We've been putting this off for a while now because we knew that in order to make our case, we were going to have to produce a post practically Proustian in length (alliteration + literary reference = QUALITY BLOGGING). Get yourselves a cup of coffee, darlings. You're going to need it.
Despite what Andy Cohen said to us at the finale taping, we have not "given up" on this show. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is that we love fashion/creative reality shows, but the big reason is that we've been rooting since Day One for Bravo to get this one right. We felt that they were really screwed out of a show they'd done an awful lot to promote and find its place and we felt that they really deserved a chance to create a suitable replacement. Unfortunately, we think they rushed this one into production too quickly before they could really figure out what they wanted to do.
When we look at the show it seems really obvious to us that Bravo attempted to differentiate it from Project Runway as much as they could, especially with the introduction of a voting audience, but also in smaller ways: eliminating the mentor role, making sure none of the judges was a model or fashion editor, and introducing a mini-challenge. Those smaller changes don't bother us but that big change with the audience bothered us the minute we heard about it (and we heard about it long before we reported it to you guys). We'll return to all this in a bit because it's all window dressing. The real problem with this show is that in their attempts to differentiate if from PR, they threw out the wrong things.
In our minds, there are many ways you could do a fashion design competition show and differentiate it from Project Runway. Foremost among them is to just do away with the runway show completely. The fashion industry has many ways of presenting its wares and they don't all revolve around walking models down a runway. It struck us as very strange that they would even attempt to keep the runway portion at the end since the show that everyone knew it was replacing; the show that everyone was going to inevitably compare it to, has the word "Runway" in its title. We would have thought that would have been the very first thing to go when devising its replacement. We realize that a lot of you are probably scratching your heads and wondering what the hell we're talking about. Hold that thought.
Now, as we said, they eliminated both the model and the fashion editor from the judging pool, replacing them with a judge who knows the American fashion industry like the back of her hand and a judge who's there merely to look pretty and who doesn't appear to have anything interesting to say about fashion outside of "I'd buy that." The latter turned out to be worth not much to the show in the long run, which neither surprised nor really bothered us. It's the former judge whose performance has been so disappointing. Fern demonstrated fantastic judging skills when she was on PR and occasionally we see glimpses of that on TFS, but for the most part her performance has been terribly disappointing. Based on her previous appearances on PR, we have to assume that the fault isn't hers. It's Isaac's.
In fact, as much as it pains us to say this, Isaac is a BIG problem with this show. He hogs the spotlight way too much and as the central judge, he determines the tenor of the judging. It's a situation that doesn't play to Fern's strengths. One of the many things that Nina and Michael get right is that they have always treated the other judges, not just Heidi, but any guest judge that happened along, with respect. Isaac just can't do that. He's too much of a bitch. Whenever another judge speaks, he gives off the distinct impression that he's allowing them to speak. Isaac is a colorful personality with a great deal of industry knowledge who's usually quite good on camera. He's been cast in the wrong role, is all. Now, hold that thought too.
Let's talk mentor. The most common complaint we hear about this show is the lack of Tim Gunn. Well, kittens, that was a given going into it. There simply was never going to be a Tim Gunn on this show and we initially thought it was a good idea not to even attempt to replace such a singular personality. There is no one in the public eye quite like Tim and if they had put in some pale shadow of a replacement, the poor person would have been raked over the coals. Having seen most of the season, we've amended that somewhat. No, they shouldn't try to replace Tim, but someone needs to walk through that workroom and offer their thoughts.
One of the best parts of PR is the viewer experience of watching the creative process unfold. For whatever reasons, that aspect is completely missing from TFS. Like we said, the creators of this show chose the wrong parts of PR to eliminate. Having Kelly and Isaac walk through the workroom without actually offering their thoughts on the process makes absolutely no sense from either a viewer perspective or from an in-show perspective. What we mean by that is the viewer does not get the enjoyment of watching creative people defend their work to a mentor and the designers do not get the help with their work that anyone would need in a crazy, unrealistic situation like that. It's completely pointless and in fact, it makes our blood boil every time we're subjected to it. All Kelly and Isaac do is walk in, ask a couple questions, and all but roll their eyes at the designer before moving on.
Which brings us to our next problem: the utterly execrable staging on this show. Look, we're not naive. After 3 years of blogging and having met countless reality show contestants, hosts, and producers (and getting to hear a TON of behind-the-scenes gossip), we're more than aware that there is very little "reality" in your average reality show. There has to be a certain amount of staging. The problem is, these people are terrible at it. Those little hallway conferences between Kelly and Isaac are the most cringe-inducing scenes on the show. Part of what makes PR work is the fact that Tim, Nina and Michael are all very well-spoken and can deliver a line or make a point not only with panache, but with clarity. Heidi less so, but her talents lie elsewhere. She's great on camera, she can fake a great personality, and she speaks from her gut. When she hates something, you know it and when she loves something, she can't hide it. She's not the most articulate out of the four regulars on PR but she's never had a problem getting her point across, even when she confuses bagels with hotcakes.
Let's pause and recap for a second. The runway portion is too derivative of PR; the judges are not suited to their roles; Fern is lost, Kelly is useless, and Isaac is hogging the spotlight; there's no mentor; and the staging is terrible, not least because the principals are all very bad at getting their points across effectively. With us so far? Okay, moving on...
