Networks Stay Hip With Fashion, Style

2/16/2007 7:01 PM Eastern

Fashion and style are all the rage on cable these days. Tim Gunn, famed style arbiter of Project Runway, is developing his own fashion makeover series on Bravo. K-Mart apparel maven Jaclyn Smith is going beyond cheap chic to host Shear Genius, the channel's new hair show pitting stylists against one another to see who will be “cut” and who can “blow away” the judges. And at Style Network, Thom Filicia, the interior design expert from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, is coming out this spring with designs inspired by your favorite outfits.

Those are just a few of the new shows making their way to television this year as cable continues to enjoy a boom in original programming that has become wildly accessorized with an array of fashion and style series featuring a gaggle of runway, reality and competition shows on hair-styling, clothing design and extreme makeovers.

“There was a time that fashion was considered industry information,” said David Wolfe, creative director at Doneger Group, a New York fashion consulting firm which specializes in trend forecasting. “I don't think that [TV executives] understood that television could have a great appeal for the average viewer.”

But with the marriage of TV and the Internet, there has been a new understanding of the huge and growing interest in the past decade in fashion among consumers, Wolfe said.

“So many people today, no matter where they live, consider themselves fashion insiders because they are as interested in the business of fashion in a way that only industry insiders used to be,” he said. “Project Runway is a great example of how much public interest is generated by the inside workings of the creative aspects of fashion.”

That's not to say that there had never been fashion coverage on TV. For years, CNN's Elsa Klensch reported on the runway shows from Milan and Paris, and New York-based production company Video Fashion produced fashion programming for commercial broadcast.

But today, much of TV's fashion focus is instructional and aimed at inspiring viewers to create their own personal style. And, according to Gunn, this trend owes much of that direction to HBO's Sex and the City.

“It was the seminal moment that fashion first became really accessible to people in one particular show,” said Gunn, who was recently named chief creative director of Liz Claiborne.


After years on the fashion fringe, Gunn believes producers and network executives are now finding innovative ways to bring the business of design and style to Middle America. “It's democratized this rarified universe and made it accessible,” he said.

Not to mention a more affordable means of programming: “It's almost free programming for television,” Wolfe said, “particularly runway shows. They don't have to pay for the models. They don't have to pay for the staging. They don't have to do any of that. It's all done for them.”

And advertisers love fashion shows. As more networks produce style and design shows, female viewers 18 to 49 years old follow, bringing with them men and younger women.

“If you can get co-viewership, getting men and women to watch it for whatever reason that they're watching, that's only going to deliver higher audience levels and bring in more ad dollars,” Horizon Media senior vice president and corporate research director Brad Adgate said.

Fashion programming also lends itself to product placement and effortless tie-in opportunities with clothing and cosmetics companies. “It's a package that's very appealing to television as a medium,” Adgate said.

Sustaining the appeal will be the challenge for most networks, said Seattle Post-Intelligencer TV critic Melanie McFarland.

“It's this nice collision of having the right people, the right contestants and the right format,” McFarland said.


Bravo is now on the top of the fashion series heap with Project Runway. Although the network found fame as a pop-culture brand with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy — which will end its four-season run this summer — Runway has become the pattern on which the network now crafts many of its shows, including the culinary competition series Top Chef and domicile design battle Top Design.

Of course, this is no surprise considering Runway, recently renewed for a fourth season, ended its third season run last October with an impressive 5.4 million total viewers, including 3.44 million adults 18-49; besting all other cable programs during its Wednesday night finale and setting all-time highs for Bravo in every category.

“We know from thousands of fan sites and all the bloggers on Project Runway, that there are people who actually follow the challenges,” Bravo executive vice president of programming and production Frances Berwick said. “They're sitting there with their sewing machines. So it's definitely driving that in a way that we had never for a minute thought that people would do. It would be interesting to see if they start doing that with Top Design as well.”

As a genre, style has become enormously important for Bravo, Berwick said, and has become a part of the channel's creative makeup.

“There was an interesting statistic last week about children, young people, and what they wanted to spend their time doing,” she said, “and they wanted to spend their time shopping. A large part of that is clothes and how they look and how they define themselves. So I think that is a growing part of our culture and pop culture.”


David Abraham, outgoing TLC president and general manager, said, “This is clearly a good example of where a strong mass niche can be served by the cable industry; and the way in which we and Bravo and others have created hit franchises, probably reflects the ability of cable to serve kind of deep niches.”

