t’s a hopeful landscape for scripted television these days as the ratings of popular shows such as The Apprentice and Survivor have begun to finally wane. Though these shows still get some of the best ratings on television, they aren’t the schedule anchors they used to be, and fans have complained about recent seasons. The major complaint is not that the quality has dropped, but that, whether it be challenges or alliance-building, it’s all been done before. What’s more, few new reality shows have shown up to take their place.
Bravo’s Project Runway may be one of the few exceptions to this disturbing trend. And they’ve done it by making good on the claim of every “job interview”-type reality show: Project Runway is a true test of skill and talent. While there are plenty of people who can claim time- and team-management can help you win The Apprentice or any semi-attractive girl can be taught to look fierce enough to become America’s Next Top Model, the eye for design and the technical knowledge required to create a garment demand years of practice and an artistic sensibility. Like few other reality shows as popular, Project Runway uses the awe associated with accomplishment instead of the cringing feeling of impending disaster to lure its audience.
Because of the talent of the competing designers on Project Runway, the show is able to sidestep many of the clichés of competitive reality television. The idea of the alliance cannot exist in the designers’ workroom, because scheming cannot help create fashion—in the end, a designer with a poorly constructed dress will be sent home. The drama on Project Runway comes out of the fact that the designers are dramatic people. The only fabricated moments of drama on the current season of Project Runway (its second) comes when the designers are asked to critique their competitors’ garments. But ultimately, this is for the audience rather than the actual judges. Their decisions have already been made: the creative and skilled designers will prevail, unlike the manipulative and dramatic characters of The Apprentice or Survivor. And while characters are fun to watch, it only takes a few seasons before they become caricatures of other contestants.
The competitors on Project Runway resist this because they’re able to reinvent themselves each week through their work. And it is work. The show strips away the glamour of the fashion industry and presents designers as workhorses. The fifteen-minute runway shows that are presented at Fashion Week twice a year are preceded by countless hours of design and creation.
Perhaps it was a fluke (the upcoming Top Chef, from Project Runway’s producers will surely be an indication), but showcasing hardworking, creative, and talented individuals doing what they do best has somehow been responsible for more compelling reality television than any of the major network’s offerings combined this year. And as ratings rise, one shouldn’t be surprised to find reality producers scurrying to locate real talent for their latest project.
Bravo’s Project Runway will air its season finale tonight, March 8, 2006, at 10 PM EST.
By: George Jenkins
Published on: 2006-03-08