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A Road from Pageant to Politics

165505_493195442653_108167527653_6029100_7986541_n When the new Miss America, Theresa Scanlan, rang the opening bell of NASDAQ earlier this week, standing right along with her was someone familiar in Hollywood circles: Sam Haskell.

The former worldwide head of television for William Morris, Haskell has been spending the past few years laying the groundwork for a potential foray into politics and, a bit unexpectedly, serving as chairman of the Miss America Organization, the 90-year-old pageant that has been challenged to stay relevant in a pop landscape heavy in attitude and American Idol.

“The Miss America pageant is a slice of Americana,” says Haskell, backstage at the Planet Hollywood Hotel in Las Vegas, just minutes before showtime. “It is the only thing left that can create a star out of a Kansas farm girl or a Mississippi belle. It is the only thing that still, on one night, changes someone’s life forever.”

Six years ago, after he resigned from William Morris, his wife, Mary, a former Miss Missippippi who competed in the pageant in 1977, encouraged him to join the board. He only intended to serve a year, but that soon changed when the chairman was ousted and Haskell was elected to the top spot. He does it pro bono, but it is a full-time job.

At the time, not only was the pageant competing against the onslaught of reality TV, but it had lost its spot on a broadcast network, and instead was picked up by Country Music Television.

After landing better placement in the past few years on TLC, Haskell last year helped secure a three-year deal that had the pageant back on a major network, ABC. By wrangling sponsors like DSW, Amway and American Signature Furniture and others, “we bought the time and had the money to produce the show.”

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