Bravo Extending ‘Runway’ Finale

Feb 6, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Bravo is getting more wear than expected from its record-setting season of “Project Runway.”

The NBC Universal-owned network is extending “Runway” an extra week to accommodate a two-hour finale and is adding home viewer participation via online and mobile polling.

The finale will run March 1 as previously scheduled, then conclude in an additional episode to be shown March 8. The network will also produce a one-hour reunion special.

During the March 8 episode, viewers will be asked their opinion about judges’ verdicts and the design projects of the “Runway” contestants, and can respond online or by voting with their mobile phones. The results will be displayed on-screen throughout the episode, though they will not affect the taped program’s outcome.

The polling, which will be sponsored by Saturn, will mark the first time Bravo has employed home viewer voting in conjunction with one of its programs. Each voter will also be entered into a sweepstakes to receive one of 10 video iPods.

“We had a phenomenally active Web site for ‘Project Runway’ with well over a million unique visitors,” said Lauren Zalaznick, president of Bravo. “So we wanted to present an almost-live opportunity for viewers to be a judge.”

The second-season premiere of the Heidi Klum-hosted series received triple the viewership of its previous season debut, with numbers growing every subsequent week in key demographics, according to Nielsen Media Research.

“It’s gotten some attention for them and it taps into the current wave of reality shows that are more glamorous than the earlier stranded-on-an-island shows,” said Lifetime head of research Tim Brooks. “It’s doubling their prime-time average, which is obviously very good.”

The Feb. 1 episode was seen by 2.3 million viewers (1.7 million adults 18 to 49), raising the show’s season-to-date average to 1.4 million viewers (1.1 million adults 18 to 49).

“We really have gigantically surpassed last season’s finale numbers with six weeks to go,” Ms. Zalaznick said. “This is the first time a competitive elimination reality show has done really well on the network.”

Though a “Runaway” renewal is all but certain, no announcement has been made. In fact, the show’s success would tempt most cable networks into making “Runway” a twice-a-year series. But Ms. Zalaznick, perhaps mindful of the schedule oversaturation and subsequent ratings drop of other cable hits, said such a change is unlikely.

“There is no temptation,” Ms. Zalaznick said. “I can envision a scenario where one year it happened twice in the same calendar year, but that would be entirely casting-dependent. A burned-out show has no value. The fans would be very unforgiving if we had a show with an inferior talent pool.”

Bravo is gearing up next for the launch of its latest unscripted efforts, the cooking competition “Top Chef,” which premieres after the “Runway” finale, and the docu-soap reality series “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” which will debut March 21.

“Project Runway” is executive produced by Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz of Magical Elves. Ms. Klum and her managers Desiree Gruber and Jane Cha of New York-based Full Picture also executive produce the series.