"Project Runway," held hostage by legal challenges, has a new lease on Lifetime. After months of bitter court wrangling over its fate, the hit reality TV series about aspiring fashion designers will jump this summer to the Lifetime cable channel. The show, hosted by supermodel Heidi Klum, has been a ratings juggernaut on Bravo since 2004.
The legal battle, pitting onetime movie mogul Harvey Weinstein against network chief Jeffrey Zucker, showcased Hollywood back-stabbing at its best.
Last year, NBC Universal, the owner of Bravo, sued the producer of the show, Weinstein Co., for breach of contract, claiming the company had unlawfully sold it to Lifetime.
Under a pact announced Wednesday, Weinstein Co. agreed to pay NBC Universal a multimillion-dollar settlement, although exact terms were not disclosed.
In exchange, NBC Universal dropped its suit. ? Lifetime, which is trying to shed its frumpy image and boost its ratings, agreed to buy "Project Runway" in a five-year deal worth at least $150 million. The female-targeted network is co-owned by Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp.
NBC claimed that Weinstein went behind the network's back when he cut the deal with Lifetime. NBC said it had a right of first refusal to any competing offer.
"I want to personally congratulate Jeff Zucker and NBCU on their success in the litigation and thank Jeff for resolving this in a professional manner," Weinstein, the onetime specialty movie mogul who is trying to rebuild his empire, said in a statement that underscored NBC's legal victory.
"All of the parties are pleased with the outcome," NBC Universal said in a statement. Representatives for both companies declined to comment further.
Industry analyst Harold Vogel cautioned against drawing any lessons from the legal smackdown.
"NBC obviously has some leverage and bargaining power," Vogel said. But "you can't generalize from this decision. It's a very peculiar situation."
"Project Runway" premiered to low ratings five years ago but has since grown into one of the most reliable unscripted series on basic cable. Weinstein, after trying in vain to secure a more prominent platform for the show within the NBC empire, early last year sold the series to Lifetime starting with its sixth season.
The court had granted an injunction that prevented Lifetime from airing the show until the case was resolved. The resulting delay meant that Lifetime, which had already paid Weinstein millions of dollars under the deal, was generating no cash from advertising sales or product placements, which had been lucrative sources of income for Bravo.
A federal judge had rebuffed Lifetime's attempt to intervene in the case on copyright grounds on Weinstein's behalf. A trial to decide the breach-of-contract claim would not have started until this summer at the earliest.
Meanwhile, Weinstein Co. has faced financial challenges of its own. In November, the company laid off 11% of its 224-person staff. "We're fortified with enough cash to keep this business going," Weinstein assured a business panel in October as rumors of the company's difficulties swirled.
In addition to "Project Runway," Lifetime bought the rights to "Project Pygmalion" and spin-off "Models of the Runway," along with a pack- age of Weinstein-produced movies.