Miss America ratings drop again, despite gimmicks

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Skimpy swimsuits, a shortened telecast and a last-woman-standing talent competition couldn't help Miss America's TV ratings.

A record-low 9.8 million people watched Saturday's pageant, about 500,000 fewer than last year, continuing a trend that threatens the event's future on network television.

Broadcast by ABC, Miss America was television's most-watched program for the night, according to Nielsen Media Research, drawing a 6.4 rating and a 12 share.

The show, which culminated in the crowning of Miss Alabama Deidre Downs as Miss America 2005, had some new wrinkles. Chief among them: shaving an hour off the three-hour telecast and speeding up its pace.

Instead of showing five or 10 women performing their talent routines live, ABC showed only two, during a head-to-head talent contest held after the rest of the contestants were eliminated.

Contestants showed more skin than ever, parading in stringy two-piece suits provided by sponsor Speedo, and master of ceremonies Chris Harrison tried to drum up suspense during eliminations by dragging out the announcements of which contestants would advance.

Also added were taped interviews with contestants, during which one confessed: "I'm incredibly excited and I feel like I'm going to throw up."

None of that could stem the loss of viewers for Miss America, whose ratings have declined in eight of the past 10 years.

More than 25 million viewers tuned in to the pageant in 1995.

While viewership for network television as a whole is on the decline, some believe Miss America's days on television are numbered -- unless it makes radical changes.

"It's time to look at Miss America for what it is -- an event that is a symbol of a bygone era," said Rutgers University professor Steven Miller, a TV expert. "In order to compete against more modern shows, it needs to have a complete makeover."

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