Friday, July 17, 2009

The Fashion Show vs. Project Runway

I think it's time to discuss the big, pink elephant in the room. Everyone knows about the nasty lawsuits regarding Project Runway's move to the Lifetime network from Bravo. There's no point rehashing all the gruesome details. When I saw the previews for Bravo's replacement of P.R., The Fashion Show, I admit I was intrigued. Bravo does some seriously good competition reality TV. Top Chef alone is worth buying into the network. Don't even get me started on Top Chef Masters. I have one word: brilliant. As for fashion competition, I knew my loyalties would always lie with Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn (after all, he did once tell me that I am a fabulous designer, just before he and a handful of other fashion moguls rejected me from Season 5 of Project Runway- it was a great day). As for Heidi, she made being German fashionable. But as much as I love my Klum and my Gunn, I had to at least give The Fashion Show a shot. So I watched the pilot. I could think of one word to describe it: stark. The set, the cast, the hosts- there was nothing exuberant about the show. I felt as though it had no life to it. I knew in the first five minutes that it could never come close to Project Runway. Let me break it down for you:

The Hosts:
Kelli vs. Heidi: To me there is no contest here. Heidi Klum has a long, distinguished modeling career that is still just as hot as ever. Kelli sang back-up for Beyonce and "sat front row to many fashion shows over the last eight years." Yes, that is a direct quote from the pilot episode. When introducing the host/judges, that is how Kelli explained her credentials. Sad, I know. I felt as though Kelli was given catch phrases to use in each episode and they were just terrible. "So-and-so, you are still in this competition, but you are hanging by a thread." It just doesn't have the same impact as Heidi's "Auf Wiedersehen."

Isaac vs. Tim: Once again, no contest. I was actualy really surprised by how terrible Isaac is. He's no stranger to television, but something about his performance in this show fell flat. His catch phrases, "We're just not buying it" and "Buh-bye darling" were so forced and insincere. Tim Gunn's "Carry on" and "Make it work" became catch phrases because they were genuine, not contrived. Finally, Tim Gunn puts Isaac to shame where wardrobe is concerned. There was never a moment when Tim wasn't the epitome of distinguished and sophisticated. Despite being a fabulous designer, Isaac couldn't seem to dress himself all that well for the show. He looked nice some of the time- mostly at the runway show, but so often his outfits seemed ill-fitting and sloppy. I found it very unsettling.

The Cast:
Project Runway: I'll admit that season five (Bravo's last) of Project Runway had one of the worst casts of the show's run. However, they were still far better than this first season of The Fashion Show. On Project Runway, we saw a real progression from seasons one through five. The designers got better and more talented with each season, peaking (in my opinion) with season four. There was always a nice mix of perspective and experience- designers with a vintage approach, others almost futuristic in their fabrications, some fresh out of fashion school, others with established boutiques and clientele. Even more importantly where television is concerned is the fact that their personalities were as varied as their educations and backgrounds. There was always someone that you loved to hate, another who tugged at your heartstrings, one who was incredibly cocky, but talented enough to back it up, a bad boy who cries in the end, the girl next door, and the out-there-innovator who no one really understands. But the bottom line was that they made for a diverse mix who, no matter their background, were a VERY talented bunch.

The Fashion Show: I think the biggest issue with the cast of the Fashion Show is that so many were not all that talented. I'm not saying they couldn't sew (although some of them couldn't), but rather that there wasn't a single one who seemed to have anything new or innovative to show us. Until Anna's "cup dress," I felt as though every week I was seeing boring, lifeless, re-hashed designs that completely lacked inspiration and exuberance. Even Anna's "pleating detail" on her Coco Chanel homage was starkly reminiscent of LeeAnn's "wave" concept from the finale of P.R. Season five. Also, this season felt as though the producers were trying to cast personality over talent. Not good personality, but rather strange, eccentric personality that they think will make for good TV. What we ended up with is a bunch of talentless weirdos who we hate, but not in the good "love to hate them" way. We just plain hated them.

The Set:
Project Runway: The workroom is bright and clean and 2 walls are lined with dress forms- one with losing designs, one with winning designs. It's a nice reminder of episodes past. The runway is clearly in a studio, but the lighting is bright and focused. The set is simple and provides a neutral backdrop that allows the designs to shine while still feeling rich. I love the white back-lit screen that shows each design in silhouette before it appears on the runway. It's dramatic, and effective.

The Fashion Show: The workroom is fine, but we never really get a great sense of how it's set up. My real issue with the set on this show is both the runway itself and the "dungeon" where the designers prepare their models. And I do mean "dungeon." The designers clamber down steep steps into a gray, dismal space and await their models who are upstairs somewhere in hair and make-up. I never once got the impression that the designers were involved in the hair and make-up process, which seems so important to me, but I digress. Finally, the entire set in the dungeon and on the runway is all in this hideous slate-grey. The harsh lines of the triangular "runway" are bizarre and only contribute to the starkness of it all. That is the word that continually comes to mind: stark.

The Format:
Project Runway: I love how Heidi introduces the designers to their challenge and then doesn't see them again until the elimination. Tim Gunn is their mentor and therefore NOT a judge. He discusses this in his blog and explains that with all the time he spends discussing their designs and coaching them along, it really wouldn't be fair for him to then judge the designs as well. Also, with P.R., the producers give the viewers enough explanation- of the challenge, the guest judge, the budget, the twists, etc. but they don't overload us. Also, because P.R. is a contest not only for the designers, but for the models as well, we as an audience become more emotionally invested. Speaking of emotionally invested, I think it's great how Tim Gunn visits each of the finalists in their own space and learns not only about their collection, but about their family, friends and environment. It also preps us for the final runway show so we feel like we understand completely what we're seeing.

The Fashion Show: I think the format falls short in two ways that almost seem contradictory. First, they try to cram too much into an episode. Much like Top Chef Quick-fire, the contestants are given a mini-challenge to start each episode which results in a significant advantage for the winner. After the mini-challenge, they are given their elimination challenge. Second, I don't think we as viewers are given enough information about the elimination challenge, the designers' processes (especially where hair, make-up and accessories are concerned) and budgets are rarely mentioned, if at all. The show instead focuses on the designers' catty "interviews" where they mostly criticize each others' work and extoll their own designs as the most amazing we'll ever see. Overall, it just feels awkward from start to finish. Finally, there is never an opportunity (not that I want one) to become truly emotionally invested in these designers. Because we aren't given enough information on their challenges and processes, we don't feel a strong connection to begin with. Also, our only insight into the finalists collections is the brief sentence or two when Isaac questions them about how they worked on their collections. I don't even think a reunion special would have helped, but it would have been better than nothing.

Honestly, I could go on and on, comparing and contrasting every detail of both shows, but I think I've made my point.. Project Runway: You're in. The Fashion Show: Auf Wiedersehen.

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