These days, Project Runway is the TV equivalent of comfort food. Whether we’re bingeing on old seasons or picking up in the middle of the newest one, we’re soothed by the sight of half-dressed mannequins stuck with so many pins that they look like giant voodoo dolls, Tim Gunn’s “this concerns me” face, visions of taffeta grandeur floating down the runway, and Heidi’s impossibly long, lean legs.
But when it debuted 10 years ago this week, Project Runway was a novelty. A decade ago, the most popular reality competitions on TV were The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Big Brother, Survivor, The Amazing Race, The Mole, and Fear Factor—shows that focused on pretty people trying to double-cross each other. America’s Next Top Model was already in its third season—but it was always more about gorgeous girls and drama than fashion. There was also American Idol, a talent-based contest—though it placed its emphasis on the audience’s judging of the contestants rather than accompanying the singers through their creative processes.