Will 'Project Runway' Work on Lifetime?

After being delayed seven months, because of an extremely boring legal battle, television's fiercest, cattiest, oh-no-she-didn't-est reality competition, Project Runway, is back on the catwalk tonight. (You can read our roundtable with the Project Runway judges here.)

But after five seasons on the luxe, aspirational Bravo, it's now on Lifetime, never a network known for its cachet. Like most cable networks, Lifetime is trying desperately to change its image and attract a new audience. AMC has effectively pivoted from being the old-movie channel to a destination for such lauded original series as Mad Men. VH1 transitioned from being MTV's older-skewing sister station to a haven for pop-culture fetishists. In fact, it's Project Runwaythat helped transform Bravo from a place to catch Merchant Ivory films into the affluent brand it is now.

Lifetime's image is more stubborn than that. After years of Golden Girls repeats and cheesy made-for-TV movies, most of which have the word "fatal" or "deadly" in the title, it will take more than one hot show to reinvent itself. Especially when that show is Project Runway, which in its sixth season isn't nearly the blog bait it was in its earlier seasons. So for all the talk about the possibility of Project Runway raising Lifetime's fortune, have we considered the very possible alternative, that Lifetime sinks Project Runway?

It isn't that Project Runway itself will be different as a result of the switch. Even though fans were wary when Bunim-Murray (The Real World, Road Rules) took over production duties from its original company, Magical Elves, the folks at Bunim-Murray were adamant that their only intention was to keep following the recipe as it was written. And Lifetime certainly didn't go through all this legal wrangling to have Betty White appear as a guest judge. In all likelihood, the show will be just as we remembered it.

What might change about it is our perception, because of the important relationship between a network's brand image and how its programming is received. Bravo, for example, has worked so hard to cement its brand, it could put on a show like Hey Paula, a reality show about former American Idol judge Paula Abdul, and the show benefited from being associated with Bravo. The same can be said for just about anything on HBO. Would True Blood have the same following it has now if it was a Starz original series instead? Anything's possible, but I'm leaning toward no.

Runway has the benefit of its previous seasons on Bravo to, hopefully, carry it through this transition. But it would have never ascended to the heights it has had it premiered on the dowdy Lifetime to begin with, and hopefully being associated with it now won't spoil the way we look at it. Lifetime can (and probably should) freshen up its brand, but hopefully it won't come at the expense of a great show.