Tuesday, July 26, 2011

CONFESSIONS FROM A "PROJECT RUNWAY" ADDICT, AND WHY EVERYBODY SHOULD BE ONE

Thanks to Netflix and Hulu, with a few days to go before the season 9 premiere, I've finally caught up with on my "Project Runway." And after finishing the Season 8 finale in the Gibson Library in Henderson, no lying, I'm still shaken up and not quite over it. A near fist-fight between the judges as Gretchen Jones won a shocking split decision in the finals over Mondo Guerra. (Mondo was robbed) While this happened about a year ago, I have been mostly kept in the dark on "Project Runway," since it I lost cable in the middle of Season 4. It was still on Bravo at the time. (It's a hard show to find online to download) Before then, I watched nearly every weekly marathon of the same episodes over and over again, until I had practically memorized the seasons. I caught the subtle signs in the early episodes that would be the indicators of who would last long into the competition, that might have otherwise gone unnoticed in a crowd of designers and outfits that would've otherwise gone unnoticed by the average viewer. The notably difficult and complex sewing techniques of Jay McCarroll's Chrysler Building inspired dress, that hinted that somebody that outlandish might not be just an eccentric character that was casted 'cause he might  be entertaining to watch. How on the second and third viewings, you realized just how hard it is to make an outfit using a print fabric, and that Uli Herzner, being a master at it and shocking the judges with a print dress in the dog challenge should've been more of a sign of things to come, but we got distracted by the upcoming news that one of the designers was cheating and eventually thrown off the show (Keith Michael, for sneaking onto the set, a pattern book). Only in hindsight, and careful thought would you think for a second and ask yourself "What would I do, if I could do something, with that piece of fabric," does it finally dawn on you that never would've done or conceived of how they worked with it. Although I will never figure out how the judges couldn't see that nearly everything that Christian Siriano made before the season 4 finale looked like something worn on "Designing Women". (Although granted, I think he did the best finale collection, and his technical skills were always there.) Yes, I have a fascination with this reality show, beyond normal fascinations I have with TV shows. Dare I say, fetish. I don't think it's unearned. The show has been nominated for the Emmy for Best Reality Show every year it's been on the air, and has been a critical and cult hit since it first aired. When the show switched from Bravo to Lifetime, after the Weinstein Company sold the rights, NBC-Universal sued, and delayed the next season from airing so long, they had already started filming the following season of the show, and that incident, I'd argue, rivals the most fiercest of disagreements and conflicts between networks over the rights of TV shows and stars, possibly more than both famous NBC Late Night conflicts. Yet, there's something particularly strange about my fascination with "Project Runway," while I think the show, as a reality show, ranks as high as any program on TV, my appreciation of it comes this odd caveat: I don't even like fashion.


In fact, I might be the least fashion-conscious person I know. To some extent, I'm the antithesis to fashion. I can't remember the last time I went out of my way to look good, except possibly a job interview I didn't get. I've basically narrowed my fashion choices over the years, to the most basic of male looks, jeans, t-shirt, and possibly a jacket. Jeans, usually in some shade of black or black, usually worn up to the hips, because no matter how often someone tells me jeans should be worn high above or at the waist, I feel like Steve Urkel keeping my pants up that high. A t-shirt, usually an older shirt, cheaply made, often I got them free for signing up for some players card at a casino. My favorites are graphic tees, usually with a saying of some kind, usually connected to a TV show, rock band or movie I like. My jackets have varied over the years. I wore leather through most of the teenage years because Fonzi wore leather jackets. (Apparently "Happy Days," wasn't as great a standard on which other people thought of as 'cool' as I thought it was) While I still have a preference for leather, it's not the greatest fabric for living in the Nevada Desert, so my jackets have become lighter and lighter over the years, occasionally wearing a zipper-down sweater jacket. If my style has change much from that, the biggest change is I now switch out jeans with sweatpants, 'cause the weather makes even the most relaxed-fitting jean uncomfortable after being out in the sun for hours a day. My fashion has become more practical over the year; if anything, what little fashion sense I had to being, I somehow managed to go backwards. Yet, "Project Runway," fascinates me. How did this happen? How did I get here? And why should everybody who hasn't become addicted to "Project Runway," come and join me in my addiction.


