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'Runway' goes to L.A., sticks to tried & true

PROJECT RUNWAY. 10 p.m. tonight, Lifetime All you nervous "Project Runway" fans can relax. The channel may have changed, along with the locale and the producers.

PROJECT RUNWAY. 10 p.m. tonight, Lifetime

All you nervous "Project Runway" fans can relax. The channel may have changed, along with the locale and the producers.

But the show - for better or worse - is still very much the same.

A lot of crazed "Runway" devotees freaked out when they heard that, after some bitter legal wrangling, the reality hit about aspiring fashion designers would be changing its home base from Bravo to Lifetime. Not only that, it would jump coasts from New York to Los Angeles and be taken over by the Bunim-Murray production company of "Real World" fame.

Gasp. Was "Project Runway" on its way to ruin?

Would its contestants abandon their garment collections to hobnob in hot tubs?

Would the catwalk be overrun by Hollywood hedonists?

Not to worry. Aside from an extra blast of sunlight and the appearance of tabloid queen Lindsay Lohan (who looks sort of lost) as a guest judge, the long-delayed Season 6 opener follows an oh-so-familiar pattern.

Heidi Klum is still here and looking as radiant as ever. So is beloved mentor Tim Gunn, and snarky mainstays Nina Garcia and Michael Kors. The sets and the basic setup? Still the same.

There is comfort in familiarity, of course, and you can't blame Lifetime for not wanting to fix something that wasn't broken - especially on the network's first go-around. On the other hand, most successful long-running reality shows, such as "Survivor," throw in a few tweaks here or there just to keep things fresh.

But a stubborn "Runway" sticks to the tried-and-true, right down to its trademark buzz-phrases. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't lose a moment of sleep if I never again heard Mr. Gunn force out the tired words, "Make it work."

As with any reality show, "Runway" mostly relies on the personalities of its cast to keep it humming. Lifetime made only an abbreviated version of the opener available for review. (The elimination round was trimmed "to preserve the excitement.")

And though it's always difficult to gauge the overall appeal of a 16-person cast on Night 1, this bunch seems to have potential.

The eager designers range in age from 24 to 50 and feature a recovering crystal-meth addict, someone who admittedly "comes off as very androgynous," and a woman who specializes in plus-size designs but prefers to call them "plus-sexy."

A touch of Hollywood is immediately introduced in the season's first challenge as the designers find themselves whipping up fabulous (and frightful) red-carpet creations for television's big Emmy night. One stressed-out contestant has a tearful breakdown, forcing Gunn to shift from impartial mentor to proactive therapist.

Of course, Gunn revives the spirits of said contestant, who happily proclaims, "Tim's a god." The "Runway" faithful undoubtedly will nod in unison.

While Lifetime presents "Runway" with few alterations, it has adorned it with a couple of shiny accessories. On "Project Runway: All-Star Challenge," eight standout designers from seasons past return to the workroom to compete for $100,000 in a two-hour special.

And then there's "Models of the Runway," a companion series that will focus on the glamazons of the catwalk. Will fans embrace the additions? Well, as Heidi says, either you're in or you're out.