[08/20/09 - 12:04 AM]
Interview: "Project Runway" Executive Producer Sara Rea
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

Now that the dust has settled on its various lawsuits, the sixth season of "Private Runway" is finally being taken off the shelf and airing on its new home at Lifetime. According to Sara Rea, Executive Producer of both "Project Runway" and its new spin-off "Models of the Runway," it's business as usual for the new crop of designers, host Heidi Klum and mentor Tim Gunn. In fact, she urged that fans would find their fears relieved when they see that not as much as changed as they think by the move from long time home Bravo to Lifetime. Rea recently told our Jim Halterman about the few tweaks made to "Runway," how Tim and Heidi reacted to the waiting game of the lawsuit as well as how the new "Models" show will work in tandem with its parent series.

Jim Halterman: Tell me about when Bunim-Murray first took over "Project Runway" at the start of the sixth season. Were you wanting to come in and make the show your own?

Sara Rea: Lifetime was very clear that they wanted the same show. They didn't buy it because it was broken, they bought it because they loved it so we really maintained all the standards that the show usually had and we followed the same format. So everything is really the same, the same, the same. There are only two small differences... well, one is a big difference. One is that we are in Los Angeles, which served as a great backdrop for the show. It actually gave it a nice fresh face and opened the door for us to do some different types of challenges and have a lot of celebrities as guest judges. The other is that we created the show "Models of the Runway" and in order for that show to work we made one small change in "Project Runway." If you remember at the beginning of "Runway," there is sometimes a model elimination where the designers choose their models for the challenge. We moved that into the end of the "Models" show to add an elimination element to that show. It was the only thing that we thought was clunky in "Project Runway" and it served a greater purpose by giving us an end to "Models of the Runway."

JH: How difficult was it to just have the show sit on the shelf for a while during the lawsuit?

SR: Of course, emotionally it was tough. When you do something you're proud of you want to get it out there as soon as possible. I have to be honest when all this happened we were still shooting and we just focused on our job to produce a good television show and maintained business as usual because at the end of the day we were all confident that it would air at some point and we just focused on making sure we delivered the great show the network and the audience expects. Lifetime has really been so phenomenal about promoting the show and they're 100% behind it. They're so supportive and it has really been a great experience.

JH: How did Tim and Heidi weather the time before the show finally settled at Lifetime?

SR: I think Tim was a little nervous at points and Heidi was always confident that it's going to work out. None of us � including them � were really involved and had no control over that so it was really sort of a waiting game to stay positive and wait for what eventually did happen.

JH: The contestants on "Project Runway" are usually a good mix of more seasoned designers with the newbies. What is the mix like this season?

SR: It is consistent with previous seasons. In casting, the show for the last four-to-five previous seasons we've always made fashion the priority and I think it's one of the main reasons people love it because it's honest. We made sure fashion came first and then, of course, some people are maybe more talented than others. But I'll tell you what's interesting for me is if you watch them you may have some preconceived notions about who's going to do great and who isn't but once you put them in the pressure cooker and it gets so intense and they're working with all the other people in the room, you really never know what you're going to get.

JH: I think people love the show for the designs and the conflicting personalities. Can we expect to see some drama between the contestants?

SR: There's always drama, right? I think it's really fun but we set them up for success and let them do their thing but the nature and the format of the show is that they have a lot of pressure. Sometimes it's 12 hours at some points to put together a look and then you're standing in front of Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia and Michael Kors so intrinsically there's a lot of pressure on the designers.

JH: Moving on to "Models of the Runway," what are the models competing for?

SR: They get $25,000 and they get the fashion spread in Marie Claire.

JH: How did you go about casting the models since you knew their role would be larger?

SR: These models are real working models. They're not aspiring to be a model. They all have runway experience so we made sure everyone was a talented model and then we made sure they had personalities that are interesting and would intrigue the audience.

JH: What are the roles of Tim and Heidi on the new show?

SR: Tim is not really involved and Heidi is more so because it's more her world. At the beginning of every episode we have a moment where Heidi talks to all the models and sort of tells them who did well and who didn't and she's very honest. If someone messes up, she's fair about it but there's this dialogue and sometimes she gives them advice about the bigger picture of the world of modeling as it's specific to the show and there's also a little bit of mentoring between Heidi and the models.

JH: And the models' main competition is their time on "Runway." How was that decided?

SR: Anything else would've felt contrived and when we were developing the show what seemed the most honest was what [the models] want at the end of the day is to be paired with the winning designer. So we let them do whatever they could to stay in the competition as far as allying themselves with the designers [and] making sure that when they have their time to walk the runway that they're doing their best but for the most part the format of the show and it's all tied to "Runway" and how that effects them. It's really interesting to see because in previous seasons, the models were there but we didn't know them or care about them and what we learned was that we'd put them all in a loft together � all 16 of them lived in a loft together, can you imagine? � and they're all in their competitive minds and they wanted to win so it was very interesting to see how this does effect them and how much they want it especially with the added cash prize and, of course, they want to be in Marie Claire so it intrinsically just worked out.

JH: Can viewers expect the same amount of tension, pressure and excitement that we get from "Project Runway?"

SR: Yeah, you'll really care about them and when someone goes home it's heartbreaking just like in "Runway" because you care about them and you realize that this is what they want. It's funny. They struggled as much in winning the competition as leaving the house. They start to make it a home and one second you're in and the next you're out so it's traumatic and not only is the one leaving really sad but some of the other girls � because not everyone loves everyone, let's be honest � they're sometimes happy that someone is leaving so it definitely has that sense of drama.

JH: And you're already moving forward on the next season of "Project Runway," right?

SR: We shot season seven in New York and then we're moving forward and we'll go to Fashion Week.

Tonight is a night of "Project Runway" programming on Lifetime. An all-new two-hour special "Project Runway All-Star Challenge" airs beginning at 8:00/7:00c followed by the sixth season premiere of "Project Runway" at 10:00/9:00c with "Models of the Runway" capping the night at 11:00/10:00c.

  [august 2009]  


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