It’s unprecedented that we had two seasons taped already. To know that we have a really great show behind us is a great comfort. For me, there was element of feeling that it was easier to inhale and exhale. In past seasons, it was always a scurry to get into the editing room – sometimes, we were taping parts of an episode while they were editing other parts. From the avenue of plain storytelling, knowing how it ends up before it airs helps a lot.”
When the fight broke out between Bravo and Lifetime, how did you handle it?
“I, Tim Gunn left behind a very unhappy Bravo, and suddenly we were in limbo (after the lawsuit). And in many ways, here we were now a disappointment to lifetime. Were I and the show going to go back to the home we just wrecked? Bravo didn’t know it was going to be losing Runway and it came down to the matter of ‘Would I stay with them instead of going to Runway?’ But the show has been a phenomenon for me. It has changed my life. I can’t possibly be disloyal to it.”
Did Bravo offer you The Fashion Show, the Runway knockoff they eventually put together with Isaac Mizrahi?
“To be honest with you, yes. (But) Project Runway changed my life and I just couldn’t. I will say very selfishly I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing Runway without me on it. Especially since, when I did the first season – I was initially a consultant on the show – I never thought I would be on it. As long as the producers see the designers talking, I thought, they don’t need to see me.”
You’ve got another spin-off show airing after Runway, Models of the Runway; is there a danger of giving viewers too much Runway?
“When I heard about the whole concept, I thought ‘Has anybody met these girls?’ And then when I met the season six models, I found, my God, the bar had been raised. Not only did the girls have things to say, they could express them articulately.”
Are you worried about the move to Lifetime?
“Eighty percent of their viewers have never seen the show (because it isn’t on basic cable). I am thrilled by the idea of having access to more fans. Once they do watch it, I have every…It’s like television crack, you’ll get addicted. I have friends, neighbors who are lawyers and doctors and they come home and say ‘Please let Project Runway be on.’ It’s a release valve for people. There’s such a cheering on of these real fashion designers; they’re doing what they know how to do, but it’s under exceptional pressure.”
Host Heidi Klum is on her third Emmy nomination; when will you get yours?
“They’d have to create a category for me: Workroom buttinsky. I’d be the only one in the category, and I’d win.”
I hear you’re even going to be in a comic book.
“I’m staring at it right now. They’re releasing it during fashion week. I morph into Iron Man. It’s a issue of – they brought back Millie the Model in a series called Models. Inc. There are things like this that happen all the time. First of all, I’m a positive voice for fashion, so I never want to do things that knock people down or that are snarky or hurtful or cynical. That’s not remotely who I am or what I believe in. There has to be an opportunity to never compromise my own voice or my beliefs. And I want to be assured that all of the parties involved are of like minds.”
So, is Heidi more fun before the pregnancy or after?
“Oh, Heidi is fabulous any time. She was very pregnant (when we taped the last episode) and we had a blast. There’s a dance tape of the whole crew that she wants to release on her Web site. The producers sent me an email saying ‘We don’t know if we want people to see you like this.’ But I thought it was fine.”