Local News

Miss America Show Hopes for A Ratings Boost From Miss N.C. Tiara Tiff

Posted September 20, 2002 5:55 a.m. EDT

— The furor over topless photos and who would wear Miss North Carolina's crown may give the Miss America Pageant's ratings a much-needed boost.

Producers are hoping all that turmoil - plus a little more skin and some reality TV-style gimmicks - will pump up interest in Saturday night's live, three-hour telecast.

"There certainly has been an increase in awareness. Hopefully, that will translate into viewership," said Bob Bain, executive producer of the telecast, which airs at 8 p.m. EDT on ABC.

The past year's turmoil at the Miss America Organization also includes the chief executives's threat to move the 81-year-old pageant.

The topless picture to-do centered on Miss North Carolina Rebekah Revels, a 24-year-old English teacher from St. Pauls who gave up her crown after an ex-boyfriend told pageant executives he had topless photos of her.

Revels claimed she was forced to quit by jittery pageant executives, and sued to get back the title she ceded to runner-up Misty Clymer of Raleigh.

Clymer and the pageant won in court - but too quickly for pageant executives. If they had their way, Bain said, the judge who decided the case Sept. 12 would have dragged out his deliberations until the day before the pageant, all the better for drawing curious viewers.

Instead, the pageant will rely on some new gimmicks:

  • Viewers will be allowed to vote online after each of the three main competitions (swimsuit, evening wear, talent), even though their say will not count toward the selection of Miss America 2003.
  • The 46 non-finalists will vote on who they think should wear the crown. They will also be interviewed in a backstage "jury room."
  • Finalists will be subjected to 16 questions about contemporary culture and American history in a "Jeopardy"-style pop quiz.
  • Comedian Wayne Brady will emcee the proceedings, the first African American ever to get the job.
  • The swimsuit contest, the genesis of the Miss America phenomenon in 1921, is being expanded from 10 to 15 contestants and moved up into the first hour of the show.
  • That last change flies in the face of the Miss America Organization's we're-a-scholarship-program-not-a-beauty-pageant mantra.

    The show's Nielsen ratings - 13.6 million people watched last year - crept up in 2001 after six consecutive years of decline. But no one knows whether the spike was due to changes in the telecast or the fact it aired 11 days after the Sept. 11 attacks.

    At the close of this year's telecast, Miss America 2002 Katie Harman, who once groused about not getting enough bookings and being billed for clothing alterations, will crown her successor for the traditional runway walk.