Credit: Barbara Nitke

Project Runway kicks off its fifth season on Bravo next Wednesday, July 16. But do people even know to tune in? In past years, the lead-up to a new cycle of Runway came with an onslaught of publicity: constant on-air promos, posters and billboards every which way you turn, and print ads galore. But this time, there’s been a noticeable dearth of promotion for Bravo’s No. 1 show. Sure, there have been television commercials and the occasional print announcement, but the usual plastering of New York City buses and subways, for instance, has been suspiciously absent.

During an interview last month for an EW feature about the controversy currently surrounding the show — namely, that it’s heading to Lifetime starting with cycle 6 this fall — Bravo General Manager Frances Berwick told us that the scaled-back publicity this time around was a matter of maintaining the contestants’ anonymity. The show won’t finish the bulk of production until Sunday, July 13, just three days before Wednesday’s premiere. If they made promos that revealed the identity of the designers while episodes were still shooting in New York, there could be leaks. “We don’t want any spoilers,” Berwick said. “The show is so high profile. People look out for [the contestants]. We don’t want the cast out there because anyone who sees them out and about will know that they reach a certain level in the show.”

While that argument makes sense, Bravo could simply have whipped up billboards that feature host Heidi Klum (pictured). But they haven’t. Some people suspect that Bravo is trying to sabotage the show before it heads to Lifetime next season — a way of getting back at producer Harvey Weinstein for taking away their banner hit. A source at Bravo called that theory “ridiculous,” and added, “Why wouldn’t we want Runway to do well on our network?” Moreover, the source said, on Monday, July 14th, Bravo will be releasing not only the names and faces of all 16 designers from the upcoming season 5, but also some of the guest judges and challenges. “People will be complaining we’ve given them too much information!”