When viewers want to learn what to wear — or more precisely, what not to wear — they turn to TLC's adaptation of the British import What Not to Wear, which has been the defining design series on the network for the past four seasons.”

“What you're seeing on television is an extension of what magazines have been doing forever,” said series co-host Stacy London, who has worked for such fashion tomes as Vogue and Mademoiselle. “The thing about fashion is that there's always something new to see. Six months from now, everything you wore will be out of the stores and you'll see entirely new stuff, and there's something energizing and fresh about that for TV.”

While What Not to Wear is the sole fashion show on TLC (the British original airs on BBC America), “we are developing quite actively in this area,” Abraham said. He added the channel is in preproduction on a documentary about the relationship between fashion and the movies.

At the TV Guide Channel, it's about the marriage between fashion and TV style. “No one is going in as deep as we are in television fashion,” said network president Ryan O'Hara.

In the past year, TV Guide has achieved double-digit growth thanks in large part to its celebrity-centric tent-pole Fashion Team, which was introduced last fall; Fashion Wraps with Joan and Melissa Rivers; and its popular Look-A-Like makeover series, which allows average people the opportunity to mimic the look of their favorite TV celebrity.

“We're very cognizant of being different and differentiating ourselves,” O'Hara added. “If you look at what ESPN is to sports or Food Network is to food, TV Guide Channel is that to the world of television.

“I think TV Guide magazine, its 52 years of history, gives us that capability,” he said.

WE's style programming also exploits viewer fascination about celebrities, following the stars on the red carpet during awards shows and during Fashion Week events from New York to Milan.

“There was a time where you would pick up magazines and you always had models on the cover — now it's celebrities,” WE executive vice president and general manager Kim Martin said.

“Today's women are fascinated with celebrities,” she said. “And fashion today is one of those things that you can see what J. Lo or Paris Hilton is wearing, but you can get a less expensive version at H&M or Target. Now you've made what is perceived to be high-end fashion relevant and achievable and accessible for a WE viewer.”

When Martin joined WE two years ago, she laid out a plan to bolster original fare about relationships, pop culture and personal style. “Prior to that we had done fashion programming but we didn't have it as a consistent part of our programming promise — now it is,” she said.


WE sister satellite channel Ultra HD, one of the 15 Voom HD Networks launched in August 2005 by Rainbow Media Holdings, has set its sights on fashion, beauty and style, with an eye on blending entertainment journalism and fashion into its reporting of haute couture with series like Fashion Avenue, Behind the Label and Full Frontal Fashion.

“It's really aspirational programming,” Ultra HD vice president of programming Elizabeth Dewey said. “Where the programming on the other networks tends to be more consumer based in terms of mass appeal, ours is more high-end fashion and more fashion design, so that a brand like Full Frontal Fashion, for example, will take you to the catwalks of the world and put you front row and get you talking to the most important designers in the world. That brand, in particular, has a slightly more journalistic bent than Project Runway, for example, but still has a mass appeal.”

That's because today's designers are as recognized as Hollywood celebrities, and draw just as much interest from viewers.

“Because these designers have lower priced clothing and accessory lines in places like Target and Kohl's,” Dewey said of designers Isaac Mizrahi and Vera Wang, “I think it almost comes down to brand promotion to have their consumers be aware of them and of the fashion industry.”


At Oxygen, hair-raising competition series Tease and reality show The Janice Dickenson Modeling Agency, have drawn solid ratings with women 18-24, with the second season of Janice, in its newly expanded hourlong format, averaging a 52% increase in the demo from its previous year.

“We are always looking at new formats, and playing with existing formats,” said Oxygen president of programming and marketing Debby Beece, who recently announced plans to expand the network's hit pageant series, Mo'Nique's F.A.T. Chance from a two-hour special to seven one-hour episodes featuring 10 aspiring full-figured beauty queens competing in Paris.

But considering the F.A.T. Chance pageant reigns as the highest-rated telecast on the channel among households and pulls in solid numbers with women 18-49, why the change?

“The thing about television is that every year there's a new thing,” Beece said. “There's just massive amounts of television and mass amounts of consumption in television so you can't ever really just say, 'Oh this worked last year, let's just do it again.' ”


The reality is that with the increasing glut of design shows on cable, trying to find fresh and unique programming options becomes a greater challenge.

