Wednesday, September 13, 2006

PR judging: a really long, boring assessment of the judging on Project Runway.

People have left a lot of comments on BPR about the quality of the judging and the involvement of the producers but I don't think there has been a post dedicated to that topic so I thought I would cover it here.

These are my opinions. Please feel free to leave a comment (and by "leave a comment" I mean "completely agree with me and praise my insight.") No, seriously, you can disagree with me but be polite because I'm very sensitive.

First let me say that we can all agree that we would like to see more designing and less fighting on the show. I think the producers really pump up the drama on the show and sometimes the actual designing aspect suffers.

However, where I disagree with many viewers (and one of the aufed designers) is when the producers are accused of manipulating the judges and keeping on controversial designers just for the sake of good television. I'm not saying this isn't possible, I'm just saying I don't see any evidence that proves this. People seem to cite the fact that they don't agree with the judges decision as proof that the show is rigged. I don't think that evidence would go very far in a court of law.

Let's look at a few details:

Yes, there is that disclaimer at the end of the show. It says the producers consult with the judges. It doesn't say the producers tell the judges what to do. Tim has said repeatedly that designers are not kept on the show just for drama. He isn't involved with the judging but he is a witness to all of it. I, for one, would not call Tim Gunn a liar. Michael Kors has also stated that the producers have never tried to change the judges decision. He doesn't say it could never happen, but he makes it pretty clear that it never has. Do the producers discuss the decision with the judges? It sounds to me like they do. Why? I don't know. Maybe the producers just want to know what's going to happen on their show. They probably decide in what order the winner, the loser, and the safe designers are announced and to do that they need to be in on the judges' decisions. I also think that disclaimer is a legal requirement, reminding us that this is a television show and not the Olympics. They don't want to be sued over judging problems - they're telling us, legally, they have the right to do whatever they want.

Some good examples of "good characters" getting kicked off the show and "low-drama" designers being kept on are Zulima and Malan (the former) and Chloe and Uli (the latter). Zulima made good television but when she created a boring dress the judges got rid of her. Also, some designers who seem quiet and boring in the beginning are simply not getting the air-time.

One more point on the producers: Hiedi is a producer and a judge so obviously at least one producer is completely involved in the judging. Maybe she votes to kick someone off because she's "threatened" by her or maybe she votes to keep someone on because he's clinically insane. It's possible. But any of the judges could do that.

I think it was a recent EW article that explained a little of the judging process. Apparently the judges score the runway, then the producers collect the score cards and add up the results (someone has to do it; are they going to call in Price Waterhouse?), then they bring in the high and low scoring designers and talk to them, and then the judges (in consultation with the producers) make their final decisions. This was very interesting to read. It means the producers are in fact involved in the judging process. But it doesn't prove that the producers make the final decisions; until proven otherwise, I'm going to believe Tim Gunn and Michael Kors that the judges make the decisions. The other thing I think was mentioned in this article was that prior work is taken into account by the judges. This is also very interesting but you have to remember that, even if they consider that, it is still only one of many criteria they use for judging. Someone who created consistently good work can still be eliminated for one terrible outfit. It depends how bad it is compared to the others.

So now on to the judging:

Why do the judges decisions not always match the viewers decisions? Well, I think there are three possible explanations:
1: The judges are complete idiots
2: The viewers are complete idiots
3: It's a matter of taste

So many factors go into the judging that it would be impossible for everyone to agree. The viewer polls are far from unanimous so I don't think they prove that the judges are wrong. I think if we had polls of the top and bottom two they would very closely match the judges' decisions most of the time. Then you have to factor in that the judges are seeing the garments up close and in person instead of on television, they spend many hours making their decisions instead of just a few minutes, and they have different industry knowledge than most of the viewers. I think this can help explain why we won't always agree with them.

