I love Project Runway, I love the Runway blogs like Blogging Project Runway and Project:RunGay and looked forward to their spin-offs Blogging Top Design and Project: Top Design. And I looked forward to taking a stab at adding my professional voice to the conversation. Well, two out of three ain’t bad, as they say. I loved reading the other blogs, I loved doing it myself. And I loved the other new blogs that sprouted up or expanded to cover the show – such as Kora-in-Hell, Top Design Blogger, Lazarus West, PinkNavy, Eric3000, among others (sorry if I missed anyone!). We’ve actually formed a sort of community.
Sad that it was a lot of effort for a show that lived up to no one’s expectations. I’ve said over and over again that it was too bad that the producers didn’t have the level of creativity, wit, literary depth and knowledge of the decorative arts that the bloggers have. And we’re not paid for our efforts. hmm… (note – when I refer to comments or commenters, I am referring to the readers of the blogs and their posted comments, not the bloggers themselves).
It’s been a huge learning experience for me to read the comments that folks have posted on the blogs. Bravo and its’ producers would be smart to have been reading along. They might learn something should they decide to have another whack at it. Because, it needs some major re-tooling.
This show suffered from a major lack of imagination.
In no particular order, here are some things I think went wrong, and what might be done to fix them.
• The catchphrase – “See you later decorator” was misguided from the get go. Was there no market testing on this? Judge Jonathan Adler claims to have made it up while playing ping pong, or pool, I forget which, with his husband Simon. It must have seemed like a funny quip when you’ve had a few cocktails and are goofing around. But in the face dashing someone’s dreams, it was demeaning in it’s frivolity. Heidi’s clipped “Auf Weidersehen” and Jaclyn Smith’s “You’ve made your last cut” (I think that’s it…) from the very new “Shear Genius” are serious sentiments that match the moment. This phrase also awoke the not-so-sleeping beast that is the debate about who can call themselves an Interior Designer and who is merely a decorator. Of course, Dororthy Draper and Edith Wharton were merely decorators, so, who wants to be lumped in with them… How about “I’m sorry, please turn in your swatchbook” (because, as we all know, we looove a swatch!).
• Not enough Todd Time! Todd Oldham may be a bit unpolished in his delivery, but he was sweet, genuine and a veritable fount of tips and tricks that were helpful to the designers. People like mentors (hence the Tim Gunn phenomenon) and the show really picked up when he was making suggestions to the designers on how to tackle a tricky project. His send-off to the “latered’ contestants were sincere and caring – making “see you later decorator” all the more disingenuous.
• The challenges were created to bring about the most personal drama and the least creative results. It’s my experience that a lot of people think that that they can decorate well, at least for themselves. I can’t say how many times I’ve heard how much people love to decorate, love the shelter mags, love HGTV and know that they could do it themselves if they had the time or money, or no kids. People think that being able to decorate is in the genes; much like we think we can cook, keep organized and balance our checkbooks. And, they think that high budget = high design. It does not.
Add to that the fact that most people have no idea how much high end furniture actually costs. What they don’t realize is that it’s not only about the furniture, it’s about what we do with it; how it’s partnered with its’ surroundings. (pun intended). So, a challenge like the kids room where they had $8,000 and change to spend but had no idea that they were decorating for kids resulted in mostly mediocre spaces that the average person could do themselves, given time and resources. Erik Kolacz’s winning Pirate Room was a winner in the kids eye – but I think he really won for being able to turn around his original plan on a dime. It wasn’t for the actual concept and execution. Any reasonably creative and handy parent could have done that room in a few weekends. This isn’t a slam on Erik at all. He’s a real talent and did what he could with a silly set of parameters. But, the audience got tired of hearing about lots of money being spent and seeing results that at times veered toward the “Trading Spaces” end of the spectrum. Many people may not know how much high end furnishings really cost, but they do know design television. From “Design on a Dime” to “Divine Design” – we see what can be done in 2 days with $1,000 and what can be done with a big team and lot’s of undisclosed cash. When you see $1,000 results from a $10,000 budget, there is a disconnect.
But, what’s the answer? I think it’s a better mixing of smaller vs. larger projects. Here are some challenges that I would like to have seen:
– create a line of home deco products based on a single color, theme or pattern. Much like Missoni has branched out into home dec (see my recent post here) with their signature colors and patterns, the designers could be challenged to create products using a single theme or inspiration such as the Greek Key or Fleur-de-Lys. They could either just do design drawings or actually produce their line. All major fashion houses and interior designer have their own product lines. So, this is clearly within the scope of an interior designers skills.
These could, in fact, be fairly quick turnaround, relatively low cost, team challenges, judged by their success as creative and marketable products and team player skills – “Apprentice” style.
I didn’t mind the design “pods” in the PDC as much as others did. But week after week was just too much. And please, cut doors and windows into them – it’s reality tv people! Actual room design challenges, with actual clients, needed more time to plan and execute and more time spent in the evaluations. The audience was looking to be educated on the process of interior design, while enjoying the personal clashes. It’s why Project Runway is so popular – we get to see how their minds work and how they construct their garments. And we get to see how they are judged. Project Runway is about design and sewing, where the drama is an accessory. Top Design was all drama in front of a dimly lit back ground of design and construction.
It is not possible to design and build a room in the same time it takes to design and sew a garment. They needed 4-5 days for each larger challenge in order to really make something special. Even then, they’d be cutting corners unless they had a huge team of folks behind them – sewers, carpenters, electricians, tile guys, etc.
• The judges – I think the judges were all basically fine and would warm up to their roles if given the chance. I wanted to see more actual debate between them. I think there was a lot of mutual respect that made it hard for them to contradict one another on television – but good critiques would have come out of more heated debates. Instead, the viewers had nothing to do but think about Kelly’s crimped hair and Jonathan’s bare ankles. Neither came off looking like the true talents that they are because of the antics of their stylists and, in JA’s case, his peculiar use of “Adlish”, as someone else called it. Too many quips and cuteness. By contrast, Margaret Russell was seen as a kind of dragon lady when in fact, she’s the only one who looked like she took her role seriously. Plus, she had some of the actual best one-liners of the show.
• The Contestants – I think they were all fine. A nice varied mix of personalities, styles, ages and skill sets. A little less people editing would be nice. They delight in creating “personalities”. While they aren’t putting words into the contestants mouths – Carisa really did roll her eyes too much, Michael really did say he’d never painted a room before – they are only showing one side of these folks. It’s playing with the audiences emotions and, in the end, they are only shooting themselves in the foot. Why would serious professionals ever want to be on a show that might make them look like a fool, a biatch or egotist? (anyone wonder why the numbers are down for those auditioning for Project Runway season 4?).
Since I just spent all this time my “TD manifesto for change”, I clearly think they should do a second season. While working at PBS station WGBH, I watched several programs go from development to production. Changes were made and hits were born. You can’t imagine what the first versions of “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego” looked like. You’d never have seen a hit coming. It took creative thinking and a willingness to think outside the box on the parts of the producers. Oh, and Rockapella. Perhaps they’d come do the theme song?
So, gentle readers, what say you? Any suggestions for change? Write them in the comments section.
And what do you think, should there even be a season 2?
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