TLC decides not to renew its contract with organization

There she is, Miss Homeless America.

TLC announced on Monday that it wouldn’t renew its deal to run the Miss America Pageant, the onetime-major TV event that has fallen on hard times over the past decade.

Decision came despite the event’s ratings uptick this year — thanks in part to the controversial decision to tap Rush Limbaugh as a judge.

“We are happy that TLC was part of the modernization and revitalization of the Miss America pageant,” the channel’s execs said in a statement. “This year we delivered record ratings, besting any of its prior performances on cable. However, our three-year deal has concluded, and we have chosen not to renew. We wish the Miss America Organization well.”

Miss America has been struggling to find its relevance ever since NBC dumped the pageant after 30 years in 1997 — embarking instead on a relationship with Donald Trump and Miss USA.

ABC picked up Miss America in 1997 but watched as the franchise continued its ratings decline (nearly 50% during its nine-year run) — and finally dropped the pageant in 2005. After that, CMT stepped up to save the event, running it in 2006 and 2007. TLC then took it over for the last three years.

Miss America attracted as many as 25 million viewers in 1995, but it’s been a steady drop since then.

The Miss America Organization has taken several steps in trying to revive the event — adding two-piece swimsuits in 1997 and moving the contest from its longtime Atlantic City base to Las Vegas in 2006, for example. The TLC run was also tied to a reality competition last year, but that reality spinoff didn’t continue this year.

Like most recent televised events, Miss America has indeed seen a ratings uptick: The 2010 edition averaged 4.5 million viewers in January, up from 3.5 million in 2009 and 3.6 million in 2008. That’s still down from 9.8 million in 2005, the pageant’s final year on broadcast TV. The pageant averaged 2.4 million on CMT in 2007.

Insiders noted that Miss America was brought in by former TLC topper Angela Shapiro, who’s no longer at the network. Also, the special is not cheap. The cabler may have decided that it wasn’t worth the pricetag, even with improved ratings. (It’s also believed that advertisers haven’t made an effort to be a part of the pageant given its older demographics.)

TLC is in the midst of a brand readjustment, aging down its audience. And Miss America was probably seen as a property that no longer completely fit with the channel’s direction.

On the flip side, insiders at the Miss America Organization said the pageant was not happy with the limited amount of promotion and marketing this year’s event received. TLC had expressed interest in renewing the deal, but the two sides could not come to terms.

Don’t count the pageant out just yet, however. Onetime mega-agent Sam Haskell serves as chairman of the board at the org and is no stranger to sealing big deals with network and cable entities. Given the ratings bump to this year’s telecast, it’s believed that there may be renewed interest at other outlets in the long-standing event (Daily Variety, Feb. 5).

TLC isn’t completely out of the pageant business, either. The cabler’s upcoming slate includes the Miss Turkey Trot and Miss Drumsticks Pageant on March 9, the Louisiana Yambilee Queen Pageant on March 26 and the Queen Mallard Pageant on April 2. All three come from Authentic Entertainment, the producer of TLC’s “Toddlers and Tiaras” — which features young pageant hopefuls in training.

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