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Trump wooing Miss America pageant

Billionaire already owns Miss Universe, Miss USA
/ Source: The Associated Press

He’s a reality TV star, a billionaire and he knows a thing or two about beautiful women — between the ones he’s married and the beauty pageants he already owns.

Who better to rescue a damsel in distress than Donald Trump?

Trump has approached the Miss America Organization about buying the famous pageant, which is fighting for survival after being dumped by ABC because of declining ratings.

“I’ve talked to them, but I have not made an offer,” said Trump, an owner of the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants. “It’s tough: The networks don’t want to put it on, and I’d like to do whatever I can to help them out.”

If he bought Miss America, he would keep it in Atlantic City but make it more watchable, Trump said. When asked how, he wouldn’t say, except to say he would maintain the “integrity” of the contest.

Pageant officials, meanwhile, were playing it close to the sash Friday.

“We are flattered that Donald Trump called on the Miss America Organization, the longest-running pageant in history,” said CEO Art McMaster. “We are currently exploring all of our opportunities.”

McMaster, who issued a written statement in response to inquiries from The Associated Press, would not elaborate. He declined repeated requests for an interview Friday through pageant spokeswoman P.J. Santos.

Merger of pageants?Trump controls 50 percent of the Miss Universe partnership, which owns the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants. He owns 25 percent personally and 25 percent through his Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts company.

The Trump Hotels share is soon to be transferred to Trump himself, as part of the reorganization of Trump Hotels, which filed for bankruptcy in November.

That doesn’t mean The Donald’s broke; Forbes magazine puts his net worth at $2.6 billion.

What he may want from down-on-its-luck Miss America is anyone’s guess.

“This is what you call the vertical integration of the beauty pageant business,” said Larry Gerbrandt, a media analyst. “I don’t know what it does to Miss Universe, but you could see a natural merger of Miss USA and Miss America, so that you go on from Miss USA-America to Miss Universe.”

Miss America, by any measure, is floundering.

Despite a succession of new gimmicks aimed at luring viewers back in recent years, its basic formula — 52 women competing in talent, swimsuit and evening wear, with a tearful crowning at the end — has gone unchanged.

Last year, it was watched by 9.8 million people — a record low.

The loss of its TV contract means more than the loss of network exposure.

It also means less money: In 2003, ABC paid $5.6 million for the rights to televise Miss America; the Miss America Organization’s total revenues for the year amounted to $6.9 million.

Now, the staid old beauty contest is pitching other networks in hopes of finding a place on the dial.

McMaster believes the key to reviving interest in the 84-year-old pageant is televising it as a reality-style serial that allows viewers to get to know the contestants.

How far Miss America goes in embracing the often meanspirited nature of reality TV is another matter, though.

“You can’t turn a Miss America pageant into a reality show,” said Marc Berman, senior television writer for Mediaweek, a trade publication. “There’s just so much you can do with it, and while it can stand some changes, he’d be smart to know you can’t turn it around overnight.”