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Walking in Designers’ Shoes: A Shift in Perspective for Project Runway Season 8

Walking in Designers’ Shoes: Project Runway Season 8

July 31st, 2010

It’s fitting that Project Runway’s eighth season began with the contestants “auditioning” for a position on the series proper, as I considered this premiere to be the series’ audition for my time.

After an incredibly rough sixth season in L.A., and a completely unmemorable return to New York in its seventh year, Project Runway is on its way out of my television schedule, and this season was designed to test my attachment to the series: stretching each episode out to 90 minutes makes it an even larger commitment (at least for those of us who ignore Models of the Runway, as we all should), and the series’ fundamental lack of cultural cache – I hadn’t even realized it was premiering – means that giving up on it is unlikely to really impact me in the future.

However, since things are slower now than they will be in three weeks, I figured I would tune into the premiere to see how the show is using its 90 minutes, and to see how they’re trying to shake things up to engage new viewers. And while there’s not enough here to convince me that there aren’t better uses of my Thursday nights once fall programming and life kicks in, there is enough here worth discussing in terms of how the show is looking to shift their point of interest from the competition to the contestants – it may not be enough to keep me watching, but it’s enough to show that they’re starting to understand some of the series’ problems.

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Project Runway Season 6 – “What a Woman Wants”

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“What a Woman Wants”

September 10th, 2009

Just as I checked in on Top Chef yesterday, I figured it’s about time to revisit the sixth season of Project Runway currently airing on Lifetime. After much hullaballoo about the move to a new network, this season has been the precise opposite of noteworthy: there’s no real standout personalities, and to be honest no one is really setting the fashion world on fire either. There just hasn’t been a real sense of innovation at play, and the design aesthetics in that work room are not standing out as they’re supposed to in a competition like this.

There’s a few reasons the show has been lacklustre this season, and in some ways I thought “What a Woman Wants” helped things at least to some degree. We got to see contestants handle a challenge that combines the client-designer relationship (always good for bringing out the best/worst in designers) and a chance for them to test their own aesthetic in terms of presenting something the judges are going to enjoy and also please their clients.

At the same time, it also highlighted why I think the season is ultimately struggling. While I think there were some issues with casting, I think the real problem is that the show seems to be finding more personality in its models than it does in its designers, and even in their guest judges more than their normal ones. I actually like what these changes have done to the show in some ways, but it seems as if they’ve diverted our (and the producers’ attention) away from the designers themselves and onto elements of the game. They came into this season with the challenge of distracting us from the lawsuits and production changes, and yet the problem is that they’re ignoring the designers themselves.

Which, you know, is deserved in some cases, but needs to be handled a bit more carefully.

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Season Premiere: Project Runway Season 6 – “Episode One”

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“Welcome to Los Angeles!”

August 20th, 2009

After being caught in legal hell for about six months, Project Runway is finally back. Amidst swirling speculation about how the show would change, and whether it would be able to retain its success jumping to a new (and older-skewing) network, the show debuted to the series’ highest premiere ratings ever, and has proved quite a lucrative pickup for Lifetime in their efforts to expand their unscripted programming.

But, realistically, I don’t care about any of that: yes, there is some fascinating analysis of demographics and legal wrangling to be done, but at the end of the day I’m a fan of this show more than an outside observer, and as a result I was curious to see how the show would change from a production standpoint. We knew that the show was jumping to Los Angeles, but with a new production team behind the scenes there was every change that the show could feel fundamentally different.

However, within seconds, it became clear that reality television is almost scarily interchangeable, as this is almost entirely the same show despite coming from a different production company. Sure, five seasons would give them plenty of research, but to be able to so easily recreate the same kind of atmosphere even with the same types of sets is almost uncanny. Reality shows rely so much on familiarity, so I understand the need to reproduce everything, and I think the show succeeds at weathering all elements of the transition and remaining the same show it’s always been.

Which means this review can be more about the designers and the game itself rather than the behind the scenes drama, something I’ve been looking forward to for about, you know, ten months.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Project Runway – “Season Four Finale”

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“Season Four Finale”

Season Four, Episode 14

Airdate: March 5th, 2008

I was watching Definitely, Maybe over the holiday break, a charming film that I quite enjoyed, but it fell into a rather frustrating cliché. Narrating a story to his daughter about the dark ages that were the early 90s, pre-internet and pre-cell phone as it was, he adds that it was also a time without reality television.

