Amid swirling changes, "Project Runway" is back ... and sorta the same

Juggling networks ... and producers ... and more, "Project Runway" keeps surviving. Now it's back -- with a host who remembers watching it when she was 11. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

In its long
lifetime, “Project Runway” has kept bouncing around.

It's gone from Bravo
to Lifetime and back to Bravo. It's escaped the ownership of Harvey
Weinstein. It's changed hosts and mentors and more.

It even dumped the
original producers ... then put them back in charge. “We keep
saying, 'It's like getting your baby back,” Jane Lipsitz said.

Except, of course,
that babies are never the same after 14 years and 17 TV seasons.

Elaine Welteroth,
one of the new judges, sees the new version of the fashion-design
competition as “the most inclusive iteration of 'Project Runway'
the world has ever seen.” The models are varied in size, the
designers are varied in age, both are varied in race and roots.

This is also the
youngest version. Consider:

-- Karlie Kloss, 26,
the new host. She recalls being a “Runway” fan at 11. That was
long before she became a teen-aged Victoria's Secret model (and,
later, Ivanka Trump's sister-in-law).

-- Christian
Siriano, 33, the show's new mentor. At 22, he became the fourth
“Runway” champion.

-- Brandon Maxwell,
34, one of the judges. When “Runway” started, he was a college
student “from the smallest town ever,” he said, and he was
“watching the show religiously.”

Well, Longview –
an East Texas city of 80,000 -- isn't nearly the smallest ever. “I
need to really quit saying that,” Maxwell said. But it felt tiny
and distant, compared to the New York fashion world.

“I'm somebody who
still doesn't understand which fork to use when you are at one of
those fancy dinners,” Maxwell said. “I really latched onto this
show and it was an educational tool for me.”

Kloss remembers that
feeling as an 11-year-old in suburban St. Louis, with “no access
to the city.”

As it happened, she
had the right advantages. Like Ivanka Trump, she is tall (6-foot-1
1/2), from a comfortable family (her parents are a doctor and an art
director) and married to a Kushner. (Joshua, Jared's younger
brother). And now she's a “Runway” host.

That comes after
turmoil. After five seasons on Bravo, “Runway” jumped to Lifetime
amid lawsuits. (Weinstein, whose company owned the show, ended up
paying a settlement.) Lifetime put Bunim-Murray (the “Real World”
people) in charge, replacing Magical Elves (Lipsitz and Dan

Then came the recent
flurry: Lifetime cancelled the show, after sex-abuse charges against
Weinstein .... whose company was bought in bankruptcy by a new
company ... which returned “Runway” to Bravo .... which brought
back Magical Elves. Also, Klum and Gunn left for Amazon ... and
Lipsitz and Cutforth said they're leaving Elves (which they sold),
but will continue with “Runway.”

“Runway” has had
a wild ride ... but it's basically the show Kloss watched at 11.
“It's this incredible platform to launch designers' careers,” she

Including the career
of Siriano, who will mentor the contestants. “If anyone can give
them advice,” he said, “I think it would be me – someone who
won the show and then built something.”

-- “Project
Runway,” 8-9:30 p.m. Thursdays, Bravo; rerunning at 11:30.

-- Season-opener
(March 14) reruns often, including 2:18 p.m. Friday (March 15), 5:48
p.m. Saturday, 8 p.m. Sunday and 6:30 p.m. March 21.

-- This is the 17th
season; “Runway” began 14-plus years ago, but has doubled up in
some years.

-- Meanwhile,
“Project Runway All-Stars” is in its final weeks, Wednesdays on