I didn't start watching until the second season, and even then, it was originally only a simple, mild curiosity. My family had just gotten cable back at that point, and back then Bravo was still in the middle of its reinvention from a network based around "Inside the Actor's Studio," and would air highly artistic movies and programs, to the reality show juggernaut it is today after it was bought by NBC-Universal. I was an avid viewer old Bravo network, in the sense that, when channel-scanning, Bravo was one of the channels I flipped through first to see if there was something on. Yet, I hadn't even heard of "Project Runway," until it got a Emmy nomination for Best Reality-Competition Program. This caught my interest. It was a cable show on an obscure network to begin with, and it was about fashion, but the Emmy voters thought enough to nominate it? Especially in this category, where it was abundantly clear that "The Amazing Race," was going to be the de facto winner for years on end, partly because it was a decent reality show that had critical acclaim, and partly because, as I suspect, since much of the TV world was still reluctant to admit to liking reality TV and consider it a legitimate art form, many probably voted on the final ballot randomly, or probably more likely, voted alphabetically. So a nomination in the category would stand out as much as a win. The second season premiere was a couple hours long, and it was being aired, or re-aired I don't remember which, on a rather unimpressive Saturday. Nothing was on TV, nobody else was watching TV, and I thought, basically out of pure curiosity, I'll watch it once to see what its all about, and why it might be interesting to some people. Not interesting to me, interesting to some people. Other people, who might appreciate this world of fashion. They eliminated three designers that episode, in two challenges, including the famous "Clothes-Off-Your-Back" challenge, but I also saw things I hadn't seen in reality TV before, or much TV of any kind before. First of all, while there were some interesting characters, I found myself watching a TV show where people where actually working. Working hard at something. I know such things like singing is technically working, but we don't see on Idol, everyone training their voice to sing for longer than maybe thirty seconds per contestant. Here, I saw contestants that were barely distinguishable from people working in a sweatshop, and harder yet, they had to be creative. The part of fashion I had never really conceived of before the show that it is in fact an artistic art form. It's practically in the same category as sculpture. Each day, they had to come up with something new, artistic, creative and good, and not like anything they had done before, and you can't suck or you're out. Then you got to do it again, the next day. Yeah, the episodes aired weekly, but I know how reality shows like this get shot, its shot over a matter of weeks, so they're actually doing this, basically everyday. Anybody want to try just the being creative part everyday? I'm a screenwriter, it's my job to be creative and create something new every time I write something down. Imagine writing a new script everyday? It’s hard writing just scenes everyday, even for the really good writers. Even if you're amazingly imaginative and creative, you get exhausted after a while, often to the point where you get sick of what you're doing, and can easily lose all sense of perspective whether what you’re creating is any good or not. Now, try doing that where the raw materials are fabrics and a sewing machine. And they're lucky. They have a Tim Gunn that can walk over and look and see if they might be losing it a bit. That was the first thing that struck me; the second thing was the models of the show. Not that they were good-looking or anything, although many were, but how they were treated and portrayed on the show. Modeling was a job for them too, and what an insulting job it could be at times. I had heard and even occasionally seen "America's Next Top Model," which I didn't particularly like, but I had been inundated with these images of models and supermodels as the essence of glamour practically all my life. I can remember as far back as when Kim Alexis was the biggest model in the world, and I could name many of the most famous (or infamous) models that were at some point the "It" model from my life. Many transferred over to acting, some successfully, others not-so-much. But on "Project Runway," a model was basically reduced to what they're job actually was, canvas. They were all brought out onto the runway with Heidi Klum, wearing the same basic black slip, and stood side-by-side, basically to be judged as they were picked by the designers. They all looked completely indistinguishable from another, and basically they were. They're job was to stand there, walk, maybe turn around. If they can clap, they'd be next-in-line for Vanna White's job. This picking of models looked practically meaningless, and after watching "Project Runway," it became clear that the artificial title of supermodel wasn’t