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Tim Gunn makes it work on 'Project Runway'

TV stars bring in big bucks

TV Guide provides more food for thought with its annual report on what prime-time TV stars earn. Besides raising questions about how they know this stuff at all, we learn that, despite all the talk about cutting salaries, $400,000 per episode is a popular figure for big names. Here are the highlights, presented as per episode figures (most shows make about 22 episodes a season):

m $875,000: Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men (includes his ownership in the series).

$550,000: Kiefer Sutherland, 24.

$400,000: Hugh Laurie, House; Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order SVU; Christopher Meloni, Law & Order: SVU; Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross, Eva Longoria Parker, Teri Hatcher, Desperate Housewives; Dan Castellaneta, Yeardley Smith, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, The Simpsons.

$390,000-$350,000: Marg Helgenberger, CSI; David Caruso, CSI: Miami; Zach Braff, Scrubs.

$300,000: Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock.

$7,692 per week ($400,000 per year): The president of the United States.

$4,251 per week ($221,100 per year): The vice president of the United States.

n $965 per week ($50,227 per year): average U.S. elementary schoolteacher.

He may be standing on the verge of the most-anticipated series transition in cable TV history. But Project Runway talent mentor Tim Gunn can remember what is was like when his beloved fashion designer competition was treated like an orphan.

In early 2008, the show's producers announced a surprise deal to move Runway from the NBC-owned Bravo channel to the female-focused Lifetime network, a Disney/ABC channel. Lawsuits ensued, and Gunn found Bravo offering the series that would become its Isaac Mizrahi-hosted Runway knockoff, The Fashion Show. ("Suddenly, we were in limbo," Gunn said. "Here we were, a disappointment to Lifetime; were I and the show going to go back to the home we just wrecked? It was really awkward.")

According to Gunn, whose supportive straight talk on the show has turned him into a TV icon, once it was obvious Runway was moving to Lifetime, his response was immediate.

"The show has been a phenomenon for me; it has changed my life. I can't possibly be disloyal to it," said Gunn, calling from New York, where he serves as chief creative officer at Liz Claiborne Inc. "I will say very selfishly, I just couldn't stand the thought of seeing Runway without me on it."

There's little chance of that now; with all legal issues settled, a new production company moved Runway to Los Angeles for the season that begins airing at 10 p.m. Thursday. The show already has another, New York-filmed season in the can and a third Emmy nomination for host Heidi Klum.

Just before the big debut, Gunn spoke a bit about the coming transition and becoming a TV star at the tender age of 56.

Along with Runway, you now have another series focused on a competition among the models (Models of the Runway at 11 p.m. Thursday). Are you worried about overloading fans?

"When I heard about the whole concept, I thought, 'Has anyone ever met these girls?' (laughing) 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."

Is it possible fans may not find you on this new channel?

"I was told 80 percent of Lifetime's viewers have never seen the show. … I am thrilled by the idea of having access to more fans. Once they do watch it … 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."

Do you ever disagree with the show's judges on who should leave?

"All the time. I remember season three … the waste management, recycle America challenge between Vincent (Libretti) and Allison (Kelly), and Allison went home. I went storming into the producers room and said, 'You did this.' Because I know how they felt about Vincent. But they showed me the judge's scorecards, and I instantly declared they were the crack-smoking judges."

Any moments like that this season?

"There is a challenge that happens before the first half of the season is over, the outcome of which will make the bloggers go insane. The way it works structurally is unprecedented, and I hope never appears again. A certain judge is at the core of the decision making. … This judge filibustered about why that person should win. I'm still incredulous of what the outcome is."


Top Chef Las Vegas, debuts at 9 p.m., Wednesday, Bravo: You've got 17 hysterically competitive chefs, a few feather-wearing showgirls, guest judge Wolfgang Puck and sizzling hot host Padma Lakshmi throwing down in a city renown for satisfying the world's biggest appetites. What's not to love? There's a relay race featuring clam shucking, prawn peeling, lobster cleaning and rib butchering; chefs challenged to cook a dish based on a vice they are guilty of (lots of alcohol-based dishes — surprise!), and lots of snarky, arrogant cooks getting disappointed. A little touch of foodie heaven.


Flipping Out, returns at 10 p.m. Monday, Bravo: I am truly tired of so-called reality TV shows centered on pathologically dysfunctional attention hogs. And few programs on TV embody this awful trend more than Flipping Out, a series focused on insanely Type A Los Angeles house flipper Jeff Lewis. Critics of Lewis' antics may actually enjoy this season, which features his forced return to home remodeling and interior design work as the crashing real estate market hobbles his home resale business. But even learning Lewis lost 30 percent of his net worth won't make up for the endless arguments about lost phone numbers and punctuality with his masochistic employees.

Tim Gunn makes it work on 'Project Runway' 08/17/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 17, 2009 2:03pm]
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