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Lifetime Seeks Copyright Ruling in ‘Runway’ Suit

Lifetime is trying to make a federal case out of “Project Runway.”

Shortly before a meeting Friday to set an expedited schedule for resolving NBC Universal’s lawsuit against The Weinstein Co. for moving “Project Runway” from Bravo to Lifetime, Lifetime asked that the case be relocated to federal court.

By trumping NBC Universal’s breach of contract action with a federal copyright claim, Lifetime could be pulling an end run around New York State Supreme Court Judge Richard B. Lowe III, who in September granted NBC Universal an injunction that prevents The Weinstein Co. from promoting, marketing or exhibiting “Project Runway.” By issuing the injunction—and rejecting a motion to dismiss—the judge indicated he thought the NBC Universal suit had some merit.

Lifetime—which was not a party to the NBC Universal-Weinstein suit—wants “Project Runway” on its network as soon as possible and the federal court could lift the injunction, allowing Lifetime to air the show even as the lawsuit continues.

The popular reality series was a centerpiece of Lifetime’s upfront presentation to advertisers and a key to the network updating its image. Lifetime had originally planned to begin airing its version of “Runway” in November, but recently decided to push that back to January.

What could be Bravo’s final cycle of “Project Runway” ended Wednesday.

NBC Universal, in a statement, said Lifetime’s legal action would delay getting “Project Runway” back on the air.

“Lifetime chose to pursue legal maneuvers to shift the case to federal court, which will only delay the proceedings,” NBC Universal said in a statement. “NBC Universal will vigorously fight this 11th-hour move and intends to file legal papers seeking to remand the case to state court.”
Lifetime obviously disagrees.

“It doesn’t necessarily slow things down,” a Lifetime spokeswoman said. “By putting the case in federal court to consider our copyright issues, it gives us an important legal path to getting the show on Lifetime.”

In a statement, Lifetime said it removed the lawsuit from state court “because any issue relating to Lifetime’s exclusive right to air future cycles of ‘Project Runway’ is a matter of federal copyright law and therefore should be heard by a federal court. We continue to believe that Lifetime has rights superior to NBCU’s claimed right of first refusal on future cycles of ‘Project Runway.’”

The network added that it “hopes this will allow a resolution so that our own fashion court—Heidi [Klum], Tim [Gunn], Nina [Garcia] and Michael [Kors]—can continue to render future verdicts on ‘Project Runway.’”

In its lawsuit, NBC Universal claims that it had an agreement with the Weinstein Co. that gave NBC Universal an opportunity to match any offer for “Runway.” In its suit, NBC Universal said that Harvey Weinstein gave his friend NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker his word in person that the right of first refusal would be honored during a meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills in January.

NBC Universal discovered in April that the Weinstein Co. had signed a secret deal with Lifetime in February, according to the suit.

Lifetime also agreed to pick up several “Runway” spinoffs as part of its deal with The Weinstein Co. Those spinoffs are also on hold because of the injunction.

When the injunction was granted, NBC Universal was told to put up a $20 million bond. The Weinstein Co. had asked Judge Lowe to set a $200 million bond, which it said was the value of its deal with Lifetime.

A spokeswoman for The Weinstein Co. could not be reached for comment.

After Lifetime acquired the rights to “Runway,” NBC Universal snatched away the show’s production company, Magical Elves. The exclusive deal keeps Elves partners Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz working on NBC projects including Bravo’s “Top Chef.”

“Project Runway” concluded its fifth cycle Wednesday on Bravo with the highest ratings in the show’s history. The show averaged 3.6 million total viewers, up from 3.2 million in season four. Demographic ratings also rose.

Airing opposite the final presidential debate, the finale, in which Leanne Marshall sewed her up title, drew 4.8 million total viewers.

(Editor: Liff. Updated throughout at 8:20 p.m ET.)

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