Here's today's TV Quiz.
How will viewers react this week when NBC televises the Miss America Pageant from Atlantic City?
A. Titillated by the Vanessa Williams scandal, they'll tune in in unprecedented numbers.
B. Outraged by the Vanessa Williams scandal, they'll tune out in unprecedented numbers.
C. Amused by the Vanessa Williams scandal, they'll tune in to see whether host Gary Collins can keep a straight face all evening.
D. Bemused by the Vanessa Williams scandal, they'll tune in to see how well the pageant rebounds from the most embarrassing moment in its history.
Any of the answers could be correct. But don't look for Gary Collins, the smooth talk-show host and for three years successor to Bert Parks as pageant master of ceremonies, to lose his cool. He expresses sincere shock and dismay over the publication of the Williams nude photos in Penthouse magazine, but subsequent spill-over criticism of the pageant hasn't fazed him. Good thing too, since he's married to a former Miss America, Mary Ann Mobley.
"I was devastated by it," said Collins of the Williams episode. "Completely baffled. I'm not sure I understand the point of a magazine like Penthouse or the desire or need to expose oneself in that manner. I think the pageant will survive. I'm a fan of Vanessa Williams. I hope it doesn't damage her career."
The publication of the photos ended her career as Miss America and she will not be a part of the Saturday night proceedings. In her place will be Suzette Charles, the first runner up from last year, rushed into the breach this summer to replace the dethroned Williams.
However, in the hurry to take new promotional pictures with pageant host Collins, Charles found that she needed a crown (Williams' wasn't available). But the company that makes the pageant-winner's headgear was on strike. What to do? Simple. Collins fished from his wife's closet the crown that she wore when she was named Miss America 25 years ago.
"I would suspect Suzette will do all the production numbers with me," said Collins. "And she'll make a speech relating to her experience as Miss America."
The ratings for the pageant may carry a message about how Americans have reacted to the Williams scandal. But until that jury comes in, Collins remains convinced that the pageant is a sturdy American institution that will survive intact.
"It's part of our culture," he said. "A lot of people have looked at it. Some 90 to 100,000 women actively pursue this title each year. You look for the pageant to produce a well-rounded example of American woman hood."
Collins defended the pageant against claims made by some commentators that the pageant and magazines like Penthouse are part of the same sexist view of women, both exploiting women in varying degrees. "They somehow related the exploitation of Penthouse to what happens in the Miss America pageant," he said. "The pageant is not a bathing beauty contest. I can't use the word exploitation in the same context. You would expect the young ladies who take these photos to be a cut below those who enter this contest.
"The question is, what does it say about women in our society?" Do they do it for money? To forward a career? "I don't know," he said.
This will only be Collins' third pageant, but he's had a long-term relationship to the program.
"I met Mary Ann Mobley 18 or 19 years ago," he recalled. "She's made frequent visits to Atlantic City, and I've been on the show. I feel it's a worthwhile program for young women. It offers scholarships and so forth. So I'm a big supporter of the program. It has come from being essentially a swimsuit competition . . . Now the winner is never crowned in a bathing suit. She can't appear in one during her reign. She's chaperoned and always kept separate from the liquor (at functions she attends)."
Collins has had a lot of chances to charm the people of Ohio and everywhere else in the country. He's worked just about every faze of the entertainment business -- movies, stage, nightclubs, industrial shows, sometimes performing with Mobley. And of course he's been all over TV -- he's starred and guest-starred in nearly a dozen series, and he's wrestled with a tiger and rode the wing of a bi-plane for "Circus of the Stars." He's now best known as host of both the daily syndicated "Hour Magazine" talk-and- magazine show and the annual Miss America Pageant. This will be his fifth year as host of "Magazine," and he's signed a contract through 1988
One of the guests who may be on tap for an edition of "Hour Magazine": Vanessa Williams.