- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2007

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Miss America Pageant has been dropped by Country Music Television, leaving the 86-year-old competition without a TV outlet for the second time in three years.

The Viacom-owned network, which had rights to air the pageant through 2011, notified the Atlantic City, N.J.-based organization that it will not exercise its option to televise the contest “in 2008 and beyond,” the cable network said in a statement issued to the Associated Press yesterday.

Pageant officials said they’ve begun the search for a new TV home.

“It’s been a very good two-year run,” said pageant head Art McMaster. “But we’re going to get out there and make the calls and see what the best offer is.”

The news is another blow to an American institution that has struggled to find a place in modern popular culture. After 50 years on network television, ABC dropped Miss America in 2004 when ratings fell to a record low. Nashville, Tenn.-based CMT picked up the pageant, moved it to Las Vegas from its home in Atlantic City and updated its look with reality-TV elements. The changes won a younger audience.

CMT Executive Vice President Brian Philips cited the network’s focus on original programming, not ratings, for the decision.

“As a network, CMT is now in a more-aggressive position to build off of existing series and launch more original series and music-centric special events,” Mr. Philips said in a statement.

CMT has found success with its concert show “CMT Crossroads” and the reality show “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team.”

The pageant and scholarship program, for years a volunteer-run celebration of do-goodery, has made attempts to conform to reality TV’s stunts-and-sizzle formula. It added a quiz show, then took it away. It added viewer voting, took it away and brought it back. The 2007 pageant programming included a “Pageant School” reality show special and contestant biographies telecast in advance of the crowning.

The January crowning of Miss Oklahoma Lauren Nelson as Miss America drew 2.4 million viewers. Rival pageant Miss USA, which doesn’t have a talent contest, isn’t having the same trouble.

NBC, a part owner of Miss USA, announced yesterday that it had renewed its contract with pageant co-owner Donald Trump and the Miss Universe Organization to broadcast the Miss Universe and Miss USA competitions until 2011. About 7.4 million viewers tuned in for the crowning of Miss USA 2007 last week.

But neither pageant today can approach the historical numbers of Miss America. The contest, which began as a publicity stunt for Atlantic City boardwalk business owners, became a TV event of Super Bowl proportions, getting 80 million viewers in its heyday.

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