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GOOD PROJECT: For Harvey Weinstein, it was worth the wait and the lawsuits. Proving America can’t seem to get enough of fashion bitchiness and backbiting, a record number of viewers tuned in to “Project Runway” after a 10-month hiatus and a relocation to a new network. The season six premiere on Thursday night gathered 4.2 million viewers during its 10 p.m. airing on Lifetime. That’s the best rating for the series’ premiere episode ever and a 45 percent increase over the ratings for season’s five premiere, which drew 2.9 million viewers on Bravo.
Not that Lifetime didn’t stack the deck a bit, creating an evening-long buildup to the premiere that at times seemed to milk every corner of the franchise. “Project Runway” returned along with “Project Runway: All Star Challenge,” a two-hour special face-off among past “Runway” designers which aired at 8 p.m., and a new series, “Models of the Runway,” a show focused on the models competing in “Project Runway” that aired at 11 p.m. But clearly the flagship show was the main draw: “The All Star Challenge” drew 2.9 million viewers, while “Models” drew 1.9 million viewers.
Weinstein also roped in Nicole Kidman and Diane von Furstenberg to participate in the “All Star Challenge” as a presenter and a judge, respectively, while Fergie and Kate Hudson shot some promotional footage for “Project Runway.”
The interest in “Project Runway” continued online as well: Lifetime said traffic to its Web site broke records for both unique visitors (454,000) and visits (558,000) on Thursday, and registered 4.6 million page views.
“Not only has this premiere generated the series’ highest rating, but the reviews have been the best we have ever received,” added Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of The Weinstein Co.
And while Lifetime and The Weinstein Co. are obviously relieved by the show’s strong viewership, executives at Marie Claire, which signed on as the magazine partner for the next five years, also feel like they’ve scored big. “A great first night for Marie Claire and “Project Runway,” said Susan Plagemann, Marie Claire’s vice president and publisher.
Season six debuted after its producers The Weinstein Co. moved the show to Lifetime from Bravo, but not before Bravo’s parent company NBC Universal filed a breach of contract lawsuit against the Weinstein Co. The lawsuit kept the program off the air until the case was eventually settled out of court in April, allowing the program to broadcast on Lifetime.
The new season seems virtually the same compared with past seasons, save for some small tweaks: The program was filmed mostly in Los Angeles instead of New York, and Bunim/Murray Productions, known for its work on MTV’s “The Real World,” joined the production team, replacing Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz of Magical Elves. The duo left the show after season five. Lindsay Lohan served as special guest judge for Thursday night’s show, and sounded surprisingly articulate and poised during her critiques. Upcoming guest judges this season are said to include Eva Longoria Parker and Bob Mackie.
Of the diverse mix of season six contestants, ranging from young to old, black to Eastern European, one viewer is already a fan. “I am gripped by the designers, but only wish I had been able to try the hexagonal silver diaper dress on,” said Marie Claire editor in chief Joanna Coles, referring to the losing design on Thursday’s show by Ari Fish. “Oh, and the ratings kick ass.”