Executive producer Jon Murray explains why Project Runway changed this season

Reaction to Project Runway 8‘s finale has largely centered around the decision made by the judges, but there’s also discussion and debate about whether this season improved. There’s a reason why this season was different: its new producers made changes instead of trying to keep it exactly like it was on Bravo.

For the past three seasons, the show has been produced by Real World producers Bunim-Murray, and when I talked to its founder Jon Murray today for a Daily Beast story I’m working on, I had to ask about the finale. “I actually think this season has been really well-received. I think people like the 90-minute format,” he said, citing things like the way “we’re backstage with the designers,” “the casting this season,” and how they’re “letting you see more of the deliberations.”

The first season on Lifetime, he told me, “was challenging because the decision was made that it needed to be done in Los Angeles for a number of reasons, so we didn’t have Michael or Nina on a regular basis. The lack of consistency definitely was challenging for us to deal with, having all of those guest judges. But I thought it was a good season.”

“Reality shows are very much, you make your cast, you put it together, and some extent, like a wine, you’re going to have years that people love and you’re going to have years that people aren’t a fan of. If you go back to the first five seasons, there were definitely seasons that were that the fans were less in love with. And there were other seasons … that people loved. But I’ve heard from a lot of people that this season was the best season they’ve experienced so far,” he said.

I asked about Tim Gunn’s criticism of the producers, but Murray didn’t respond directly to that. As to the controversial winner, he said, “We’ve empowered the judges to make those decisions. We’re not stepping in as producers saying, ‘Oh, can you go this way because it’ll make everybody happy.’ We’re letting the judges do what they’re supposed to do. I’m not a fashion expert.”

The big change this season, however, was that Bunim-Murray felt free to move away from the format established by Magical Elves when they created the series at Bravo. (Jane Lipsitz and Dan Cutforth previously told me what they thought of the Lifetime version.) “The first seasons, six and seven, there was a real feeling that we needed to keep the show pretty much exactly as it was on Bravo to ensure a smooth transition. And this the season where I think Sara Rea, our showrunner, and the team was able to really sort of start to open the show up a little and evolve it a little,” he told me. (You can read my pre-season six interview with Sara Rea here).

“We made some improvements to the set which I think look great. It’s cleaner; I love the shiny runway. And then we had that extra time to take you behind the scenes and get more into the character of these designers. In the hour format it was very challenging because of all the things you have to do in an episode, particularly in the first six or seven shows … where you’ve got all those designers. So I think part of the reason why people got more emotionally connected because we had more time to really let you get to know these people,” Murray told me.

Overall, he said, “I was thrilled with the production quality this season. We added a Steadicam on the runway on the runway, which I thought was really interesting, seeing the designs come around the corner. The show was really well-received as a result of it.”

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.