Lauren Zalaznick, Tim Gunn each reinvented and resuscitated their respective brands
A pair of profiles examines two of Bravo’s biggest stars, one who’s behind the scenes and one who’s an on-camera star, and show how each was (in oddly similar ways) responsible for bringing success to troubled institutions.
The New York Times profiles Bravo president Lauren Zalaznick, while Fast Company profiles Tim Gunn The profiles examine how each made over their respective properties (Bravo for Zalaznick, Parsons fashion design program for Gunn), and what they’re doing with their new charges (Oxygen for Zalaznick, Liz Claiborne for Gunn).
Fast Company explores Tim’s transition from Yale English major to his current position. At Parsons, Tim was charged with reinventing the fashion design program, and he did so radically and successfully. Diane von Furstenberg told the magazine, “Tim’s influence at Parsons was a turning point. It put the school on another level.” And Donna Karan said Tim “brought the real world into the school.”
Later, he was hired to be a consultant for Project Runway, and then became its on-camera star, once Bravo executives got over their reluctance to use him on camera. Thus, Tim was reluctant to transition to corporate America. “I was having the most fun I’d ever had in my life. I had the greatest respect for the private sector, but I had never been part of it. The whole prospect of coming here was terrifying,” he told Fast Company. But he left Parsons and went to Liz Claiborne last year in part because Bravo pays him shit, although of course, Tim explains that in a much more refined way. “People think I’m getting rich off of Project Runway … if I didn’t have a day job, I’d have to live at the YMCA!”
Tim’s only condition was that he wanted to keep doing reality shows, and Liz Claiborne CEO William McComb, who hired Tim, agreed—and also now says he wouldn’t take advantage of that, although the magazine notes that Gunn’s popularity doesn’t hurt. “Tim’s other [celebrity] world is in a watertight container, and I would never pollute it, never take advantage of it, and never ask for favors personally or corporately,” McComb said.
Tim is now trying to work the same magic that he did at Parsons. The magazine reports that he once “gathered the designers for the DKNY Jeans brand and told them to design without considering price,” and is “also investing in the most-advanced technical tools for his designers and is working to implement a design philosophy that unites the company’s disparate labels.”
Meanwhile, Bravo’s Zalaznick “began her career as a producer of independent movies,” including “Kids,” and “joined VH1 in 1994 and began applying her instinct for popular culture to television” with shows such as “Pop-Up Videos.” She was eventually hired to run Trio, a network where she was “getting all this press for a channel almost no one was watching. She has a talent for getting attention,” according to Jeff Gaspin, her former boss at Universal.
When she took over at Bravo, Zalaznick told the paper, “I inherited a network defined by one show,” which wasn’t a positive attribute. Her strategy was to take Queer Eye’s subject areas and construct shows around them. Its “cast members seemed to offer a template for areas of interest that Bravo could speak to: food, fashion, design, beauty and pop culture. All the shows the network has developed since, like ‘Flipping Out,’ and ‘Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List’ fall into those areas,” The New York Times reports.
As to Project Runway, it was already in development, and its initial ratings were anemic. “I said in my counterintuitive way: ‘You know what? The less they want to see it, the more I’m going to show it to them.’,” she told the paper about scheduling a marathon over the holidays in early 2005. The network has been a success with her at the helm. The paper reports that “Bravo has set a record for profit each year since Ms. Zalaznick arrived in 2004. Mr. [SNL Kagan’s Derek] Baine, the media analyst, put Bravo’s profit for 2007 at $158 million, up from $135 million the year before. Revenue rose to $370 million from $322 million.”
She says the network offers “a judgment-free set of editorial standards” where people and viewers “get their freak flags on. … We present a world where you may enjoy a piece of it, and you may find you are a little like this. And if you don’t, at the least you’ll be amused by it. At the most, you are going to turn off the TV more excited and more energized than you were before you saw anything on my channel,” Zalaznick said.