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Bravo drapes reality in style.
Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
April 10, 2007
Bravo Television is by far the epicurean center of cable television. Launched in 1980 as a niche service of Cablevision's Rainbow Media, the network see itself as "the cable network that plugs people into arts, culture and pop culture with original programming, movies and by showing a whole different side of celebrities." Bravo was acquired by NBC in 2002, and included in the creation of NBC Universal Television as part of its NBC Universal Cable division.
Staying true to it's original intent Bravo continues to set the standard for arts and culture on television in general, and cable programming in particular. The parent home of the long running Inside the Actors Studio, the channel offers up reality television best described as gaycentric.
Responsible for the highly successful Queer Eye, which ends it run the summer of 2007, Bravo continues to offer gay friendly "reality" entertainment with Project Runway, Top Chef, Top Design, and Work Out. These shows, carefully crafted competitions focus on skills long associated with male homosexuals. Fashion, culinary, interior design, and physical fitness all get the hip Bravo treatment. Joining the lineup this Spring, Sheer Genius, featuring a competition between hair stylists, and hosted by Jaclyn Smith, continues the tradition.
The most successful of these shows is Project Runway. Hosted by the ex supermodel Heidi Klum, 15 aspiring fashion designers, under the guidance of Tim Gunn, Chair of Fashion Design for Parsons The New School For Design, are judged by industry professionals, in hopes of winning a cash prize, and professional representation.
Project Runway contestants are designers from diverse backgrounds eager to test their sewing skills and style sense against the others. Challenges include working fast, working cheap, and working in pairs or groups. Following the model created by other reality shows, most notably Survivor, producers rely on tension between contestants to provide the majority of the drama. And each week a contender to the prize is sent packing.
Queer sensibility is well served with Project Runway, as each week viewers are treated to a fashion show featuring aspiring models. A contest within in a contest, the last model standing wins prizes of her own, including commercial representation and a fashion spread in a leading style magazine. An established water cooler event, Project Runway has a legion of fans that grows with each new season.
Educational as well as entertaining, viewers get a crash course in fashion design as they listen to advice given by Tim Gunn, and the assembled judges. The other Bravo shows offer the same sort of vicarious learning experience, but none reach the level of sophistication of Project Runway, nor the sense of accomplishment.
Gay identity is also a part of the show, as there are always openly gay men competing. Watching these men interact with other contestants, in a situation where sexuality is never at issue, sends a message to young viewers that such a thing is possible. Helping to reduce social barriers, while dressing up cable programming, Project Runway delivers in a way most reality shows don't.
Project Runway producers are currently casting season 4 of the ratings leader.