that distinguishable from, an amazingly attractive girl. (And if you've noticed, there's been less emphasis in the media on models since the show's been on the air, as well.) And yet, there were subtle differences between the models that can make and/or break a person's outfit and cost them the show. They might be canvas, but like canvases, they come in different sizes. Different figures, different measurements. There were times where a model could screw-up a contestant, simply for being there, while other models can make practically make any outfit come off as amazing. Sometimes the reasons were visible and obvious, but other times, it could've simply been an x-factor that can't be identified. I'd argue that "Project Runway," has done more for models than any show, because it shows exactly what models do and how they work, and just how those slight details can distinguish them, while simultaneously showing the actual job of being a model. Again, going back to the refrain, while modeling may still be a rather interesting and easy jobs for those lucky enough to be able to get that kind of work, it is work. After a lot of work, and the usual reality show stress that one sees went people are placed in this bizarre, artificial, sociological experiment, we then see get a traditional Runway show and judging from experts. People who know the industry, and to my surprise, were not the caricature fashionista I would've expected. They didn't look like it, they didn't sound like it, and they took fashion incredibly seriously, as any art form should be taken. I didn't know who Michael Kors or Nina Garcia were before the show (While I had heard of Heidi Klum, I probably wouldn't have been able to pick her out of a lineup), and it was fascinating to see how smartly and intuitively they analyzed the work, even when I disagreed with them. Which brings me to one of the details about "Project Runway," and that some reality shows completely miss, an aspect that to me can make be a difference between a good reality-competition show and a great one. They let the experts make the decisions. This was a rather radical idea when the show came on the air. Previously, the decisions were made by fellow contestants, Donald Trump, or worse yet, the audience at home. This never made much sense to my why a show would give the audience a vote instead of trusting the people that they gathered together who actually know what they're talking about. This particularly annoys me with "American Idol," (Especially this past year if you were unlucky enough to watch) you have music industry professionals, including an actual Triple Threat (Jennifer Lopez, singer/actor/dancer), and a legendary Rock'n'Roll Hall of Famer (Steven Tyler), why let the audience pick? What could they possibly know that these judges don't? I certainly don't know nearly as much as the "Project Runway," judges do about fashion, and while I might vehemently disagree with the judges, I certainly can't and won't claim that my knowledge is any greater than theirs. The only drawbacks I generally have about expert judges opinions on reality shows is when I'm not able to judge and am entirely beholden to them. That's the problem with the second best reality show around, "Top Chef." No matter what, until they come out with tastovision, I can't judge whether the food is good or not, and I like to cook, and I know a little bit about cooking and food preparation, but I prefer the show about something I know nothing about is better. I get to judge and see for myself, and if I watching with somebody, we can have our own discussions or debates over our opinions. Despite its glossy appearance, in reality, "Project Runway," is the reality show for the idealist, artistic and the high-end intellectual. Plus, the fact that this show is so well-edited, which to some extent, is the only important detail in a good reality show. (Think about it, there's no story, no actors, no script, they had to create it from raw footage of people sewing and designing clothes predominantly. The fact that this and any reality show is entertaining at all is 'cause of the editors)  


Frankly, it's got every aspect I look for in a reality show. Talented people doing very difficult things, extremely well, people who can judge what they do with an incredible degree of knowledge and expertise, and complete trust that they can make a tougher and smarter decision than a random audience, and I have the option of agreeing or disagreeing (Make your own "Hollywood Squares," joke here.) with them. It just happens, and who knew, fashion, was the industry best suited to base such a reality show around. So, with the new season on Lifetime debuting soon, I highly recommend any of you who isn't converted yet to at least see what I and many others see, a show that's about fashion yes, but a show about talented creative people, trying desperately to be talented and creative at something most of people no nothing about. Just don't tell me what happens. If I can't watch it on Hulu or some other website, I'll wait for the DVDs.
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