Lifetime made it work.
"Project Runway" returned to the airwaves on a new network Thursday with its best premiere numbers ever. It also gave Lifetime its best premiere numbers ever.
The fashion-based reality show drew 4.2 million overall viewers and a 3.3 household rating. The latter figure is up 32 percent from the show’s season five premiere on Bravo.
Among women 18-49, "Runway" notched a 3.2 rating, up 28 percent over its final Bravo season premiere.
“We are thrilled about Project Runway’s very strong premiere, which surpassed all of our expectations,” said Andrea Wong, President and CEO of Lifetime Networks.
Most industry insiders had expected "Runway" to do well, in part because of the fact that Lifetime has a much broader reach than Bravo. However, it was unclear whether the long delay between seasons — more than a year, thanks to legal wrangling between NBC U, Lifetime and the Weinstein Co. — would reduce viewer interest in the "Runway" franchise.
UPDATE: Bravo’s attempt to counter the "Runway" premiere with original episodes of "Real Housewives of Atlanta" seemed to pay off. "Atlanta" drew 2.82 million viewers and a 1.5 in women 18-49. Bravo says that’s the second-best performance ever for "Atlanta."
UPDATE 2: The numbers had Wong feeling fine Friday. After a year of bickering and behind-the-scenes drama, her dream of making "Runway" a centerpiece of a new Lifetime brand was finally reality.
"I’m pretty darn happy this morning," Wong told TheWrap.
Wong said Lifetime’s pre-launch marketing plan had two big goals.
"We needed to tell passionate viewers of ‘Project Runway’ that it was ths same great show they had always loved," she said. "And we had this huge audience of Lifetime viewers who had never sampled ‘Runway’ that we wanted to get to try it."
Based on the audience growth over season five, "We had to have convinced some viewers to sample it."
Wong was particuarly happy to see "Runway" grow its women 18-34 delivery by 66 percent.
If "Runway" holds to its Bravo ratings pattern — and the trend for most competition reality shows– look for ratings to take a bit of a hit next week before they start building back up for the finale. To minimize the falloff, Wong has put all of Lifetime on continued "Runway" alert.
"Our plans include every pision of this company," she said. "Each department is doing everything it can to keep up our efforts to promote this show."
Meanwhile, production of season seven of "Runway" is already under way in New York.