Originally created 06/02/04

Miss America trims down: Telecast will be two hours

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Finding fat on Miss America isn't easy. Finding it in the pageant telecast should be, though.

That's what the pageant's TV producers will be doing this summer, trimming the annual beauty contest's live prime-time show from three hours to two in hopes of juicing up its Nielsen ratings.

"Who will be eliminated?" may be replaced by "What will be eliminated?" as the question foremost in viewers' minds when they tune in for the Sept. 18 telecast on ABC.

Will it be the parade of states, in which contestants - starting with Miss Alabama, ending with Miss Wyoming - introduce themselves to viewers and the live audience?

Will it be the reigning Miss America's farewell walk down the runway?

How about that fuzzy tell-us-about-your-platform segment?

Miss America Organization CEO Art McMaster isn't telling. McMaster, who announced the cutback to two hours Tuesday, won't say what he will recommend to pageant producer Bob Bain and ABC executives.

"There's nothing that's on the chopping block itself," McMaster said. "It's just a matter of reformatting the TV show to get it down to two hours. The whole show is being reformatted, from minute one to minute 120."

Last year's pageant drew only 10.3 million viewers, an all-time low, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The ratings slide has prompted pageant and ABC officials to look hard at Miss America's talent competition, an amateur hour with none of the pizazz - or drawing power - of "American Idol."

McMaster, who took over as interim CEO in January, says the talent competition will remain a part of Miss America, but the way it's presented will be changed.

"It will be in. Absolutely, it will be in. How it will be shown is the idea we're going after," said McMaster.

For years, the 10 semifinalists got to perform their routines - including dancing the hula and singing arias - on the stage during the annual telecast. Five years ago, the pageant cut the number of routines performed live in front of the TV cameras to five, hoping to hold on to viewers.

Meanwhile, the length of the telecast grew. It has been three hours long since 1998.

"In the reformatting of the show, they wanted and we wanted a faster-paced, hipper TV show, in keeping with today's demands," McMaster said. "The three-hour show, honestly, dragged a little bit. We feel we can put on a better show in two hours."

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