I am aware that the vilification of reality television is neither new nor entirely unwarranted, but I remain perplexed that people are still unwilling to differentiate between good reality television and bad reality television. This idea that it is some sort of scourge was, indeed, a potential truth when every network was parading out show after show, but that pattern seems to have largely ended: not only is America’s taste for the genre subsiding, based on recent trends, but what shows have survived have for some reason stood the test of time.

I decided to limit myself to one reality television show for the time capsule (partially as a punishment for the Emmy hosting disaster), and the decision ended up being easy: Survivor has the ratings, The Amazing Race has the Emmys, but Project Runway has a Peabody Award and the distinction of being the show that perhaps surprised me most in 2008. While it was late last year that I discovered it for the first time, since then I’ve watched five seasons (if we count Project Runway Canada) and continue to be impressed.

Yes, the fourth season was far superior to the fifth, and the show is not immune to some of the casting issues that plague most reality series, but by the time the designers get to Bryant Park I care more about fashion than I ever thought possible. More than any other reality show I’ve seen, talent is a deciding factor: while some challenges lead to unfair eliminations based on some wacky expectations, both seasons airing in 2008 ended with winners who felt like they had been on a journey and matured as a designer along the way.

In picking a single episode, it is very easily the show’s fourth season finale, the victorious moment for flamboyant Christian Siriano. The show’s youngest and most cocksure designer, he emerged as a true sensation: talented, entertaining, and full of one-liners and catchphrases. The show’s fifth season largely felt so dreary because everyone, compared to Siriano, felt like an imitation.

But Runway never feels that way, charting its own course in the reality television waters and being all the better off for it. The show is also memorable this year for its off-air wranglings, with Bravo and Lifetime fighting over rights to the series and delaying Season 6. When that is eventually resolved, let’s hope the series stays on the right track.

Related Posts at Cultural Learnings

[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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“Truth” and Emmy: The 2008 60th Primetime Emmy Awards in Review

As Tommy Smothers received his Commemorative Emmy Award for his work on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, he ended his (rousing) speech with a small note: in all languages, Truth means the same thing – what others make you believe. And while there are broad implications of this statement in regards to the world’s political climate, there’s a more direct application: the idea that that the decisions of the Academy are supposed to be seen as the “Truth” about last year’s best television.

Of course, what Smothers was getting at is that this is impossible, primarily because the definition of truth is so malleable and, in our case, adaptable. There might be one or two TV viewers out there who agree with every single decision made tonight, or those who believe in award shows as simple celebrations of excellence as opposed to any sort of competition. And even some people who consider themselves to be elite television viewers could open their favourite internet news site and find word that critical favourites 30 Rock and Mad Men took home the evening’s big prizes – surely, then, the Emmys are truly representative of the best in television.

But, if this is truth, I don’t want to know what fiction is – yes, there were quite a few deserving winners, but the criteria by which most categories were decided is severely divergent from anything even remotely approaching truth. For some awards, age defines truth: if they’re older than the other competitors, then they must truthfully be the superior performer. For others, truth is defined by past precedent: if we voted for you before, than there is no way that your greatness is any less truthful this time around. Conversely, on the same note, was the legacy win: if we nominated you for previous roles but you didn’t win, surely there was truth to our judgment and maybe you were truthfully great here as well.

For that reason, Stephen Colbert’s presence at these awards is all the more apt: his word, truthiness, defines the nature by which awards shows are decided. And there is no greater example of the dangers of truth that, while his writers were rewarded for coining the turn of phrase, he himself was not honoured for saying it out loud for that first time. And while there are greater injustices of truth around the world, let us for one night recognize the subjectivity of truth and the mixed up world of the Primetime Emmy Awards with some Headlines, of sorts.

[For more scattered, but also more fully-encompassing, reactions to tonight’s show, check out Cultural Learnings’ LiveBlog.]

“What’s Mad Men?”

