TLC to Don Miss America Crown

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TLC will look to bring a little reality to the aging Miss America franchise in January after acquiring the rights to the 86-year-old pageant through 2010.

In a surprise deal, the Discovery Networks-owned TLC declared last week that it will distribute the beauty pageant live, beginning with the Jan. 26, 2008 event from Las Vegas.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but TLC president and general manager Angela Shapiro-Mathes said in a statement that the deal also includes a reality series that will chronicle the preparations and journeys of the contestants.

Shapiro-Mathes was not available for comment regarding the network’s strategy behind its acquisition of the Miss America pageant, which doesn’t seem to necessarily mesh within the network’s lineup of reality and makeover-oriented shows like Little People, Big World, Miami Ink and What Not to Wear. The network has also rarely offered live programming in the past, relying mostly on reality fare.

But Katz Television Media Group vice president and director of programming Bill Carroll said the Miss America reality show, in particular, would be in keeping with the style and approach that TLC typically offers.

“For TLC, there’s only upside potential because they’re getting a reality program that’s likely to have a lot of buzz,” he said.

TLC acquired the pageant’s TV rights after Viacom-owned CMT earlier this year declined to exercise a distribution option for the 2008 event. The network had aired the past two pageants, flanking them with multimedia promotions, local ad-sales initiatives and a documentary series.

“We’re thrilled to partner with the Miss America Organization and to broadcast the next generation of the Miss America Pageant,” said Shapiro-Mathes in a statement. “In addition, through a new reality series, we’ll get to know 52 of the country’s smartest and most beautiful women as they prepare for a competition they’ve dreamed of their entire lives.”

TLC inherits a franchise that’s been in decline from a ratings standpoint for quite some time. Last year, the pageant drew 2.4 million viewers on CMT, after setting a network-ratings record the prior year with 3.1 million watchers.

But those numbers fell well short of 7.1 million viewers the pageant drew on ABC in 2004 — about half the audience it had in 1997 when the alphabet network acquired it from NBC. The viewership was only one-fourth of the 27 million watchers the pageant drew during its inaugural TV airing in 1954.

Carroll said, though, that TLC can drive ratings for the pageant — if it can build momentum through the reality series.

“Right now, competition television is big, and if you can make this a competition with a rooting interest in the contestants on the part of the viewer, [it] could be the resurrection of what was a huge franchise,” he said.

The Miss America pageant is the first major content move for Shapiro-Mathes since taking over TLC in July. The former Fox Television Studios president, who spearheaded production of such FX series as The Shield and The Riches, takes over at a time of ratings revival for the 93-million subscriber network, which grew 14% to a 0.8 average in primetime for the second quarter and July.

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