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August 14, 2007


Miss America moves up the crumbling ladder of cable respectability

Miss America billboard

Two years ago, ABC dumped the rights to air the Miss America pageant. The ratings sucked, maybe because we live in a changing world where viewers no longer care about outdated feminine ideals, or maybe because now we see parades of blandly homogeneous beautiful people on every channel every single day, so who cares about 52 more? In one-piece bathing suits?

In 2005, CMT bought the Miss America rights for two years, which seemed perfect. The big hair, big makeup, and devotion to God and working with children fit right in with CMT's audience--representatives of both groups talked a lot about the "traditions" and "values" and "heartland sensibilities" that they share, and it seemed that the gaudy dresses, taped breasts, and hokey sentimentality of Miss America had found its new spiritual home. The giant billboard that CMT put up in Times Square of decades of Miss Americas screeching and crying and pulling at their hair showed that they totally got the enduring appeal of their new show.

But ratings fell from 3.1 million last year to 2.4 earlier this year, so CMT decided to go back to Coyote Ugly recruiting reality shows and Dukes of Hazzard reruns. Yesterday the winners of the bidding war/fire sale for broadcast rights was announced: The Learning Channel.

I can see how TLC offers its viewers learning opportunities in its How To shows about the real estate market, home repair and improvement, and creating a flattering wardrobe. "Big Medicine" and "Diagnosis X" are pretty good real-life medical shows that are fun to watch and arguably educational. But "Miami Ink", and the new hyper-advertised "LA Ink", about tattoo artists and their tattoos and the tattoos they give their customers? Not exactly the cable version of PBS.

It's nice for Miss America, sort of, to be adopted by a channel with a more respectable, sort of, image. But TLC isn't good at the glitz and pneumatic cleavage of Miss America. They're trying to make it more of a human interest documentary with a reality show about the contestants before the pageant. Boring! "This collaboration is a tremendous opportunity for us to present this scholarship pageant and great American tradition to our viewers with a contemporary production style unique to our channel," said the TLC president.

That's right, scholarship pageant! Yee-ha, Learning Channel. The president also calls Miss America contestants "52 of the country's smartest and most beautiful women", which I don't think was a selling point that CMT ever used in its marketing. We'll see if America goes for the "smart" angle in January.

categories: Culture, TV
posted by amy at 12:38 PM | #

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