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June 11, 2008

AT THE Envelope and, indeed, the Los Angeles Times, we love television so much that we track its every move. When shows peak and plummet, when they inspire and when they disappoint, we chronicle their progress. We love them all -- dramas, comedies, reality TV . . . ah, reality TV. That's where our passions really flare, and where the arguments can get ugly (in a good way). Here, some of our Show Trackers defend their favorites against the competition in our first Envelope Reality TV Smackdown.

Claire Zulkey: It must be nice covering "Project Runway," which has spanned only four measly seasons. Try taking in the lessons, laughs and fierceness of 10 cycles because "America's Next Top Model" is not for the faint of heart. "Top Model" recently selected a full-figured model as its winner. The models on "Project Runway"? So skinny!

Margaret Wappler: In four "measly" seasons, "Project Runway" has emerged as a sophisticated, substantive riposte to such reality TV trifle as "ANTM." "Runway" has weight to it, like a good Louis Vuitton purse that can be swung at the face of a mugger. "ANTM," I'm afraid, is like a cheap pair of hoop earrings that would barely attract said mugger's eye. Why the mugger talk? Because while "ANTM" did come first, "Project Runway" has stolen its thunder. Heidi Klum doesn't waste time pretending to care about her contestants' traumas like Tyra Banks does. Epiphanies are welcome, but only if executed in gold lame.

CZ: I concede that "Top Model" sometimes is more Filene's sales rack than Saks when it comes to fashion, but the show did bring such names as Gilles Bensimon to the fore. Plus, this season the girls modeled Badgley Mischka and Versace. And do you have Benny Ninja?

MW: Benny Ninja is no Sarah Jessica Parker, a "Project Runway" guest judge this season. SJP is a sterling symbol of style and grace, while Benny Ninja seems to be blessed with a great smile, voguing capabilities and little else.

CZ: I must confess: Even I have a hard time telling the seasons of "Top Model" apart, and I prefer Tim Gunn to Tyra Banks any day. Plus, despite the "lessons" in "Top Model" (that you need a good personality to succeed, that even plus-sized girls can win), "Project Runway" does more in showing how much work designers put into their craft. But there wouldn't be a "Project Runway" if it wasn't for "ANTM" -- and, for that, we must be thankful.

MW: You are right to defend "ANTM" as its antecedent. The world of fashion has often been dismissed as vapid, but both shows make the case for the hard work and creative spark that models and designers bring to the craft.

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