He's ushered in a veritable belle epoque at Project Runway, but things may be turning ugly for Tim Gunn. With Bravo eager to forge ahead with season 4 of the reality-show hit, contracts are in place for hostess Heidi Klum and judges Nina Garcia and Michael Kors but not for its style counselor. This has left many wondering if Runway will have legs without its breakout star.
Gunn, who didn't return calls for comment, has skirted questions about his contract and salary. And to make matters even more curious, he's contended that his duties as the chair of the fashion department at Parsons trump any TV extracurriculars. ''Parsons,'' he has said, ''pays my bills.'' Bravo has good reason to be conflicted over this decision: Since the show's inception in December 2004, the network says ratings have surged 189 percent thanks in large part to Gunn's anomalous appeal (you know, a cerebral 53-year-old man upstaging a supermodel host). But waiting out Gunn's school year would mean filming the next season in May '07 at the earliest, seven months after Runway's last finale. (Theoretically, if Gunn doesn't return, production could begin sooner.)
So will it come down to quantity of viewers over quality of content? A source close to Runway claims concerned fans are jumping the Gunn. ''We're confident the whole team will be back,'' says the source. ''We'll find a way to work around his schedule.'' As they should. Any decision to tinker with Bravo's marquee show could lead a chunk of loyal fans to bid auf Wiedersehen.