Production unit signs overall deal with network

“Project Runway” producer Magical Elves is departing the hit competish just as it moves from Bravo to Lifetime.

That means Lifetime — which paid $150 million to snag “Project Runway” (along with a movie package) — won’t be inheriting the production team that helped make the fashion-centric reality skein a runaway success.

There are no hard feelings — at least between the shingle and the femme-centric cabler. Magical Elves is already in business with Lifetime on another front, developing the one-hour pilot “Arranged Marriage.”

That docudrama centers on four couples as they meet, immediately get married and then get to know each other and their respective friends and families.

The project is part of a new crop of skeins being developed by Magical Elves principals Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz as they move away from their core work as producers for hire (on shows like “Runway”) in order to create, develop and produce their own fare.

As part of that shift, the shingle has signed an exclusive overall deal with NBC Universal.

Now that they’re aligned so closely with NBC U, it didn’t make sense for Magical Elves to move with “Runway” to Lifetime, the execs said. The show’s fifth and final season on Bravo, set to air this summer, will be the last under the auspices of Magical Elves.

But Cutforth and Lipsitz stressed that the decision to depart “Runway” was based more on their desire to focus on their own internal projects.

“We love ‘Runway,’ we built our business to some extent on ‘Runway,’ and we plan on doing a kick-ass job on season five,” Lipsitz said. “But we don’t want to do work for hire anymore. We have limited time and energy and focus, and it doesn’t make sense in terms of our new deal.”

Meanwhile, Weinstein Co., which produces “Runway,” is said to be in negotiations with a new production team for the show.

“They’ve been great producers for the show and we wish them the best,” the company said of Magical Elves in a statement.

The producer departure reps the latest twist in the “Runway” saga, which came to light last month after Lifetime announced its deal with Weinstein for the show. NBC U sued Weinstein, arguing that its right of first refusal was violated.

Meanwhile, under the new pact, Cutforth and Lipsitz have a first-look agreement for all of NBC U broadcast, cable (including Bravo, Oxygen, Sci Fi and USA Network), digital and wireless properties. Deal also will allow Magical Elves to work on other projects developed at NBC U.

Deal provides overhead for the company, which is in the process of hiring a development lieutenant. Magical Elves is busy creating its own fare, including the Bravo competish “Step It Up & Dance.” Besides the Lifetime pilot, the company has a pilot at Oxygen as well as scripts in the works at Lifetime and ABC.

“One of the things attractive about this deal is we get to expand our operations on our terms,” Cutforth said. “NBC Universal likes the way we make shows, and we want to make shows in the same way.”

The arrangement was announced Monday by Universal TV Group president/chief operating officer Jeff Gaspin and NBC Entertainment/Universal Media Studios co-chairman Ben Silverman.

“I’ve worked with Jane and Dan for over 10 years,” Gaspin said. “They are great producers with original voices and a special knack for casting.”

Magical Elves has handled production on “Project Runway” and “Top Chef” since those shows’ launches. The shingle has also taken over production duties on Bravo’s “Top Design,” which is in production for a second, revamped season. The company has produced four seasons of “Last Comic Standing”; other credits include “Project Greenlight,” “Air Guitar Nation” and “Treasure Hunters.”

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