Why Lifetime’s lifeless Project Runway is like the first Harry Potter movie

When Project Runway 6 first debuted on Lifetime, I was impressed. I’d been worried about the change of networks, never mind the change of locations from New York to L.A. But I mostly wasn’t convinced that the production company responsible for Real World could reproduce what Magical Elves created while inventing an entire subgenre and look-and-feel, even though Lifetime’s president promised me they could.

I was wrong: The show looked and felt great, and even seemed better than the fifth season that aired last fall on Bravo.

But since then, I’ve lost interest. It’s just, well, dull and boring and lifeless. It’s like the first Harry Potter movie: All of the elements and visual images are there, but it has zero of the magic of the original, and thus feels oddly empty. Photocopying the original might look like the original, but it’s not the original.

The scariest part is that Lifetime already produced season seven, so they have no opportunity to fix what’s wrong.

Here are a few reasons why I think it’s not working:

  • The move to Los Angeles didn’t add anything, and worse, took something critical away: Nina and Michael. You can barely tell the show is set in L.A., and the challenges haven’t really taken advantage of the location at all, except for some flimsy excuses. But the absence of the judges, who just couldn’t be in L.A. when the show was filmed last fall, has damaged the show. Without them, there’s little consistency in judging.
  • Models of the Runway took out some of the drama. The half-hour series that follows the show every night follows the models, and it’s mostly boring, except when the models watch their designer get eliminated, and then participate in the cattle call. That’s a source of drama and conflict when designers steal each others’ models, but now that’s ignored during the competition, even when it could impact their work.
  • The designers are just mediocre all around. Don’t get me wrong: There’s talent there. But, eh, I don’t care about any of them. I’m not rooting for anyone, nor am I rooting against anyone. So why am I watching?
  • The challenges are indistinguishable. With the exception of the newspaper challenge, the rest all seem mostly the same, and aren’t very creative. The ones that were good ideas, like letting the models dictate what they wanted, haven’t popped.
  • Nina Garcia and Michael Kors are MIA way too much. Seriously, what the hell? (They are back for all of season seven, thankfully.)
  • Tim Gunn seems simultaneously over- and underused. Tim Gunn was the series’ breakout star, but around season four, he seemed to become Santino’s parody of himself, parroting his catchphrases but doing little else. He has had a few great moments this season in his critiques, but those don’t last long, and outside of those, he’s kind of around too much, acting more like a traffic cop than mentor. Maybe it’s the same amount of time he’s always been around, but less Tim Gunn is more. We want to appreciate him, not become indifferent toward him.
  • The show is just old. There’s been no attempt to reinvent the show in any way, and it’s now in its sixth season, and every show ages. Its template has also been reproduced elsewhere, making it seem less special. Maybe the era of Project Runway is just over.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.