Bravo’s Project Runway to Lifetime Television; NBCU Sues
NBCU Claims Right of First Refusal for Design Competition Reality Series
By Anne Becker -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/7/2008 7:34:00 PM
NBC Universal’s Bravo will lose its biggest hit as Project Runway is moving to Lifetime Television, according to a deal announced Monday by the women’s cable network and The Weinstein Co., which owns and produces the show.
NBCU filed suit against Weinstein in New York State Supreme Court, saying that it had first refusal for the show and any possible spinoffs.
New seasons of the design competition will run on Lifetime beginning in November with the premiere of season six, per the five-year deal. Bravo retains the rights to the fifth season of the show, which just completed its fourth, as well as the reruns to the seasons it has run.
In response to the deal, NBCU and Bravo Media filed a lawsuit trying to stop the series’ move, alleging that it retained the rights to the show. Lifetime, which is not involved in the suit, said it has a signed agreement with Weinstein dated Feb. 7 and it has spent the last several weeks locking up the talent.
NBCU’s objection to what appeared to be a done deal left many Monday scratching their heads as to how the company could let go the most important show on its “buzz-centric" cable network.
In the lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by Broadcasting & Cable, NBCU cited a license agreement giving Bravo the right to the first five cycles and said it had first right of refusal for Runway and any possible spinoffs. Bravo, per the suit, has paid Weinstein “many millions of dollars in exchange for these exclusive rights” and alleged that Weinstein is violating its right of first refusal by going to Lifetime and that it “engaged in deception” to do so.
In one part of the suit, NBCU said Weinstein wrote an e-mail to Zucker with “words to the effect of, ‘You can only have in your life five true friends and I consider you one of my five friends. And I’m telling you, I will not embarrass you.’”
NBCU and Bravo said they had been in ongoing negotiations with Weinstein for more than one year about the show’s future and were surprised when the company announced its deal with Lifetime, including in it rights for the women’s network to run a spinoff of the show.
Weinstein had tried to wrangle NBCU into acquiring some of its “second-tier” movies for “many millions of additional dollars” for the right to keep running Runway, according to the suit. But that alone was likely not the deal-breaker that caused Weinstein to seek another home, according to executives with knowledge of the negotiations.
NBCU put out a statement saying, “NBC Universal has continuing legal rights related to Project Runway, including a right of first refusal to future cycles of the series, which The Weinstein Co. unfortunately refused to honor. NBC Universal regrettably had no alternative but to bring legal action to enforce its rights to this program, including the right to decide whether it is in the best interest of the company to continue to air the show under the proposed financial terms.”
But others said NBCU’s suit was “sour grapes.” They said Weinstein had been looking around for another network for a while and that NBCU had the power to bid for Runway and did not.
Weinstein was dissatisfied, in part, that Bravo spawned several competition reality shows that were very similar to Runway, thereby diluting the uniqueness of the show, these sources said. Lifetime Networks president and CEO Andrea Wong and Weinstein founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein have been in talks over the series for several months.
Losing Runway would be a huge blow to Bravo, which has relied upon it as a ratings powerhouse and nurtured it over its four seasons. The show premiered in 2004 to just 350,000 viewers and a tiny 0.2 rating in the key demos, but with marketing dollars from NBCU and a commitment from the network behind it, it finished that season 468% over its premiere and has grown since.
But Bravo and Weinstein have had an at-times-tumultuous relationship over the years, according to sources close to both companies. Both Harvey Weinstein and Bravo chief Lauren Zalaznick are strong personalities and clashed over key issues around the show.
Runway’s move to Lifetime would have added sting for Zalaznick and NBCU given that the company is pumping money into remaking Lifetime’s rival women-focused network, Oxygen, which it bought for some $900 million last year and put Zalaznick in charge of. That network is scheduled to present its makeover plans to press at a New York event April 23.
Runway is executive-produced by Magical Elves, which will also move with the show to Lifetime. Runway host Heidi Klum and contestant mentor Tim Gunn will move to Lifetime with the show. No deals were announced yet for the other judges, Nina Garcia and Michael Kors.
“Project Runway is one of the best television programs on the air today on broadcast or cable,” Wong said. “I am a huge fan. All of my friends are huge fans. Having water-cooler movies, dramas, and reality shows like Project Runway is what Lifetime Television is all about. We welcome The Weinstein Co., Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn to the Lifetime family for many walks down the runway to come.”
“Project Runway is our programming crown jewel and credit goes to Heidi, Tim and Magical Elves for building more than a television show, but an actual brand that influences fashion interests and pop culture,” said Bob and Harvey Weinstein. “Whether it be our recent Peabody Award or the great ratings we have seen each year, Project Runway’s millions of loyal viewers have made the show a nationwide phenomenon.”
Any network is lucky to carry such a show of outstanding caliber and few alleged scandals. It is my sincere belief that this show and any network it is attached to, will simply thrive and achieve success.
Cannot wait for the new season.
Vanessa Mares - 5/24/2009 4:00:54 AM EDT
Wow....so, after Season Five, I might not catch as much of Runway as I would like to. That kind of sucks. I would think the creators of Project Runway would be proud to see that their creativity is spawning several very successful shows similar to their show, yet Runway remains very popular. Yes, I watch Top Chef and I even watch Sheer Genius when it was on, but I still prefer Project Runway to all of them and try my best to watch every new episode.
I love Bravo, except for Desperate Housesluts, and this saddens me that Runway is leaving. You're leaving me with those Housesluts! Please, Tim, at least keep your own show with Bravo. Don't leave me too?
Dani Campbell - 4/8/2008 6:30:00 AM EDT
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