The dispute is the product of long-simmering tension between Weinstein and Bravo. According to a September court decision, Weinstein had a "particular dislike" for Bravo president Lauren Zalaznick, whom he claimed in an affidavit "proved difficult to work with" and interfered with the creative development of the show and efforts to get product integration advertising.
"Harvey felt that NBC and Bravo were essentially trying to run him dry," said a person familiar with the case. "He felt they were unwilling to commit the resources to doing the kind of first-class show that he wanted to do. And, they were copying his shows -- and they were doing it without Harvey."
Lawyers for Weinstein, NBC and Lifetime declined to comment.
As tensions between Weinstein and Bravo mounted, Weinstein wanted to take the show elsewhere.
At a January 2008 meeting in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, Weinstein, Jeff Zucker, the CEO of NBC Universal, and Marc Graboff, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, tried to smooth things out.
NBC claims in its lawsuit that Weinstein promised not to sell "Runway," reportedly telling Zucker, "You can only have in your life five true friends and I consider you one of my five friends. And I'm telling you, I will not embarrass you."
NBC says it offered to put the show on USA or another NBC-owned station other than Bravo.
Weinstein claims in an affidavit that he offered to come to NBC first "as a token of friendship and courtesy," but never gave it a legal right of refusal. According to a recent court decision he said he'd rather cut off his arm than do that.
And those five friends? According to court papers, Weinstein says he really has 15 friends in the business world.
In February 2008, NBC says, Weinstein called Zucker and told him he'd gotten an offer, later revealed to be from Lifetime, that was "so huge and stupid" it was not worth countering. He signed a deal with Lifetime on Feb. 7, 2008 and cashed a $20 million deposit, but according to a recent court ruling, did not tell NBC about the deal until it was announced in April.
In September, a New York state court judge granted NBC a preliminary injunction at least temporarily blocking Lifetime from airing or promoting the show, an unusual move in this type of entertainment dispute. Acknowledging that the order would leave the show "in limbo," Judge Richard Lowe said NBC was likely to win on the merits of the case. The Weinstein Co. has appealed the order.
If it continues, the delay could prove damaging to everyone involved. James Wesley, Lifetime's executive vice president, said in court papers that an injunction could leave the network with a hole in its programming strategy and that he feared if the show is forced off the air, its audience may never return.
"Generally, the longer you take a popular show off the air, the more it might tend to fade from memory and damage its equity," said Tim Brooks, a television historian and former executive at Lifetime, USA and NBC. He was not involved with the "Runway" deal.
Brooks said that "Runway" was a pioneering show with a strong enough fan base to survive a long delay, but if the lawsuit means several years off the air, "then something else could take its place."