You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Project Runway’ Producers Talk Return to the Show, Fate of Magical Elves Banner

The news came like a “bolt from the blue” to veteran reality producers Jane Lipsitz and Dan Cutforth last spring.

Project Runway,” the reality franchise the pair created in 2004 through their Magical Elves banner, had been dropped by Lifetime. The show’s ratings had been on the wane, but the cancellation was fueled by the implosion of the Weinstein Co. following horrifying revelations of alleged sexual crimes by Harvey Weinstein.

Days later, the news broke that “Runway” was returning to Bravo, the series’ original cable home before it was snared in 2009 by Lifetime in a deal orchestrated by Weinstein Co. The departure a decade ago came as a shock to Bravo and Magical Elves. Amid all the tumult, Lipsitz and Cutforth left the show with great frustration at having to hand over their progeny to other producers.

A decade later, the same day the news of “Runway’s” return to Bravo broke, the call came into to Lipsitz and Cutforth asking them to pitch the cabler ideas for reinventing the series.

The prospect of a reunion with “Runway” was exhilarating but not a guarantee. Magical Elves had to pitch Bravo executives in competition with other reality producers for the chance to revive the series, which is set to premiere its 17th season on March 14.

“They didn’t just throw us the keys,” Cutforth told Variety. “We had to show that we were responsible, good drivers.”

The audition process proved helpful in forcing the producers to sharpen their vision for how the fashion competition should evolve.

“It made us really think about what we wanted to do right from the get-go,” Lipsitz told Variety. “We had to think about what we were going to have to let go of and what we should create for the future. It was a great experience.”

At the time, Lipsitz and Cutforth expected that original stars Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum would continue with the show. But Gunn and Klum had been heavily courted to launch a new fashion programming and e-commerce venture with Amazon. In October, model Karlie Kloss and “Runway” season four winner Christian Siriano were set in the roles of host and mentor, respectively.

As much as Gunn and Klum had become synonymous with the show, the chance to bring in new faces was healthy as the show was already in transition. Lipsitz and Cutforth have learned over their many years of producing unscripted TV, including Bravo’s durable “Top Chef” franchise, to capitalize on unexpected changes.

“Fate throws you the hand,” Lipsitz said. “We’ve learned not to think ‘Oh this is going to be the end of it.’ “

Cutforth sees the series of events surrounding the show during the past nine months as “meant to be.” The fashion world has re-enaged with the show, in part because of its return to Bravo.

“We’ve had extraordinary talent come to the table,” Lipsitz said. “The prize money has more than doubled. A lot of people have told us ‘I never considered being on the show but I’m coming for this season.’ “

The producers that gave life to “Runway” did not keep up with the show after its move to Lifetime.

“I watched the first episode (on Lifetime) by accident. It was really weird. It was like seeing your ex-girlfriend out laughing having a great time on a date,” Cutforth explained. “I never watched it again.”

In addition to revitalizing “Runway,” Cutforth and Lipsitz are in the midst of making a big decision about the future of Magical Elves. In 2014, the two sold a majority stake in the company to the U.K. production group Tinopolis. The pair is coming to the end of their contract with Tinopolis and are in discussions about whether to renew or set up shop with a new venture (although they will stick with “Runway” either way).

“They’ve been great partners for us,” Cutforth said of Tinopolis. “They’re a great company and we’re in the process of talking about all of that at the moment.”

Lipsitz said they’ve never had second thoughts on the decision to sell to Tinopolis.

“It was the right time for us to sell,” she said. “There are a lot of great companies under the Tinopolis umbrella. They’ve all been amazing to work with. We have no regrets about that decision.”

(Pictured: “Project Runway’s” Jane Lipsitz, Karlie Kloss, Christian Siriano, Brandon Maxwell, Elaine Welteroth and Dan Cutforth)

More TV

  • Michelle Dockery Jaeden Martell

    Michelle Dockery, Jaeden Martell Join Chris Evans in Apple Series 'Defending Jacob'

    “Downton Abbey” alum Michelle Dockery and “IT” star Jaeden Martell have signed on for lead roles in the Apple limited series “Defending Jacob,” Variety has learned. They join previously announced series lead Chris Evans. The series is based on the 2012 best-selling novel of the same name by William Landay. It tells the story of [...]

  • Disney Fox Takeover Placeholder

    Disney, Fox Employees Grapple With Day One Transition on Two Hollywood Lots

    What kind of a boss will Disney be? That’s a question facing employees at 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, National Geographic Partners, FX Networks, and other assorted parts of Rupert Murdoch’s former media empire. Wednesday was their first full day as staffers of the Walt Disney Co. and the initial moves have done little to [...]

  • 20th Century Fox TV to Adapt

    20th Century Fox TV to Adapt Esi Edugyan Novel 'Washington Black' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Twentieth Television, in conjunction with Sterling K. Brown’s Indian Meadows Productions, Anthony Hemingway Productions and The Gotham Group, has won an intense bidding war for the rights to bring Esi Edugyan’s award-winning novel “Washington Black” to the small screen, Variety has learned exclusively. The novel will be adapted for into a limited series for TV by [...]

  • Facebook's 'Red Table Talk' Garners Daytime

    Facebook's 'Red Table Talk' Garners Daytime Emmy Nomination

    Facebook is now in the awards hunt: Its popular original series “Red Table Talk” hosted by Jada Pinkett Smith was nominated for a 2019 Daytime Emmy. It appears to be the first-ever Daytime Emmy Awards nomination for a Facebook-funded show, although a company rep was unable to confirm that. “Red Table Talk” is nominated in [...]

  • pharrell brain child show

    Pharrell Teams Up With Atomic Entertainment to Push 'Edu-Tainment' for Kids of Color

    Pharrell Williams may best be known as a Grammy-winning musician, but the 45-year-old is singing a different tune these days as the executive producer of “Brainchild,” a new Netflix series that teaches kids about science, technology, and current events. Co-created by Atomic Entertainment, the show is a spinoff of the New York-based production company’s “Brain [...]

  • Issa Rae Michael B. Jordan Actors

    Variety's 'Actors on Actors' Earns Daytime Emmy Nomination

    Variety has earned another Emmy nomination for its “Actors on Actors” series, but the first at the Daytime Emmy Awards. The PBS SoCal series brings together two actors for a candid conversation about their recent roles and thoughts on Hollywood. The nominated season includes interviews with actors promoting their TV projects including: Bill Hader (“Barry”) with [...]

  • 'Call My Agent!' Wins France's Export

    'Call My Agent!' Wins France's Export Prize; Lincoln TV Wins Named Best French Fiction Producer

    “Call My Agent!,” the hit comedy series whose second season recently pulled top ratings on France’s public broadcaster France Televisions and has traveled widely, won the export prize during the French Television Producer Awards gala ceremony organized by Procirep and TV France International. Although “Call My Agent!” was picked up by Netflix for most markets, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content