As a mad scientist remakes a dead lover from her remnants or a man marries a replica of his first wife, so Bravo -- the network "Project Runway" left for Lifetime -- has created a new series in the image of the departed old. "The Fashion Show" debuts tonight, in advance of the overdue "Runway" Season 6, the better to attract that show's waiting viewers.
Though the fair thing would be to judge it entirely on its own merits, that isn't really possible, given that "The Fashion Show" is as near a knockoff of "Runway" as Bravo could dare without paying the lawyers again.
They have essentially re-accessorized the earlier show while leaving its basic elements intact: Small challenge. Elimination challenge. Elimination. Repeat weekly until won. (Of course, this also describes a dozen other shows now running.) Its good points are nearly all repeated from "Runway," while its faults are rooted in an attempt to seem different. There are perhaps too many additional features and segments and judges here, getting in the way of the story. The show is, basically, overdressed.
Hosts designer Isaac Mizrahi and singer Kelly Rowland (ex-Destiny's Child) are not exactly your new Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum. (Rowland's fashion credentials come from having looked at and worn a lot of it -- and fair enough.) They are peppy where the "Runway" hosts were contained and tend to steal focus from the contestants. And unlike Gunn, whose role as disinterested mentor allowed him to love all players equally, Mizrahi is both an involved commentator and a judge, a mixing of duties of which I'm not sure I approve. (When Gunn was brought in as a substitute judge for last year's "Runway" finale, it seemed very wrong.)
Rowland is a judge, as well, alongside Fern Mallis, "widely credited as the creator of New York 'Fashion Week,' "according to her Bravo bio, and a rotating weekly guest judge. Additionally, there's an audience for each episode's climactic catwalk, made up of fashion professionals and "insiders" whose votes (tonight at least) also go into choosing the winner. The finalist will be chosen by the public, "American Idol"-style. There will be prizes.
As to the contestants, they might as easily be the latest crop of "Runway" hopefuls, representing the usual range of experience and including such now-familiar types as the quiet, serious one; the noisy, flamboyant one; the one crossing over from menswear; and the self-taught, rock-inflected one. ("Fashion Show" adds a contestant chosen by online vote.) A couple of likely front-runners are clear from the beginning, and tonight's elimination challenge, which requires teamwork, shows early who plays well with others and who doesn't. But whether any of them are TV stars will emerge only in time.
"Project Runway" is a hard act to follow -- it is the perfect reality show in its balance of the serious and sensational, a catty good time that never loses sight of the work. Still, if you like watching people make (sometimes) beautiful clothes from nothing in no time -- the first challenge is to make a little black dress from a little black T-shirt -- "The Fashion Show" has that too. Indeed, I imagine there will be people who like the new show more, just as there are people who prefer Matt Helm to James Bond, or Wings to the Beatles. In any case, there is no need to choose.
'The Fashion Show'
When: 10 tonight
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)