Settled into the backseat of a town car on a sticky June morning in New York City, Heidi Klum is explaining who she is and isn't. Yes, she's the German-born supermodel who, over the past three years, has transformed herself from Victoria's Secret pinup to an Emmy-nominated TV star and producer. In 2004, with a little help from her big-shot friends (does the name Harvey Weinstein ring a bell?), Klum co-created and signed on to host Project Runway, the reality series about aspiring fashion designers that soon exploded into a ratings hit and watercooler favorite. But when it comes to brass-tacks business decisions about the show, including the bombshell announcement in April that it would be leaving its current home at Bravo for Lifetime in November, she is not the one calling the tough shots. ''People always think I have all the say. I don't!'' she says with a laugh. ''It's Harvey he owns most of the show. And exactly what they do behind closed doors, I don't really know.'' So no, despite her success, she is not a screaming office tyrant. ''A hard businesswoman like, 'You're fired!' that's not me,'' Klum says, as the car makes its way toward Parsons The New School for Design, where she'll spend the afternoon taping the seventh episode of Runway's fifth season. ''I like to think I am serious about business, but that doesn't mean I'm someone that stands in her office like, 'Grrrrrr!' I'm not a mean person.''
You can't really blame Klum for playing up her kind image, given the big, ugly storm that's currently brewing in the Runway universe. The same day The Weinstein Co. revealed that Lifetime would be airing season 6 and the four cycles beyond, Bravo's parent company, NBC Universal, fired back with a lawsuit claiming that the Weinsteins' deal with Lifetime (worth an estimated $150 million) was a breach of contract. And the drama didn't end there. A few weeks later, word came that the sixth season of the New York-based show would take place partly in Los Angeles, and that Runway's longtime producers Magical Elves, who many insiders credit with giving the show its addictive flair, would not be following the show to Lifetime. Then, with Nina Garcia moving from Elle to Marie Claire, there were doubts that the show's toughest judge would be joining the gang at Lifetime. It all added up to a doozy of a news flash for Runway's ultra-protective fans, many of whom were already grumbling that season 4 had slipped, with challenges relying too heavily on product placement, and a frustrating underutilization of the series' mentor, Tim Gunn. With so many changes, fans began worrying aloud that Runway was on the verge of becoming to borrow a phrase from recent winner Christian Siriano a hot tranny mess. So the $150 million question is: Can Project Runway keep making it work?
NEXT PAGE: ''We don't feel like it's over-promising to say that this will be one of the greatest seasons of the show.''