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A catwalk fight brews for control of 'Project Runway'

Rick Kushman
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

We've got a good "only in Hollywood" fight going on over the hit fashion/reality show "Project Runway" that says so much about the wild realm the TV industry has become.

In case you missed it, earlier this week, the producers of "Project Runway" said they're moving the reality/fashion show from Bravo to a larger cable network, Lifetime, for $150 million. Bravo's owner, NBC Universal, promptly sued.

Somewhere out in space, aliens are watching Earth and saying, "We are not doing business with that species."

By the way, just so you know, "Runway" won a Peabody Award last week for distinguished achievement in media. The judges called it "A series that redeems the reality-contest genre" and said it "demands, displays and ultimately rewards creativity."

True that. (See, cool people watch "Project Runway," and I'm being cool, so, uh, yo.) Seriously, it's an entertaining, sometimes mesmerizing, show and the would-be fashion designers on it have some high-end skills.

It's also been a ratings giant for Bravo. Last season, it averaged 3.8 million viewers, and got 5.2 million for the season finale, which for a mid-size cable net is like "Grey's Anatomy"-level numbers.

"Runway's" had four cycles on Bravo, and is in production for a fifth. Then in November, it's off to Lifetime. Or not.

NBC's suit says the Weinstein Co., which produces the show, promised NBC the right of first refusal. And it says, basically, Weinstein Co. co-founder Harvey Weinstein made that promise himself to NBC Universal boss Jeff Zucker in January at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills.

Both sides say the other is stretching the truth, and reports running through the industry say Weinstein was unhappy about both the amount of money and appreciation he got from NBC Universal and Bravo.

There is so much irony in those last sentences, it's hard to know where to start. But the simplest, and best, parts are that Weinstein and Zucker are infamous in Hollywood for ego, arm twisting and playing hardball. They had to eventually find each other. Also, it seems no quirky deal happens in show business that doesn't pass through the doors of the Four Seasons.

Ultimately, the court will decide, but here's why it matters to us non-Hollywood civilians:

The era of shows staying in one place is over. This is just one more sign. Even if Weinstein didn't jump ship with "Project Runway," NBC was probably going to move it to one of its larger nets, either cable's USA or the NBC broadcast network.

Now, more and more people have reached the point of a la carte TV watching, crossing networks and mediums to find shows. Scheduling is inconsistent anyway, so what's the point of waiting around with, say, NBC at 9 p.m. Sunday for a show that's only there half the year or less?

Or more simply, the shows themselves are bigger brands than their networks, even if most series burn bright for only a few seasons. Viewers and consumers don't sit still for long without looking for something new, but when a show is hot, like "Runway" is now, people will find it.

So if the nature of the "Project Runway" fight is three parts money and one part ego, it's also exactly the kind of thing we're going to see more, as shows move from network to cable to Internet to on-demand to handheld viewers or cell phones that make "Runway" host Heidi Klum look two inches tall.

But, if she's on "Project Runway," it'll be a fabulous two inches.

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Earlier this week, we went through the renewed-or-canceled status of a batch of network series. Today, here's info on where cable shows stand:

AMC's "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" will both return, probably in the summer, but no date has been set.

BBC America's "Robin Hood" starts again April 26, and "Hotel Babylon" should be back this summer.

Comedy Central has eight episodes of "Reno 911!" returning in the summer. "The Sarah Silverman Program" will be back later this year, too.

Discovery's "Deadliest Catch" starts a new season Tuesday (at 9 p.m.)

FX's "The Shield" will return. Sometime. So will "Damages." When? I got nothing. I've heard mumbling about the fall for "The Shield." "It Always Sunny in Philadelphia" will be back, too.

HBO's "Big Love" and "Entourage" will return next season, whatever "next season" means to HBO. Probably the fall. "Flight of the Conchords" may not return until January, and there's no word if/when "Curb Your Enthusiasm" will reappear. HBO has not decided if there will be a second season for "In Treatment."

History's "Ice Road Truckers" haul their loads again this summer.

Lifetime's "Army Wives" returns on June 8 with a full season of 18 episodes.

Sci Fi's "Eureka" will be back in the summer with 13 episodes.

Showtime's "Dexter," "Weeds" and "Californication" will return sometime. That's all I've got.

TNT's "The Closer" will start a new season in July, though there's no exact day yet. "Saving Grace" will probably be back around the same time.

USA starts new episodes of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" on June 8, and brings back "Burn Notice" July 10. "Monk" and "Psych" come back July 18. Sorry to tell the people who keep asking, "The 4400" was canceled.

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Speaking of "Deadliest Catch," as a warm-up for the start of Season Four on Tuesday, Discovery will run a marathon of the first three seasons, starting at 9 a.m. Saturday and running until 3 a.m. Monday (with a break for paid programming early Sunday morning).

Just drop in for an episode or two of the surprisingly fascinating show about crab fishing in the Bering Sea, and you'll feel plenty cold and wet.

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