“We definitely are mindful of competition,” said Salaam Coleman Smith, executive vice president of the Style Network, the only 24-hour cable channel dedicated to personal and interior design. “But I think when we look at things like the success of Project Runway or the success of other shows in [the fashion and design] category, all it does for us is reinforce how much appeal this category has,” he said.

According to Style, 2006 was the network's most-watched year. It delivered 64,000 total viewers, up 8% over last year in total day households, with increases in nearly all day parts.

Coleman said growth has been driven by the acquisition of ABC's Extreme Makeover, repurposed series and originals such as Split Ends, Instant Beauty Pageant and How Do I Look, which is one of the network's top original performers and earned Style's highest premiere ratings last year.

Horizon's Adgate cautions that the genre has its limitations. “There's an awful lot of reality shows out there and there's an awful lot of fashion shows out there, and a growing amount, which I think is a concern.”

Still, Wolfe foresees even greater demand for fashion television, particularly as it relates to how the fashion industry is learning to find new ways to use TV to lure consumers to new trends.

“I think fashion companies and retailers are just beginning to understand the potential that's out there,” Wolfe said.

Looking Good
A list of current and upcoming cable original fashion and style programs:
Source: Multichannel News research
Project Runway (fourth season premiere TBD). Hour-long series in which budding designers compete for a break into the exclusive world of high design.
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (final season, summer 2007). Makeover series bettering the lives of style- and design-challenged men.
Shear Genius (series premiere April 2007). Competition series in which stylists go head-to-head in creative challenges.
Tim Gunn's Guide to Style (premiere date TBD). Makeover series in which “Project Runway's” Tim Gunn rescues people from fashion disasters.
Mo'Nique's F.A.T. Chance (third season begins summer 2007). Seven-episode, one-hour pageant competition series with full-figured women.
Tease (ongoing). Competition series pitting aspiring stylists.
The Janice Dickenson Modeling Agency (ongoing). One-hour series about Dickenson, her business partners, models and family.
Dress My Nest (series premieres March 28). Half-hour makeover show using favorite clothing to inspire interior design.
Fashion Police (ongoing). Half-hour show which scours the runways, red carpets and A-list parties and premieres for celebrity fashion and accessories.
How Do I Look? (ongoing). Makeover show in which a candidate is transformed with the help of friends, relatives and a professional stylist.
Isaac (ongoing). Half-hour series featuring designer Isaac Mizrahi's tips.
Split Ends (second season premieres June 2007). Hollywood hairstylists swap salons and lifestyles.
Style Her Famous (second season premieres March 12). Young women get a cover girl makeover incorporating the looks of celebrities.
Style Star (ongoing). Half-hour series offering an insider look at trend-setting celebrities.
The Look for Less (ongoing). Series aimed at creating personal style on a budget.
Allure Backstage (ongoing). Inside the high-fashion world with tips on trends in beauty from around the globe.
Fashion File (ongoing). Half-hour series features an in-depth look at runway fashion with supermodels and designers.
Fashion Television (ongoing). Half-hour series about today's creators of fashion, art, architecture and photography.
What Not To Wear (ongoing). Hour-long makeover series aimed at keeping women of all ages, shapes and sizes stylish.
TV Guide Channel:
Look Alike (third season premiere May 2007). Half-hour makeover show offering average people the opportunity to look like a celebrity.
Fashion Team (ongoing). Hourlong series offers TV fashion, red carpet and runway coverage.
Fashion Wrap (ongoing). One-hour specials featuring Hollywood fashion from marquee award shows.
TV Candy (ongoing). Monthly one-hour originals examining small screen style with viewer tips on how-to get their own celebrity bling.
Ultra HD:
Behind the Label (ongoing). Half-hour series profiling fashion and beauty icons.
Fashion Avenue (ongoing). Series exploring the most stylish streets of the world.
Full Frontal Fashion (ongoing). Series including coverage of fashion weeks in Los Angeles, New York and around the world.
Swimsuit Secrets Revealed 2 (premieres May 28) One-hour special with fashion experts providing bathing suit do's and don'ts.
Under the Tents (premieres Feb. 22) Half-hour series with the season's hottest fashion trends from fashion week in New York.
WE tv Independent Spirit Awards Red Carpet Arrivals (premieres Feb. 24) Half-hour live red carpet arrivals at the Independent Spirit Awards.

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