February 22, 2005 -- PLANS are afoot to transform the Miss America Pageant into a reality show — in hopes of jump-starting the sagging franchise.
The pageant, dropped by ABC last year after historically low ratings, has inked a deal with William Morris and hopes to reinvent itself as a multi-episode reality show tracking contestants in regional competitions up to the live finale, according to Television Week.
This new version of the pageant would feature reality staples such as backstabbing and contestant eliminations.
"It really hit home this past year that viewers in America are changing quite a bit — what they want to see is different, and that's been a problem with our show," pageant president/CEO Art McMaster told The Post yesterday.
"We were live on a Saturday night, and in the first 15 minutes, 42 of the contestants exited stage left," McMaster said. "That doesn't really help us when America wants to get to know everyone.
"That's what it's really all about — getting to know the ladies more than just the 10 final contestants," he said. "We have to show their backgrounds, their strengths, their fears and ambitions, so there's a connection between the TV set and America.
"We want to move into the reality world and have four to six lead-in shows to get to know the contestants.
"But that's definitely up to the networks. We've thrown it out to them that we're interested."
Once one of TV's top-rated shows, the Miss America Pageant has fallen on hard times in recent years, drawing only 9.8 million viewers last year — an all-time-low — and only 10.3 million viewers in 2003.
"We felt that [last year] was a combination of two things: We were stuck on a Saturday night, and our network partner [ABC] didn't promote it," McMaster said.
As it stands now, this is the first time in 50 years the pageant is without a TV home. Possible homes for this revised version are cable outlets such as A&E, USA, TNT, Oxygen and E!
"One cable company already has an offer on the table, but we're obviously not committing to anything yet," McMaster said.
"I feel confident we'll be on the network again, but we won't know anything for another couple of weeks."