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Time to give your head a shake. Were any of us even aware that The Miss Universe Pageant (NBC, 9 p.m.) was still on television? Think of it as one small step for women, one giant leap for Donald Trump.

A gaudy and godawful TV spectacle for decades, the Miss Universe contest had practically faded from existence, until several years ago.

Ever shrewd at recognizing a cheap property, Trump reportedly picked up the rights for a song and has since partnered with NBC to repackage the annual flesh parade as a major TV event. Viewers should probably expect the show to have all the class and subtlety of a Las Vegas strip club.

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And from the same zip code.

Tonight's live broadcast from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Vegas will be co-hosted by Bret Michaels, ex-front man for the metal band Poison, and Natalie Morales. Michaels was the winner on the most recent edition of Trump's Celebrity Apprentice on NBC, while Morales holds forth daily as an anchor on NBC's Today Show. Network nepotism: check.

The Donald also knows how to take care of his celebrity pals. Heading up the judging panel is magician Criss Angel. Any experience to qualify the goth illusionist to judge the young womanhood? Nope, but he's the headliner of Cirque du Soleil's Believe show at the Luxor hotel and casino, located just up the Las Vegas Strip. That ought to sell some tickets.

The rest of the Miss Universe judging panel are a ragtag assortment of the semi-famous: nineties-era supermodel Niki Taylor, actors Billy Baldwin and Chazz Palminteri, former Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman Jane Seymour, singer Chynna Phillips, Olympic figure skater Evan Lysacek and percussionist Sheila E., who played with Prince back in the eighties. Also on board is MSNBC anchor Tamron Hall, another member of the NBC family.

How shall the young ladies be judged? The Miss Universe format still consists of three basic categories. First, contestants from more than 80 countries will parade up and down the catwalk, first in evening gowns. Then they will do it all over again, except in swimsuits. Somewhere, Betty Friedan is spinning in her grave like a top.

And before you ask, yes, Canada will be represented in tonight's show by one Elena Semikina, a model from Toronto who, at 6-foot-1, is the tallest contestant. Make us proud.

The third category is the interview segment, in which judges will grill contestants for their views on the war in Afghanistan, gun control, gay marriage, race relations and other burning issues. As in years past, the answers will be as scripted as the questions.

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What are the women competing for, exactly? Besides the nifty tiara and a bouquet of roses, the winner will receive a year-long paid contract (amount unavailable) to travel overseas and spread positive messages about "the control of diseases, peace and public awareness of AIDS."

Since Trump took over, the winner will also have free use of a Trump Tower apartment in New York for the year. I'd advise getting a safety chain.

Bizarrely, tonight will be very much like every Miss Universe pageant since the very first one in 1952, except a tad tackier due to a dash of advance controversy.

To whit: The body-painting scandal. Not long ago, the pageant released a series of promotional photographs of several contestants, including Miss USA, in body paint only.

Nothing gets the U.S. news media more worked up than the chance to include the word "naked" in a news story - especially on the Fox News Network.

Fox News personality Courtney Friel had a full-fledged freakout on-air about the pictures on her show Fox 411, which in turn ended up on countless blogs and gossip websites.

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Friel - who, it must be said, has the same blow-dried and bronzed appearance of many of the contestants competing in tonight's show - accused the pageant of reaching a new low and barely stopped short of calling the Miss Universe organizing committee pornographers.

The punchline was the response from the pageant publicity department a few days later, which read, in part: "The contestants who compete at Miss Universe are diverse, as they represent more than 82 countries around the globe. Many of their cultures embrace nudity."

No chance of those pictures being shown on the broadcast, of course, but the nudie-pic scandal, which came and went in the same week, will inevitably result in more people - or at least more Americans - watching tonight's show.

For the record, Trump is also the TV overseer of the Miss USA Pageant and the Miss Teen USA pageant, and those competitions have benefited hugely from controversies in recent years; video clips of contestants messing up on the issues of gay marriage and the war in Iraq (referred to as "the Iraq" by one witless teen pageant queen) went viral.

This time, the scandal comes before the competition. The Donald knows the best publicity is still free publicity.

Also airing tonight

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The Fiddle and the Drum (Bravo!, 8 p.m.) is a beautiful documentary chronicling the collaboration between Canadian songstress Joni Mitchell and Alberta Ballet artistic director Jean Grand-Maître to create a ballet set to Mitchell's music and performed before her artwork. The result is moving and momentous.

History Detectives (PBS, 9 p.m.) is still in new episodes, and one of those shows that gets better every week. Tonight, the show's antiques experts assess a 1930s radio script with an approval stamp from former FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover. Why the endorsement? Watch and learn.

jaryan@globeandmail.ca

John Doyle returns Aug. 31

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