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Lifetime attempts to move 'Project Runway' lawsuit to federal court

By John Bracchitta, 10/21/2008 

Lifetime has thrown itself into the ongoing legal battle between Bravo's NBC Universal parent company and Project Runway's The Weinstein Company production company in an attempt to get the fashion reality show on their network as soon as possible.

The network -- which had not previously been a direct party to the April lawsuit NBC Universal filed against The Weinstein Company to prevent losing Project Runway to Lifetime beginning this fall -- filed a Friday court motion requesting the case be moved to a federal court based on federal copyright issues, TV Week reported Friday.

"[We believe] any issue relating to Lifetime's exclusive right to air future cycles of Project Runway is a matter of federal copyright law and therefore should be heard by a federal court," Lifetime said in a statement obtained by TV Week.  "We continue to believe that Lifetime has rights superior to NBCU's claimed right of first refusal on future cycles of Project Runway."

Lifetime's move came several weeks after the New York Supreme Court judge currently assigned to the lawsuit -- which claims The Weinstein Company breached the parties' contract and didn't give NBC Universal the right to match Lifetime's Project Runway offer before signing its deal with the women's cable network -- granted NBC Universal's request for a preliminary injunction that prevents The Weinstein Company from moving forward with its Lifetime deal.  The Weinstein Company has denied that NBC Universal had a right of first refusal to the show.

The injunction has thrown a wrench into the plans of Lifetime, which had been touting Project Runway as one of the centerpieces of its 2008-2009 schedule and planning to premiere the show's sixth season -- as well as a new Models of the Runway spinoff -- in January.

Moving the lawsuit to federal court would result in the case being re-assigned to a federal judge who could decide to lift the temporary injunction -- which neither NBC Universal or Lifetime had reportedly been expecting to be granted -- and allow Lifetime to air Project Runway while the lawsuit continues to proceed, according to TV Week.

Lifetime's relocation motion was filed only a couple of hours before New York Supreme Court Justice Richard B. Lowe had been scheduled to hold a hearing to set an expedited schedule for the lawsuit.  As a result, Lowe canceled the hearing.

"Lifetime chose to pursue legal maneuvers to shift the case to federal court, which will only delay the proceedings," NBC Universal said in a statement obtained by TV Week. "NBC Universal will vigorously fight this 11th-hour move and intends to file legal papers seeking to remand the case to state court."

A spokeswoman for Lifetime disagreed, saying that the network's action only reflected a desire to ensure that Project Runway's sixth season -- which just finished filming in Los Angeles -- ends up on Lifetime.

"It doesn't necessarily slow things down," a Lifetime spokeswoman told TV Week. "By putting the case in federal court to consider our copyright issues, it gives us an important legal path to getting the show on Lifetime."

If Lifetime isn't able to premiere Project Runway's sixth season in January then it will probably be unable to film its finale at February's New York Fashion Week -- a failure that, according to a recent Los Angeles Times report, would mean that the season's debut may be delayed until at least next summer. 

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