Tim Gunn Says ‘Project Runway’ Exit Didn’t Happen How He Would Have Wanted (Exclusive)

Tim Gunn
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The former ‘Project Runway’ mentor opens up about what’s in store for his new Amazon series.

After 16 seasons, Project Runway is going through some major changes, with host Heidi Klum and mentor Tim Gunn beginning a new chapter in their TV careers.

Shortly after it was announced that the reality competition series was moving from Lifetime back to its original network, Bravo, for season 17, Klum and Gunn revealed they were leaving the franchise for Amazon Prime.

“When [Project Runway] was moving to another network, it was an opportunity to take stock and to ask ourselves, ‘What do we want to do?’” Gunn recalls to ET, adding: “I will say this: We weren’t looking for another opportunity as much as we were taking stock. Then Amazon quite literally popped up and said, ‘Would you two be interested in having a conversation?’”

What resulted was the promise to revolutionize reality TV by harnessing Amazon’s global reach. But details on the new series have been scant, and Gunn says that’s purely because they’re still in the development stage. “What exactly will [the new show] be, I’ll be absolutely transparent with you, we don’t know yet,” he says, while making one promise: “We are deliberately and quite literally putting [the] runway on the shelf.”

Despite putting the runway away, the new series will reunite a core Project Runway trio -- Gunn, Klum, and showrunner Sara Rea, who has been with the show for the past 11 seasons. “Heidi and I love and adore her,” Gunn says, adding that “she’s so creative and so full of wonderful ideas and wasn’t able to execute a lot of them [on Project Runway] because of various constraints.”

With ideas seemingly limitless for the new series (“If we really look at this unencumbered, what can that really be?”), Gunn says that “it’s simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying.” Yet, all that emotion and opportunity is what is driving them to deliver the best series possible.

“We want this to blow everybody away and say, ‘I can’t believe the show even exists. This is incredible,’” Gunn says, while adding that Klum wants another Emmy.

Over the course of the series, Project Runway won two Emmy awards, including one for Klum and Gunn for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program in 2013. And now Klum is ready for more. “Hopefully we get to walk home with an Emmy yet again,” she recently revealed.

While the duo’s departure caught the industry and fans by surprise, Gunn says it was not by design. “How it happened isn't how I would have wanted it to happen, to be perfectly honest,” he says, explaining he would have chosen to give fans a proper send-off. “But they say, ‘Time heals everything.’”

Gunn and Klum, however, can be proud they went out on a high note. For the first time in the franchise’s history, the competition featured models of all sizes on the runway -- something Gunn credits Rea for making happen. “She’s been fighting to have a diverse range of models forever. We got it and then the ratings went up 15 percent, which is pretty remarkable.”

Admittedly, Gunn wishes the show had been a little more ahead of the curve in the same way that season four winner Christian Siriano has been since taking the fashion industry by storm and dressing everyone from Leslie Jones to Victoria Beckham. “I’m so proud that he has been a leader,” Gunn says of Siriano, who is taking over as mentor on season 17 of Project Runway alongside new host Karlie Kloss. (Zac Posen, who joined the judging panel in season 11, is also leaving the series.)

Meanwhile, outside of the Runway franchise, Gunn continues to expand his presence elsewhere, whether it’s adding to his bibliography -- the latest being 2015’s Tim Gunn: The Natty Professor: A Master Class on Mentoring, Motivating, and Making It Work! -- or lending his voice to BoJack Horseman and Mixology or becoming a prominent supporter of PETA.

Most recently, Gunn has teamed up with damage-free Command Brand products to help consumers personalize their holiday décor by taking inspiration from recent fashion trends. “We call them ‘Tim-isms,” he says of handy tips and tricks like using the products in unexpected ways, like hanging garland in the shape of a Christmas tree for those living in small apartments.

Gunn’s approach to decorating is similar to the one he’s taking with his new series. “We’re reimagining this entire thing,” he says.