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Bravo Plagiarizes Itself

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With Top Chef, Top Design and last night's debut of Shear Genius, it seems that Bravo is committed to landscaping their entire schedule with the creative-arts-reality-contest "brand" they created with Project Runway. Take twelve campy, dramatic, creative people, stuff them in a pressure-cooker situation with multiple challenges per episode and then offer them up to awkward hosts and bitchy judges. As evidence of how much Bravo has diluted their own brand, Heidi Klum begat Padma Lakshmi who begat Todd Oldham who begat…Jaclyn Smith?

Top Design is as much about a visual art form as PR. Sure, you might not get to walk in the space and really analyze the details, but for the most part you're experiencing what the judges experience. The vital difference from PR's judging process, however, is that rooms don't move. Those ugly, cavernous booths the contestants paint windows on just sit there. Each designer awkwardly stands at the entrance while the judges silently walk around their creation before moving on to the next one. The whole process is strangely quiet and restrained.

At first I was underwhelmed by TD. Even after a couple episodes, not one contestant had produced a room provoking a response beyond "eh, it's fine." Luckily, Bravo snagged at least six genuinely talented designers that began to produce much work as the show went on. And I was happy to see the sophisticated Matt walk away with the contest. He was always professional and produced consistently chic rooms.

What frustrates me about Top Chef is that you can't participate in the judging process the way you can with PR. You hear about the ingredients the contestants are throwing together, you watch them sweat over a stove with a blowtorch or massive chef's knife, and you can admire, or mock, the presentation. But you can't actually taste the final product. You have to take the judges' word on whether or not they achieve culinary perfection.

As for Shear Genius…well, let's just say that so far, the best part about it is that it's theme song is nowhere nearly as ear-bleedingly bad as Top Design's. It's as if the composer of TD's wants everyone to hate music as much as they do.

It's not the fault of the other shows. They just don't fit the medium of television contests the way PR does. Dinner plates and 12'x12' rooms aren't revealed by sexy models hopping and spinning and baring ass. I'm not saying they should, but it would be fun to see a starving model hungrily salivating over the hunk of beef she's parading around, and I don't just mean tall, scruffy TC contestant Sam Talbot.

Whether it's a plate of dehydrated veal cheeks, plywood walls smothered in Tuscan Sunrise paint, or a mannequin head sporting yet another set of asymmetrical bangs, not one of these shows produces the same kinetic sexiness of PR's runway shows. And considering PR just started auditions for Season Four, it's going to be a while before the original returns.

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About Don Baiocchi