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Stock Questions Asked by Ringers?

January 16, 2006 12:00 AM

Publicists cringe whenever an audience of critics falls silent during the Q&A portion of their TCA panels. So BET took the rather unusual preventive measure at its early morning panel last week of stocking the audience with staff members armed with polite questions for their panelists should critics fail to be appropriately intrigued. Critics who got word of the tactic were less than amused, while publicists for other networks were outraged-if only because a competitor got away with it. "BET goes to great expense to fly our celebrity talent from around the country for the TCA media tour," a BET spokesman said. "In the event that we have time remaining in our presentation window, or if a panelist has not been given an opportunity to speak, we try to have a question or two ready to generate more dialogue. … The questions are simply a last-resort precaution against a celebrity gracious enough to make themselves available feeling like their presence was a waste of time." A TCA spokesperson said: "It's not something we encourage, and we will be sharing our thoughts on the matter with BET."-JAMES HIBBERD

There She Is, Miss America ...

The Miss America Pageant has once again turned on its heels. After being dumped by ABC in 2004, the 50-year-old institution was shopped to cable networks as a six-episode reality series and sold to CMT last year. At the time, Art McMaster, Miss America's president and CEO, told TelevisionWeek, "We consider ourselves the first reality TV [show]," and added: "Last year we realized our once-a-year show wasn't cutting the cake. We saw reality shows like 'American Idol' passing us by. We feel America has got to get to know our contestants." The plan was for cameras to track beauty contestants from state contests through regional competitions, culminating in the traditional live two-hour finale. At TCA last week, however, CMT unveiled a Miss America that was, well, exactly the opposite: a traditional two-hour event that promises to continue in the show's tradition, with no quizzes and with a swimsuit competition. This time out, Mr. McMaster said of the show in its classic form, "People want to see the Miss American Pageant. You can play all these games and have all these gimmicks, but people want to see the pageant." A CMT spokesperson had two words to explain the about-face: "Focus group." -JAMES HIBBERD

… But Is She Country?

A picture of a cowboy wearing a sash, lipstick and a Stetson topped by a tiara has to cause chuckles. But the folks at Great American Country insist they're not trying to poke fun at rival CMT. In fact, in a new trade ad GAC doesn't mention CMT by name or that CMT will be carrying the Miss America Pageant in July. But GAC does call itself the authentic country music network. "While some networks broaden their programming to attract new viewers, we believe GAC-just like HGTV and Food Network-will attract more viewers by focusing on what they are most passionate about," said John Baird, executive VP of affiliate sales and management for Scripps Networks. Recent deals with Cox and Charter have pushed GAC over the 40 million subscribers mark (CMT has almost 80 million) and GAC has added advertisers, including the Ford customer parts and service division. -JON LAFAYETTE