Bravo's "Top Chef" pulled off a feat on Sunday night that many pundits believed was impossible: The series knocked off "The Amazing Race," which had dominated the Emmy reality competition category for the past seven years.
A "Race" win was so expected that "Top Chef" exec producer Jane Lipsitz, one half of the Magical Elves production team, opted to stick in New York -- where the Elves are currently filming a Justin Bieber concert feature for Paramount and simultaneously shooting the next season of "Top Chef."
Lipsitz's partner, Dan Cutforth, was at the Nokia, however, and was rather shell-shocked as he picked up the prize. Cutforth partied with his Magical Elves team on Sunday night, then caught the early flight to New York on Monday morning.
The win came nearly a decade after the Elves' first Emmy nom, way back in 2001 for "Bands on the Run" (where Cutforth and Lipsitz first teamed up). The Magical Elves later made a name for themselves on "Project Greenlight," and then "Project Runway" and "Top Chef." The bleary-eyed duo took a moment on Monday afternoon to reflect on their whirlwind win, and chat about where their company is headed.
VARIETY ON THE AIR: Jane, where were you on Sunday night?
LIPSITZ: We're doing our first feature film for Paramount, and the timing just worked out that today and tomorrow we're at Madison Square Garden shooting. It's the big film and I've been on the road for ten days. I was going to fly back but the schedule was too crazy. It's heartbreaking.
VARIETY: Was there a part of you that figured, "Oh well, 'The Amazing Race' is going to win anyway"?
LIPSITZ: Well yeah, if I, in my most wildest dreams, had imagined that we were going to win, I would have found a way to make it work. But obviously having sat there for six years (and not won)... now we won because I wasn't there.
VARIETY: So now you can't go anymore.
LIPSITZ: I'm not allowed to go to the Emmys ever again.
VARIETY: Were you watching the Emmys in New York when the show won?
LIPSITZ: I was at a production meeting and I missed the beginning of the show. I walked in and sat down in the chair and it was the first award that I saw. Everyone in the room was screaming and the phone was crazy. It was a pretty amazing moment. And we're shooting "Top Chef" in New York, so I immediately grabbed the "Top Chef" crowd and we went out and had a little celebration here.
VARIETY: Obviously you weren't expecting this.
LIPSITZ: I think you feel like it was an impossible feat to beat "The Amazing Race," and we're storytellers, so we love a good story. Being the underdogs that toppled the king is a story that we'd document. It's amazing to win, but obviously under the circumstances a lot of people have been paying attention to this category because of "The Amazing Race's" winning streak, and its exciting to be acknowledged as the show that could beat "Amazing Race."
CUTFORTH: You can only put yourself through this so many times. The first few times you get there in a state of excitement and think you've got a chance at winning. But when you don't win that many times, after a bit you put up your defenses and just go through the motions and enjoy the night, never expecting that you're going to win. My immediate reaction was just complete disbelief. We were jumping up and down with excitement. Not particularly dignified, one of our producers (Erica Ross) fell over.
LIPSITZ: There's a clip on YouTube now that says "girl falls at Emmys."
CUTFORTH: She was philosphical about her place in Emmy history.
Here's the "Girl Falls at Emmys" YouTube video -- the spill happens at 0:32. It's a pretty good trip, worth watching!MORE AFTER THE JUMP.
VARIETY: Anything about the Las Vegas season that you think won the voters over?
LIPSITZ: I think what was great about this season, I think having a story about the brothers (chefs Bryan and Michael Voltaggio) certainly was an exciting part of the season and that final showdown made for a great experience. It's also the level of skill that these chefs had in this season elevated the product, and the guest judges were incredible names. We upgraded the challenges, and added the 'high-stakes Quickfire' (in which contestants earned large prizes)... it's so nice to be acknowledged in your sixth season.
CUTFORTH: I was talking to Tom Colicchio afterward, and he saw the episode we put up for nomination -- "Vivre Las Vegas," where the contestants had to cook for these pre-eminent French chefs. They were cooking for the chef of the century, Joel Robuchon. Vegas combined an every-man quality with the highest of the high end. And the other thing you just can't ignore is the sibling rivalry between the Voltaggio brothers. It just raised the competition to a different emotional and competitive level.
Here's a clip from that Emmy-winning "Top Chef" episode:
VARIETY: "Top Chef" has become a major franchise as well.
LIPSITZ: It's got such a loyal following. I mean, they're not as fanatic as Justin Bieber fans. But there are definitely some big "Top Chef" fans. It spans all ages. People from all shapes, sizes and colors love "Top Chef."
VARIETY: How far along are you on the new New York "Top Chef"?
LIPSITZ: We're at the half-way point, so about three more weeks.
VARIETY: Is there a Justin Bieber cameo next season?
LIPSITZ: No, ironically there's another teen idol. I think Justin's pretty busy right now anyway.
VARIETY: What does this win mean for the Magical Elves?
LIPSITZ: I think we can stop saying "the Emmy-nominated Magical Elves" and finally say "the Emmy-winning." It's amazing that it happened, and we just keep plugging away. I don't know if it changes our business or our direction, but it sure feels good.
CUTFORTH: I will not lie and say it doesn't mean a lot to us to win the Emmy. It was an incredibly exciting night. We've been nominated a lot of times, and it's incredible to be nominated. But to win really meant a lot to everyone that works at the company. What it means to the company is harder to quantify. We've prided ourselves on having the reputation for doing good quality work. It's great for the company and "Top Chef" as a show. Plus we have the new spinoff "Top Chef: Just Desserts" coming out.
VARIETY: When are we going to see the "Top Chef: Restaurant Wars" spinoff?
CUTFORTH: That's a question for Bravo. There's been some talk of it. We have a show that we've been working on for NBC, "America's Next Great Restaurant," and we're excited with how that show is going.
VARIETY: What's the strategy behind expanding the Magical Elves business into new arenas like features?
LIPSITZ: We love the competitive reality space. But the first show we did was "Project Greenlight," which became documentary. We love that kind of storytelling, and we're definitely returning to that by developing more docusoaps. Documentary films are labors of love, and its difficult. We love the experience, and when this opportunity came up we jumped at it. It's different to be able to go into a theater and watch people watch your work, as opposed to TV, which is a very isolated experience. To have the ability to tell a story in a much longer period of time is exciting for us.