Another huge problem with this show is the format. We'll just quote ourselves on this one:
"[T]he judges are forced to restrict their decisions to whichever garments got the lowest and highest scores, which means by definition, the judges are forced to judge their way around other people's decisions and criteria. It's a murky process made doubly so because we have no idea who the vast majority of these people are (except for a shot of maybe 6 or so every episode) and we have no idea what information they've been given about the challenge and what the designers were required to do. '90% of the audience said they wouldn't buy your outfit.' Well, okay. Who the fuck are they, then?"
We suspected as much when we first heard about the judging audience and we're sorry to see that we were right: it just doesn't work for this format. Now, one of the things that really differentiates this show from PR is the prize at the end: there is no Bryant Park finale. Instead, the winner gets to have their line produced for sale. That was the ONE thing they got right in this show. It instantly sets it apart from PR, which, much as we love it, has too often had a "Here's your money and your car! Good luck!" aspect to it (which is why so many winners of PR haven't exactly set the fashion world on fire). The problem with TFS is, they had this great idea to make the show different by offering a different prize at the end, but they never gave a thought as to how that ending should have informed everything that came before it.
Project Runway deals for the most part with "high" fashion. The finalists all get to appear at the premiere American fashion event and the challenges quite often revolve around high-end clients and sensibilities. We had assumed going into TFS that it would be more focused on the retail and ready-to-wear end of things, but it hasn't worked out that way. They've had socialite clients and "inspiration" challenges when what they really should be focusing on is the nitty and the gritty of trying to design something for mass production, which is something they never really deal with on PR. There have been some complaints about how the judging on this show tends toward giving the win to pieces that will be relatively easy to manufacture but that's one of the things we LIKE about this show. It should be built into every challenge and every judging point. The designers should be aware of this every time they put pencil to sketchpad or go shopping for fabric. That's the real world of the fashion industry. That's what hundreds of lower-end designers have to deal with every single day: how to produce a garment that will sell and how to keep the costs down to make it profitable.
Wow, you're still reading this? Good for you. Okay, we've done enough bitching. Bravo, if you decide to do a Season 2 (and we hope you do), here's what we propose:
Go all in on the retail aspect of the show. Every week, the designers have to produce some garment, bearing in mind that it's for mass production. They have to find the cheapest fabric and design a piece with as little frippery as possible so that it can be manufactured at a reasonable price point. We can't speak for everyone, but we don't mind if we don't get to see gorgeous gowns every week. If they have to design a decent pair of jeans or a salable trench coat or a killer pencil skirt, so be it. It's not the end product so much as it's the process we all enjoy watching.
Don't fire Isaac. We realize that some of the readers might not agree with us on this, but when he's on, he's really on. So put him in a position where he can really be on. He shouldn't be a judge. He should be the mentor.
Now, now. Sit down for a second. Hear us out.
The best way to fulfill the mentor role without drawing comparisons to Tim is to put the most un-Tim-like person you can find in that role and Isaac fits perfectly. What we propose is that instead of casting the show with a bunch of designers, cast it with a bunch of newly graduated design students and put them in the role of Junior Designer to Isaac's Senior Designer. This accomplishes several things. One, if you put a bunch of hungry kids in there, it'll be a hell of a lot more entertaining. Two, they'll all be much more likely to know how to sew since they're fresh out of school and we won't be subjected to a bunch of safety-pinned garments. Three, we suspect Isaac will be a lot gentler on a bunch of kids than he would be on a bunch of semi-established designers. Have Isaac come in every week with an assignment ("Design a work outfit/dress/coat/whatever for sale at X price point. Here's an inspiration board for you. I want to see your sketches in 30 minutes.") and have him guide them through the process. He'll get plenty of chances to be bitchy, but more importantly, he'll get plenty of chances to be instructive, which we suspect is a talent of his we're not seeing yet.
Fern should be the lead judge. She's a goddamn expert and she's playing second fiddle to Isaac, which is a travesty. Get rid of the judging audience and get rid of the runway show. Instead, as co-judges for Fern, because mass production is the focus of the show, bring in a couple of actual buyers every week. You can't tell us that in all of Manhattan, you can't find two buyers with the kind of wit and personality to make a show like this entertaining. We've met buyers; they can be quite snappy and savvy, and the good ones have seen it all. There's a couple Gunn-esque diamond-in-the-rough potential reality TV stars somewhere in that industry. We know you can find them.
Instead of having the models walk a runway, do it salon style and have them walk around right in front of the judges/buyers. Let every judge walk up to the garment and look at the seams and the pattern and the buttons and the zippers and everything that makes up the physical part of the garment. Not just to critique the execution, but to look at it to determine whether it's worth manufacturing. Instead of wasting time on a runway show that only draws inevitable comparisons, use that time so the judges (and us) can look at each garment, with the designer standing by to defend it. TFS doesn't let us see the garments very well and we only get to hear a couple designers defend their work each week. Have them ALL defend it. Have them stand right there as the judges declare their work crap or gold.
Unfortunately (for her), there's no role for Kelly in all this. You'll pardon us if we fail to shed any tears about that.
That about wraps it up. Think about it, Bravo. And please, do something about the lighting, for god's sake. If you heed nothing else in this post, please just take care of that.
Okay, readers. Let's hear it.
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