It has become conventional wisdom that print is struggling to renew its readership and that cost-effective reality programming is the future of television. But just how much has the balance of media power shifted? Here's one anecdote which says it all. Bravo's annual contest for aspiring fashion designers-Project Runway-has become so powerful that magazine titles such as Marie Claire and Bazaar are expected actually to pay for the privilege of attaching their names.
Project Runway's clout wasn't inevitable. When Heidi Klum's show was first conceived, snobby Anna Wintour's Vogue turned down a request to provide a judge; the producers made do with Elle's Nina Garcia instead. And it's not clear how well the show, which was recently traded from NBC's Bravo to Lifetime by its producers at the Weinstein Company, will make the transition to a more mainstream channel with few of the trend-setting gay viewers who gave the show such buzz when it launched.
But magazines have found themselves increasingly dependent on reality fashion programming to maintain circulation and advertising in a troubled publishing environment. Elle's newsstand sales have dropped since the fourth season concluded in March with the victory of "fierce" flamer, Christian Siriano; the magazine is now backing a riskier new show with Tyra Banks, CW's Stylista (preview clip shown here). It isn't only that a title's presence on the show boosts circulation: industry insiders say that reality tie-ins are an increasingly important draw for fashion advertisers.
Under these circumstances, it's unsurprising that magazines such as Marie Claire, Bazaar and In Style are competing furiously for a role as the magazine partner of Project Runway. Marie Claire even hired away Elle's Nina Garcia to provide continuity; and the June issue featured Heidi Klum, the German supermodel turned Project Runway host who dispatches failing contestants with her signature "auf wiedersehen".
Marie Claire's Joanna Coles hardly disguised the intent: "With Nina coming on board and Heidi Klum on our June cover, it seems a moment of perfect synergy for the magazine." There's one more thing though that would make the Hearst magazine's bid still more synergistic: hard cash. Word is that the Weinstein Company, which is trying to squeeze every last dollar out of its lucrative television hit, is demanding low seven figures from the competing magazines. For any that won't pay, it's auf wiedersehen.