People also complain that the judging is inconsistent. One week they say the execution is bad, the next week they say the conception is bad. One week they say they like innovation and the next week they keep the boring dress. But you have to remember that just because they mention one judging criteria that doesn't mean that is the only thing taken into consideration. So maybe one week the concept is good enough to make up for bad execution and the next week it isn't. To understand every nuance of the judging process the show would have to be five hours long. (I'm all for extending the show to two hours, by the way; I think that would help the process be more transparent.)

Some examples of controversial eliminations and why I think they went the way they did:

The wedding dress episode from season one. Both Austin and that woman who was eliminated (sorry, I forget her name) made just horrendous dresses. Austin's dress was so ugly it almost made Heidi puke. As a wedding dress is was easily worse than the other one. Now, if the other dress had been well made and fit properly, then Austin would have been in trouble, but it wasn't. They both looked terrible so the judges chose the designer who at least tried to do something different.

The skating costume episode from season two. OK, this was mostly upsetting to me because Emmett was my favorite. I actually liked his costume and thought it was very pretty, other than the skirt. So I completely disagreed with the judges on this. But the judges thought it was ugly; in fact, just as ugly as Santino's. So again, the chose the one they thought was less boring, which was Santino's. I point this out because, although I was distraught, it didn't make me want to boycott the show.

And the most controversial elimination of the entire series: uncle Nick. I think this was responsible for the destabilization of the Middle East. There was rioting in the streets. People were jumping from rooftops. The stock market crashed. I escaped to the safety of my bomb shelter. OK, you get the point: people over-reacted a little. I thought Nick put more work into his suit than Santino put into that jump-suit but I can't fault the judges for their decision. Nick's garment was really bad. The fabric was bad, the construction was bad, there was puckering everywhere (this must have looked even worse up close), the no buttons and pockets thing was just weird. Santino chose the right fabric and the design was good but the construction was terrible (basically nonexistent). Did the producers tell the judges, "We have to keep Santino in order to make good television so get rid of Nick"? I don't think so. I think they looked at two really bad garments and decided one was slightly more interesting than the other.

Alison. Boy, I was surprised people were so upset about this. I think it must have mainly been people who were new to the show this season because I didn't think it was nearly as big a deal as when Nick was cut. I mean, it was relatively early in the season when we aren't quite as invested and there isn't as much work history to evaluate. Yes, she had been consistently pretty good but clearly not enough to make up for that train-wreck of a dress. Yes, Tim liked it, but he's not always going to share the taste of the judges and it was also before the model had that ridiculous bow put on her head. The best comment people (and Alison) seemed to make about this dress was that it would translate well into fabric. First of all: I doubt that. Secondly: that wasn't the challenge. And by the way, the judges weren't calling the model fat. They were saying the dress made her look fat. It's pretty bad when your dress makes a tall, skinny model look dumpy.

Similarly, Robert took a woman and managed to make her look larger than she really was. When you saw her in her own clothes she looked fine. He should have at least made her look that good or what's the point? Just like the wedding dress debacle, he designed exactly what the client said she liked, without making any adjustment for what he thought would look good. She likes red and black. That's nice; that doesn't mean all her clothes have to be red and black. I'm sure she would have been just as happy in dark blue. My point is this: they judges took two outfits that made the client look terrible and, as usual, chose the one that they thought was more interesting. I think the fact that Jeffrey made the client so unhappy should have tipped the balance but the judges didn't think so. (Or the producers just decided to piss off their viewers for some reason.)

Oh, another thing I wanted to mention was the question how the judges seem to know some of the things that go on in the work room. Well, the judging process goes on for hours and as they talk to the designers some of this information comes out. But we don't see all of that.

Also, as far as improving the judging, I don't think judging the garments without knowing the identity of the designer will really make a difference. First of all, I think they do the runway judging this way already. This is why we get comments like, "I could tell it was a Laura." But since they can can usually figure it out anyway, I don't think it makes much difference. But the rest of the judging needs to be done by talking to the designers and I think this part is important.

So, finally, I just want to repeat that there is simply no way to make the judging process perfect. It will always come down to a matter of taste.

1 comment:

bungle said...

Good post dude. I was wondering about that very topic. Wish I'd seen the post when you put it up.