Miss America Pageant Two-Steps Over to CMT

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Miss America Pageant, dumped by ABC last year after suffering achy-breaky ratings, is high-tailing it over to cable's Country Music Television network, which is averaging about 300,000 viewers in prime time this year.

Yee haw!

The Miss America Organization and CMT yesterday slapped each other on the back and talked about their shared "core values" and their mutual admiration of the American "heartland."

"We needed to find a better partner, one that better understands our values," Miss America Organization CEO Art McMaster told The TV Column yesterday.

"CMT's audience is the heartland of America; that's the same type of loyal audience 'Miss America' has enjoyed; they respect the traditions and values of this organization.

"[CMT] will showcase our values and traditions: We are about talent, we are about eveningwear, we are about swimwear. It's about intelligence; it's a competition."

CMT's vice president of programming, Paul Villadolid, had this to say: "Miss America is an important institution that really appeals to heartland sensibilities.

"We share their core values and reflect their lifestyles," he said, which includes "celebrating small-town sensibilities," rooting for the underdog and "remaining very positive and optimistic."

No word on whether those core values include increasingly skimpy swimsuits; last year the show raised eyebrows for aggressive conservation of fabric in the suits the contestants were made to wear.

Villadolid and McMaster also were sketchy about how they plan to handle the talent portion of the competition, which last year was all but wiped out in the ratings hunt.

Under terms of the new deal, CMT gets telecast rights for two years with the option to pick up the show through 2011. "Miss America" will be moved to January from its traditional air date in September -- it was originally conceived in the '20s by Atlantic City businessmen as a gimmick to keep vacationers there past Labor Day, according to the Miss America Organization. The January date is needed to give the organization and CMT time to plan for show changes and for a marketing and promo campaign, Villadolid explains.

CMT hopes to rescue the oldest televised beauty pageant with the addition of behind-the-scenes programming leading up to the pageant's telecast -- programming that will let viewers get to know the competitors. Plans are to run the build-up stuff on CMT and VH1; both cable networks are part of MTV Networks, owned by Viacom.

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