While we critical types are applauding Mad Men’s victory in the Best Drama Series category (And Matthew Weiner’s win for writing the show’s pilot), I am sure there are millions of people saying something quite different: “What the hell is this?” You see, the amount of people who watch Mad Men is about, oh, 1/17 of the average audience for CSI. And while there has been some lowly-rated shows that have won in the past (Arrested Development, as an example), never before has there been a show on Basic Cable that has emerged from the pack to take the award for Best Drama Series.

And the impact it will have is yet unknown: the show, following Don Draper and the life of advertising executives and their lives outside of the office, debuted to little fanfare on AMC before downright exploding onto the critical scene. I’ve yet to see a critic who is ambivalent about Mad Men, even – it’s the kind of show that hooks people in. With a fancy-looking DVD set on the shelves, the second season airing right now on AMC (Plus with episodes available On Demand), this is a show that should be set up to receive a real boost.

But it’s also not a mainstream show, the kind of show that the people who make CSI a hit are going to gravitate towards. It’s a period drama that, while painting some fascinating characters, does so at a pace that, while I like to give them the benefit of the doubt, might scare away a fair chunk of potential viewers. Still, though, let’s ignore for a second the financial or ratings realities of television: here is a show which, in a single season, built stunning characters, an amazingly realized world, and a sense of self-identity that has led into a tremendous sophomore year so far. Simply put, this was the best show on TV last year – few would argue that point of those who’ve seen it, so let’s hope that number increases ever so slightly in the weeks to come.

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Cultural Learnings’ 2008 60th Primetime Emmys LiveBlog

I’m foregoing the Jimmy Kimmel-style opening hour that ABC is airing (Edit: Or I was, until a particular moment), or any of the red carpet deals, in favour of digging into some of the actual awards themselves. I wrote my predictions late this week, and had planned to write up more of a general preview, but time got away from me.

In truth, there’s isn’t much to say that I didn’t say when the nominees were announced: it’s an awards show that offers the most opportunity for legitimate winners accepted by both viewers and critics that the Emmys have seen in recent years. At the same time, it also has every opportunity to remove all relevance the Emmys could ever have. This is the double edged sword of having more progressive nominees: the fall from grace is only going to be harder.

For example, the Best Actor in a Drama Series category is like a ticking time bomb: Hugh Laurie, Michael C. Hall, Jon Hamm, Bryan Cranston, Gabriel Byrne all stand as strong candidates from well-liked shows, but James Spader (Three-time winner in the category) sits waiting to wipe out any sort of optimism we may have about the rest of the awards. Even those of us who watch the Emmy Awards with great interest are going to be shaken by such a decision: as the night goes on, we are going to have many of these moments, beacons of hope either raised up or snuffed out.

So, follow along as we go on this epic rollercoaster ride, this wondrous journey through a year in television as a bunch of (likely) out of touch or (hopefully) intelligent saw it.

7:30pm: I was informed by my brother that Tracy Morgan was going to be part of Jimmy Kimmel’s opening Barbara Walters mock-fest, and I’m darn glad I turned in considering that it features a baseball-bat wielding Morgan attacking the set of How I Met Your Mother in order to enact revenge against nominee Neil Patrick Harris.

7:33pm: Okay, so this has definitely more comic value than expected: notification process goes from Ben Stein, to Brad Garrett, to Nich “Buttercup” Lachey, to William Shatner, to Rachael Ray, to Kobe Bryant, to Jon Hamm, to Martin Short, to Nastia Liukin, to THE HOFF, to Regis and Kelly, to Tina Fey. Purple Monkey Dishwasher style. And then she dances. And she owns a Macbook like mine. This makes me happier than it should.

7:42pm: Selma Hayek was on Ugly Betty? Her whole self? I don’t remember…most…parts of that.

7:49pm: Is anyone aware of a Canadian network who is actually doing a pre-show? I realized at a certain point that I didn’t care enough to find one – instead, relocating to the basic cable TV and catching the end of the newly Steven Weber-infused Without a Trace.

7:56pm: We’re getting close – Tom O’Neil over at The Envelope has the order of events, so we’re starting off with Oprah! And then Supporting Comedy Actor (go NPH).

7:58pm: Honestly, how many crime procedurals did storylines with nearly murdered leads? CTV is having a field day sensationalizing Without a Trace and CSI: Miami.

