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No More Miss America Pageantry for ABC

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, October 21, 2004; Page C07

There she goes -- Miss America!

Skimpy Speedos, a telecast shortened by one hour, and even the virtual elimination of all electric-fiddle playing in hot pants couldn't save Miss America from getting pink-slipped by ABC.

The network yesterday notified the Miss America Organization that it would not pick up the show this year, leaving the chickfest without a major broadcast outlet for the first time in 50 years.

ABC won't air the Miss America pageant next year. This year's winner was Miss Alabama Deidre Downs. (Daniel Hulshizer -- AP)

While the pageant's acting president and CEO, Arthur McMaster, spun the franchise's new free-agentdom happily, telling the Associated Press they were "excited at the limitless opportunities that are now available for us to grow our brand," TV industry navel-gazers speculated this probably means the end of the Miss America pageant on a major broadcast network.

NBC, after all, is stuck with Miss Teen USA, Miss USA and Miss Universe for the foreseeable future because they are owned by Donald Trump, star of the most successful series developed by NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker when he was president of the entertainment division.

CBS got out of the pageant business in 2002, citing low ratings. And Fox already has its own beauty pageant; it's called "The Swan."

ABC, which had carried the annual judging of women since 1997, had been committing to "Miss America" one year at a time.

Yesterday's news cannot have come as a shock to the Miss America Organization. A little more than a decade ago, the competition that started as an Atlantic City publicity stunt had copped about 27 million viewers; last month, it drew a record-low 9.8 million.

And while that's about the same size audience as watched the two-hour finale of Fox's plastic surgery "beauty" pageant "The Swan," the median age of the Miss America audience is more than 51, while that of "The Swan's" viewership is under 37.

And don't forget, the AP noted, that ABC had to cough up $5.6 million for broadcast rights to the pageant in 2003.

Of course, ABC, which took over the pageant after 30-year sponsor NBC bowed out, wasn't doing Miss America any favors airing it on Saturdays -- a low-viewership night the broadcast networks have largely turned over to series repeats. Newer networks UPN and WB don't even program Saturday nights. The Miss America Organization had been pressing ABC to move the pageant to another night.

Tucker Carlson enjoyed being spanked by Jon Stewart on national television. He wants more. Only this time on tax-funded public television.

Carlson, one of the Four Yapping Pests of CNN's "Crossfire," has invited "The Daily Show" host to be his guest on his PBS program.

You'll recall that as a public service to the many Americans who cannot afford cable television and thus are denied Carlson's voice, PBS recently gave him a second public affairs show, "Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered," which airs on Fridays.

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