LAS VEGAS — Miss America is getting back to network television in time for her 90th birthday.
The beauty pageant has signed a three-year deal with ABC, with plans to air next year's competition live on Jan. 15, pageant officials said.
"It's a wonderful deal," Sam Haskell, chairman of the Miss America Organization, told The Associated Press. "It's much better than any deal that we've had in the last five years."
Haskell declined to discuss specifics of the agreement.
Miss America has not aired on network television since 2004, when ABC dropped the pageant after record-low ratings. Since then, it has aired on cable, twice on CMT and three times on TLC.
This year's pageant – won by Miss Virginia Caressa Cameron – topped cable television excluding movies with 4.5 million viewers the night it aired. That was about 1 million more viewers for the pageant than in 2009.
But Miss America found itself without a TV deal in March after cable network TLC declined to pick up a three-year option, opting instead to seek a two-year deal for less money.
Haskell said the latest ABC deal brings the pageant full circle from 2004.
"We were given a chance to re-brand, to keep what was traditional but make ourselves more today, and I think we've done that," he said. "We're now back with a lot of strength and back to show everyone that Miss America is the American tradition. It's a pop icon."
No final deal has been made yet on the location of the pageant, said Haskell and Art McMaster, chief executive of the Miss America Organization. The national competition was held this year at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
McMaster said plans for next year's pageant include an attempt to bring together as many former Miss America winners together as possible in celebration of the pageant's history. About 60 are still alive.
The pageant was founded in Atlantic City, N.J., in 1921 as a bathing beauty revue.
Haskell said Miss America 2011 would also reflect renewed efforts to distance the competition from Miss USA, the rival, headline-grabbing pageant owned in a joint venture by Donald Trump and NBC.
"No little girl walks around saying, 'I want to be Miss USA when I grow up.' She says, 'I want to be Miss America,'" Haskell said.