8:00pm: And here’s our opening, complete with the various memorable TV quotes being quoted by various industry types. There’s too many to note: ends on Spader and Shatner.

8:01pm: Man, am I ever glad to see the normal stage again: Oprah, meanwhile, saunters out to welcome us to the show reminding us that nothing else speaks to us like television. That was a really, really bad line about the book buying, though – we get it, you own our souls.

8:04pm: And now it’s our cavalcade of hosts, with Probst going tie-less, and Heidi Klumn wearing a suit. It’s really, really attractive. Meanwhile, Howie talks over everyone, Seacrest is his schmaltzy self, and Heidi Klum kind of looks like she is terrified to be there amongst these people. Mandel breaks out the political jokes, and they keep saying it isn’t a bit, but Bergeron and Klum are just standing there. It’s just strange. This whole five hosts thing seems…unfortunate. “The odds have improved considerable,” though, is sharp.

8:07pm: And Shatner for the save.

8:08pm: Okay, that being said, I will have to say that Heidi Klum is muchbetter in the dress. And now for our first award: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, both nominees later in the show and one of them enormously pregnant, to present Supporting Comedy Actor. This comedy bit is too simple by half, but they love it. Nominees: NPH, Rainn Wilson, Cryer, Piven, Dillon. This is, sadly, Piven’t to lose.

8:10pm: The graphics feature really cheap little picture photoshop work, and it must be said: NPH definitely had the best little clip. And the Emmy goes to…Jeremy Piven? Ugh, I’m getting bored out of my mind with this, Emmy Voters. Please, for the love of all things good, stop giving this man awards.

8:11pm: Jeremy Piven gets mad points for making fun of the opening, though, but still – completely deserved, but utterly pointless and growingly frustrating win. I hate being so frustrated with a win that in a bubble makes so much sense, but the history says otherwise.

8:15pm: I’m hoping that a Jeremy Piven vs. The Hosts feud goes on all evening, but I don’t think Probst or Klum could handle it. Okay, actually, from her appearance on HIMYM Klum could handle it.

8:16pm: “LIVEEEE!…it’s like a nervous tick.” Oh Bergeron, you’re so much better than your show. In other news: they’re going to let Bergeron and Seacrest handle most of this type of stuff, I hope.

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Cultural Learnings’ 2008 60th Primetime Emmy Awards Predictions

Last year, during this important period of the pre-Emmy festivities, I had a bit more time to really delve into some key issues. This year, things are busier, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to make some prognostications about the end results. I’m going to be discussing more themes and the like tomorrow in my Emmy Preview, but for now let’s get to what we really care about: predicting who is actually going to walk home with Emmy Awards.

Outstanding Drama Series

  • Boston Legal (ABC)
  • Damages (FX)
  • Dexter (Showtime)
  • House (FOX)
  • Lost (ABC)
  • Mad Men (AMC)

There is some wiggle room here, as each some has something (Pedigree, viewership, buzz, etc.) that makes it stand out, but there is nothing on this list quite as emphatically received and, more importantly, different from your standard fare than Mad Men. I’ll discuss more of this tomorrow, but its combination of a small network, a small fanbase, fresh-faced actors and its attention to detail will be unstoppable.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • James Spader (Boston Legal)
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
  • Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
  • Hugh Laurie (House)
  • Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
  • Gabriel Byrne (In Treatment)

This is a category where only one thing is important: that James Spader finally loses. Either Hamm, C. Hall or Laurie are in a position to usurp last year’s winner, and I’ve got my money on Michael C. Hall. After getting snubbed here last year, and with his show in the big race, voters might choose to recognize his brave and fantastic performance even when the show itself loses them with its dark atmosphere. But, this is maybe the night’s most up in the air race.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Sally Field (Brothers & Sisters)
  • Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)
  • Holly Hunter (Saving Grace)
  • Glenn Close (Damages)
  • Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: SVU)

This race, however, is not up in the air at all. Its highly serialized nature and red herring use might keep it from being the best drama series on television, but there is no way that Emmy Voters can ignore Close’s pedigree with such a richly portrayed character (even if I’d argue that character isn’t nearly as important as voters might think it is to the show’s success).

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