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'Project Runway' in a holding pattern

A New York judge blocks the fashion design show's move to Lifetime from Bravo.

September 27, 2008|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

"Project Runway's" bolt to Lifetime Networks has hit a snag.

In a blow to the cable network and Weinstein Co., which produces the program, a New York state judge granted a preliminary injunction Friday to block the show's move to Lifetime -- at least for now. NBC Universal, which has run "Project Runway" on its Bravo channel for four years, sought the injunction by claiming that Weinstein Co. broke its promise to give NBC Universal an option to renew before handing the program to a competing network.

The case revealed the sloppy contracts, strong personalities and sharp elbows that are sometimes at work in the TV business.

During a court hearing over the summer, Weinstein Co. co-founder Harvey Weinstein testified that although he considered NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker to be his "friend," Weinstein would rather "cut off my arm than give him right of first refusal."

In his decision, New York Supreme Court Justice Richard B. Lowe III wrote that Weinstein had falsely led Zucker to believe that "Project Runway" still was available, even though Weinstein had weeks earlier secretly entered into a deal, worth as much as $200 million, to sell the show to Lifetime. Lifetime is jointly owned by Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp.

According to testimony, Zucker said that Weinstein had called him Feb. 22 and said that there had been an offer so "huge and stupid" that it was "not worth countering." Weinstein told Zucker that he would show him the deal when it was completed.

But in fact, Weinstein had already cashed a $20-million advance from Lifetime, according to the judge's 42-page ruling. It wasn't until April 7, however, that Weinstein officially notified NBC Universal that the popular fashion design show was on its way to Lifetime.

The sixth season of "Project Runway" is in production in Los Angeles, and Lifetime had, until Friday, planned to debut it in January.

Where the show lands after it finishes its current season on Bravo in October has not been determined.

During the proceedings, Weinstein Co. had asked the court that, in the event of an injunction, NBC Universal be required to post a $200-million bond, which was the value of the deal with Lifetime. But in his decision, Lowe knocked that amount down to $20 million.

NBC said it was pleased with the ruling. Weinstein Co. said, "Obviously, we will be appealing and remain committed to our partners." Lifetime said it "will pursue all measures to uphold its valid and binding agreement reached with the Weinstein Co."

No trial date has been set, although the judge scheduled an Oct. 15 hearing.

The judge seemed puzzled that Hollywood executives sometimes draft contracts but then fail to sign them. Weinstein Co. had argued that because the initial 2003 license agreement for the show on Bravo had never been signed, it did not have to abide by its terms. But the judge disagreed and said the contract was enforceable.

In addition, Weinstein's claim that NBC did not have the right to renew "Project Runway" before he shopped it to another network was undermined by an e-mail sent by the talent agency that represented him.

In January 2007, Zucker and Marc Graboff, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, met with Weinstein at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills to discuss the future of the show. Afterward, Graboff recounted the agreement reached that day in an e-mail to Jim Wiatt, the head of William Morris Agency.

A month later, a William Morris agent responded in an e-mail to Graboff that "Harvey intends to live by the terms of the letter you sent."

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meg.james@latimes.com

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