Miss America or Miss Disney?

On this year's Miss America contest, ABC's corporate synergy turned the beauty pageant into a small world after all.

Published October 17, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

Watching ABC's coverage of the "80th Miss America" (no "Pageant" in the title this year), you might have sensed that something was different. It wasn't the relentless cheeriness of hosts Donny and Marie Osmond, however, nor the edgy new set and digitized on-screen graphics.

The difference is the new star celebrated at every possible moment, the new center of attention. The star isn't Miss Hawaii, who won the contest, or any one of the 50 competitors or even the hosts. The new star is ABC.

Take, for example, this 30-second transcript from Donny and Marie's introduction:

Marie: "Last season, ABC debuted a unique new reality series, 'Making the Band,' where America witnessed the birth of a musical group. Five of the best young singers from all over the country were brought to Orlando and, each week, we watched them develop their talents and learn to work together, and, in short, become a new band."

Donny: "Tonight, they are making their network live prime-time debut, performing 'Liquid Dreams' from their upcoming album, please welcome, Ashley, Dan, Eric, Trevor and Jacob, better known as O-Town."

In that 30-second introduction, Donny and Marie pushed at least four products and brands: ABC, the network airing the pageant; "Making the Band," which returns to ABC for Season 2 next spring; O-Town and their new record; and Orlando. And Disney owns all of those or has an investment in them. Orlando may be a stretch, but it's close enough; it's the Florida home of Disney's theme park Mecca.

Not that we would forget that. Because earlier in the evening, before O-Town's performance, a music video played featuring the contestants modeling and having a terrific time at all four of Disney's Orlando theme parks. After the spot concluded, Marie offered, "Thanks again to our friends at Walt Disney World for all the hospitality."

The credits also thanked Disney: "Transportation and other production assistance provided by Walt Disney World Company." Then, as if that wasn't enough, "The Miss America Organization and the contestants wish to extend a special thanks for accommodations provided by Disney's Beach Club Resort" -- which is, of course, an on-Disney-property hotel.

Sensing a pattern here? It gets better. The group of "renowned, qualified celebrities" who judged the final competition included Diedrich Bader (ABC's "The Drew Carey Show"). And last year's judges included Michael Badalucco (ABC's "The Practice") and Mimi Kennedy (ABC's "Dharma and Greg").

Of course, there were plenty of other judges, like Olympian Lenny Krayzelburg, and the Olympics were on competing network NBC. And the soundtrack to the Disney visit was Britney Spears' "Oops, I Did it Again"; Britney's label is Jive, not Disney-owned Hollywood Records. And plenty of other companies were mentioned during the broadcast and credits.

Why wouldn't the network broadcasting the event make an effort to promote itself and its parent company? It makes perfect sense: ABC would air the show, so ABC contributed some judges and a musical group, and parent company Disney offered its scenic Orlando location. It's not unlike anything CBS did with its relentless promotion of "Survivor" and "Big Brother," which had contestants from those shows appearing on CBS news programs and as guests on game shows and the like.

The Miss America contest, "[s]ince its beginnings in 1921, ... has reflected ideas about national identity, community and moral standards ...," its Web site says. "And in the transformations of Miss America over time ... we can trace changes in America's collective attitudes and values, as well as those in our own lives." That's certainly true. In this era of rampant, splendid capitalism, musical performers on the show are booked based upon the network their show appears on, not because of raw talent; locations for photo shoots are selected according to corporate ownership of the property, not other factors.

With frequent mentions of the network's corporate siblings as much a part of the show as the swimsuit competition, the pageant that "began in 1921 as an East Coast business proposition ... to attract commerce and tourists to Atlantic City" has evolved into an excellent example of corporate synergy.

AOL and Time Warner, take note.

By Andy Dehnart

Andy Dehnart is a writer living in Chicago.

MORE FROM Andy Dehnart

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