CMT to Air Miss America Pageant

Miss America's (search) goin' country. The famous beauty pageant, its future in doubt since ABC dropped it last fall, has signed a multiyear broadcast deal with cable country music network CMT (search), officials said Monday.

The pageant, traditionally held in September or October, won't crown its next winner until January. And it may not happen in Atlantic City, where Miss America was born as a Labor Day publicity stunt in 1921.

Pageant officials, who spent months trying to find a new network after losing the ABC deal last October, said no determination had been made whether it would remain here.

Country Music Television, based in Nashville, is owned by media giant Viacom (search), which also owns music channels MTV and VH1.

VH1 will air "supportive programming" leading up to the pageant in hopes of drumming up interest with viewers.

Financial terms of the deal were not announced.

Pageant CEO Art McMaster said the move would help give the troubled pageant a boost in promotion, helping viewers know when the once-a-year special will air.

The pageant's Nielsen ratings have been dropping for years, with viewers growing tired of baton twirlers, evening gowns and canned speeches about social causes. Last year's telecast drew a record-low 9.8 million viewers, prompting ABC — which had aired it since 1997 — to give up on it.

The move to cable represents a comedown of sorts, but some see it as a good marriage.

"It's a great alternative to a national outlet," said former CEO Leonard Horn. "It's a good cable network. If it's properly promoted — and they certainly have the ability, with MTV and VH1 — the millions of loyal Miss America fans will watch it."

McMaster, who unsuccessfully pitched other networks in hopes of remaining on broadcast television, said Miss America would get more viewers if its preliminary competitions — three nights of talent, swimsuit and evening wear — were aired, giving people a chance to get to know the contestants.

Neither pageant spokeswoman Jenni Glenn nor CMT spokeswoman Lisa Chader would say what the "supportive programming" would consist of, except that some would be in advance of the live telecast and that the pageant would be re-aired on subsequent nights.

Miss America — and beauty pageants in general — have traditionally been more popular in Southern states, and the move to CMT may help both.

"Miss America is sort of a heartland kind of event," said media analyst Larry Gerbrandt. "It's Mom, Dad, the flag and apple pie. That's their demographic."

Chader said the decision about whether to keep Miss America in Atlantic City was up to pageant officials; Glenn said the pageant has to talk to the network and Atlantic City officials before making a decision.