Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Guilty Pleasure: Project Runway

"In fashion, one day you're in and the next day you're out."

Thursday night brings us the finale of season six of my latest guilty pleasure, Project Runway. I hadn't seen a single episode of seasons one through five and now I've watched every minute of season six. It was Tim Gunn's appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart that caught my interest (there's a show that's an admitted pleasure without a trace of guilt). Now, Project Runway is the only reality show I'm watching. Not American Idol (although I did search YouTube for Susan Boyle's performance on the English version of the show. That woman can sing!). Not Dancing with the Stars (not even a cringe-worthy performance by Tom Delay could entice me to watch, not even on YouTube). You have to go all the way back to the first seasons of The Apprentice and Survivor to find reality shows that I watched before Project Runway. How do they compare?

I watched Survivor for one season but lost interest when the winning strategy became obvious: form an alliance big enough to protect its members while everyone else gets voted off the island. Repeat with smaller alliances. All the survivor gimmickry, the tropical island, scavenging for food, building shelters, immunity challenges, etc., are nothing more than magician misdirection to keep the viewer from noticing the only thing that really matters - the alliance.

I watched The Apprentice for one season (two, counting the short-lived spin-off with Martha Stewart). The premise of the show, posing business challenges to two teams, then watching how the contestants plan, lead and execute, has a lot of promise. I can see the premise being used in business classes. But the promise is unfulfilled on network television. In this case, the premise was used as an excuse for airing 60-minute infomercials for national brands or, worse, Donald Trump's real estate developments. And instead of innovative, collaborative, team problem-solving, we get soap opera: back-stabbing, sabotaging, finger-pointing and ... Omarosa. Enough said.

Both Survivor and The Apprentice were guilty pleasures that lasted one season for me. The former has a strategy too-easily solved, the latter has a strategy subverted by Donald Trump's ego and product placement.

That brings me to Project Runway. It has its own share of ego (Tim Gunn, Heidi Klum), product placement ("Let's go to Mood." "Don't forget the Macy's accessory wall."), and melodrama ("She stole my design."). But none of this overwhelms the basic challenge: to design fashions, week after week, and have them be judged by professional designers. The worst design each week results in one designer leaving the show. Simple. Results-driven. It's hard to mess that up. I think I'll be back next season. That's high praise from me.

P.S. Irina Shabayeva is the most talented designer and deserves to win, in spite of the best efforts of the show's producers to portray her as a villainess. And in spite of her penchant for furs and knits and cowls. On second thought, maybe Althea or Carol Hannah deserve to win.

P.P.S. The fact that Season 6 of Project Runway featured one designer from Dallas, Louise Black, and one from Richardson, Shirin Askari (a Berkner grad!) added a little home-town cheering interest to the series. They've been providing live commentary during the last couple of episodes via Twitter. Check out hashtag #ngoPR.

P.P.P.S. Don't you just hate it when people abbreviate post-postscript P.S.S.?

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