Jennifer Armstrong
October 30, 2009 AT 12:00 PM EDT

For Project Runway, making it work in season 6 hasn’t been so easy. After a record-breaking 4.2 million viewers watched the Aug. 20 season premiere — a peak for both the fashion-forward reality series and its new home, Lifetime — its ratings have fallen by nearly a third over the first 10 episodes. That means the network can no longer claim it’s the most-watched edition.

Since this is a show that usually gains steam as it builds toward the runway-showdown finale, that drop-off seems to signal a problem for Lifetime’s hard-won prize. Remember: The network snatched seasons 6 through 10 of the series away from Bravo, Runway‘s original home, in April 2008 for a reported $150 million. But the show remained in limbo during a messy court battle, which resulted in an almost-yearlong delay between the start of filming (in fall 2008) and the recent season’s debut. The lag has given close Runway watchers an odd sense of time travel. Host Heidi Klum — who’s in supermodel shape on screen — got pregnant in the interim and gave birth in early October, while Rebecca Romijn, who had twins way back in December 2008, showed up as a (very) pregnant guest judge this fall. And the finalists’ creations, which are supposed to be oh-so au courant, were on display at Fashion Week in February, which is basically the Mesozoic era to fashionistas.

Unfortunately for Lifetime, there are other factors that have conspired to make the once-buzzy reality competition come unstitched. The ho-hum cast hasn’t helped (Where’s the Santino? Or even the Christian?), and the move from New York City to Los Angeles has proved ill-advised, since it means we’ve seen less of mainstays Nina Garcia and Michael Kors. For her part, Garcia said she had to curtail her involvement when production shifted from summer in NYC to fall in L.A., because it conflicted with big fashion shows in Paris and Milan. ”I had to go do my job as an editor,” Garcia, the fashion director at Marie Claire, recently told EW. ”It’s unfortunate.”

Even if the ratings don’t rebound, Lifetime execs say the show has already accomplished their main goal: bringing a touch of cool to a brand that has a reputation for being as dowdy as the Golden Girls’ couch. ”Lifetime has a long tradition with movies and dramas like Army Wives,” a rep for the net says. ”From an audience-expanding perspective, it’s been great.” Runway returns next year with a seventh season that’s already in the can — and, thankfully, it’s set in Manhattan. ”Moving forward, it’s back to New York, and we’re all there the entire time,” says Garcia. ”Nobody missed anything!” So we’ll hold off on declaring Runway totally out.

With additional reporting by Archana Ram and Missy Schwartz

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