Make it work, and work, and work

August 3, 2006

Ever since watching Topher Grace as wunderkind VP of advertising in Good Company, I haven’t been able to say the word “synergy” with a straight face. That doesn’t mean it isn’t actually a useful business strategy in the real world. It’s pretty common when it comes to movies, especially the kiddie kind. It’s not unheard of in TV, but I think this season’s Project Runway has taken it to a new level. Twice in the the first four episodes of the season have the challenges revolved around producing garments to be worn for real world occasions, and the occasions have been perfectly timed to maximize your memory of the fact that they were on PR first. Kayne designs a dress for Miss America, and that very next Sunday evening she’s actually wearing it at the Miss Universe competition (w/ co-host Carson from Bravo’s Queer Eye in place to remind you where it got its start). This week was even more spectacular: less than 24 hours after the episode aired, the winning outfit was 1) on sale at Macy’s 2) profiled in the NY Times for being on sale at Macy’s and 3) a reason for Macy’s to send me an email, with the subject line “Be the first to buy the Project Runway INC Challenge outfit.” I thought that when Heidi told them they’d just have to go look in the display case the next morning to find out who won she was only kidding, and I had no idea that we, the audience, would be looking into the display case at the same time. So was last night’s episode the longest commercial ever, or was it a nifty way of allowing some hardcore fans to get a little closer to being a part of the show, and does this mean that from now own the TV is going to start coming out of the television and into our lives in a tangible way? Most importantly, will anyone buy the outfit?
Still, if this gratuitous synergy is somewhere in the middle, I’d still say it’s a best of times, worst of times moment for Project Runway. They’ve assembled probably the most talented and eclectic cast yet. These people have the chops and the personalities to last two seasons. Everyone on the show is an upgrade. Laura is more stylish and witty Wendy Pepper (like 10x more). Ghetto fabulous Michael has more mojo than Kara Saun. Plus Uli, a Kara Janx who can actually make pretty clothes. The kooks are kookier and the clothes are better.

Why, then, with such a great cast do they insist on squandering them with horrible team challenges? Team challenges are so useless on a show like this. By now, the desingers have figured out that being a team leader is a lot more dangerous than being a team member, so why would they even want to come up with most exciting ideas? And once they are team leader, they have a lot more incentive to play it safe, because they know their heads are specifically on the block. So far this had led to two people being kicked off the show who probably should have stayed on. Let’s hope last night’s was the last.

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