Monday, April 6, 1998

Center of the Universe

Hawaii landing the crown jewel
of pageants was like 'winning the
right to host the Olympics'

By Tim Ryan


They played good cop, bad cop and watch cop.

At stake was a prime-time television program that would expose Hawaii to more than 75 countries and be seen by 2.5 billion people.

Through several months of negotiations with CBS television and Donald J. Trump executives, Joe Blanco, alias the bad cop, Tony Vericella, the good cop, and Al Masini, the watch cop, wheeled and dealed to bring the Miss Universe pageant -- the crown jewel of such spectaculars -- to the islands.

"It's like winning the right to host the Olympics," said Blanco, Gov. Ben Cayetano's special assistant, who described himself as the bad cop and who other pageant negotiators nicknamed "The Hammer."

In working to snag the pageant for Hawaii, the three men summarily dismissed what they considered "unreasonable demands" and pumped up Hawaii's promotional potential.

At first they were sent packing when they made a deliberate low bid for the show, but, undaunted, they worked vigorously from August to February, when Cayetano made the announcement that the pageant would be staged in Hawaii May 12.

For the right to the show, the state will pay $3.3 million, which includes a site fee payment to the Miss Universe Pageant, owned by Trump. Pageant co-owner CBS makes its money from commercials shown during the pageant. Hawaii businesses are expected to donate another $2 million in goods and services.

The Hawaii group hopes to return about $300,000 to the state from more donations of goods and services and sales of tickets, expected to be in the $50 to $150 range for the 5,500 seats at the contest site, the Stan Sheriff Center.

Some of the budget may also be used to produce a Miss Universe calendar, playing cards and even a documentary, which local organizers hope to sell to "E," the cable entertainment channel.

During negotiations Vericella, president and CEO of the Hawaii Visitors Bureau and Convention Center, was the under-control, smooth-talking "good cop," the guy with all the right answers and the guarantees of what Hawaii would do.

Soft-spoken television producer and Broadcast Hall of Fame member Al Masini was "the watchdog."

But it was Blanco, "The Hammer," who pounded the table, yelling, "Absolutely not!" to the other side's money demands.

"Oh, I pounded," Blanco said laughing. "My job was to hold on to the state's money as tightly as possible."

The initial proposal to bring the show to the isles was raised by current Miss Universe Brook Lee, who will be the first reigning queen to pass the crown in her home country.

Vericella, Masini and Masini's wife, April, began negotiating for the pageant in August, once Hawaii became serious in getting the pageant.

"(The governor) wanted Tony on the team because he has an excellent sense of how Hawaii should be marketed," Blanco said. "And Al simply knows how television works in front of and behind the scenes."

Masini knows television. He created "Entertainment Tonight," "Lives of the Rich and Famous," "Solid Gold" and several other syndicated shows that earned him tens of millions of dollars. And Cayetano likes Masini's style.

Last year the Masinis proposed to the state a tax relief plan for television and film production in Hawaii similar to incentives offered in other states. The proposal was simple and specific, showing the economic benefits to the state without having to give away the store.

That's also when Masini met House Speaker Joe Souki and Senate President Norman Mizuguchi, who later would be crucial in getting the state Legislature to approve the $3.3 million to host the pageant.

"We knew Al had the experience to protect Hawaii's interest in dealing with a television network," Blanco said. "We needed him to monitor the deal, to ensure Hawaii would get the promotional value it had to have."

Not surprisingly, a sticking point during negotiations -- "a very minor one," Masini said -- was Hawaii's insistence that Masini be the producer for "everything" pertaining to Hawaii in the pageant show. This may be the first time any location has had its own "independent" producer in the pageant, though final control of what is broadcast still lies with the show's executive producers, Susan Winston and Dan Funk.

"It was the toughest point in the negotiations," Blanco said. "But Al understands production costs. If a production is being gold-plated . . . Al will know. We had to have him on board."

Masini and his wife, who heads the pageant's host committee and also is event coordinator, are volunteers, working without salaries.

What is the value of hosting the Miss Universe Pageant?

"One word: publicity," Masini said from his offices at Ward Warehouse. "This is the Super Bowl of pageants, with unbelievable viewership.

Be a star in
Universe contests

In conjunction with the Miss Universe Pageant, isle organizers have created two contests, one for children and another for adults.

Na Keiki Aloha: The Children of Aloha Poster Contest

Elementary school age children are asked to draw a poster that expresses "How to share Aloha with the world."

One winner will be selected from each island to become that island's Keiki Delegate.

Prizes include a stay at the Ala Moana Hotel, neighbor island transportation from Hawaiian Airlines for children and their parents/chaperons, appearance on KGMB-TV, meals, limousine service, appearance in a parade with Miss Universe contestants and $500 in school supplies

Passport to the Universe

Six winners will be chosen daily for the 14 days before to the May 12 pageant.

Each of the winners will receive two VIP passes to attend a private party with the 85 Miss Universe contestants, including current Miss Universe, Brook Lee, of Hawaii.

Each daily winner is eligible to become the grand prize winner, whose adopted contestant is crowned Miss Universe.

Here's how the contest works:

April 24, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and the Honolulu Advertiser will begin running an ad announcing the contest. The daily advertisement will feature up to six contestants, including biographies and some personal trivia. Readers are instructed to tune into 93.1 KQMQ and listen to the trivia clue of the day.

Also that day, KQMQ will begin announcing daily trivia questions that correspond to the number assigned to the contestant featured in the newspaper. There will be one trivia question for each contestant. Listeners will be asked a question relating to each one of the delegates in the newspaper feature.

The first listener with the correct answer gets to "adopt" that contestant and visit with her at upcoming VIP events. Listeners also will be instructed to tune into KGMB for the "Daily Countdown" and the live finals telecast. The same procedure is followed until each of the delegates have been "adopted" by the winning listener.

Each night KGMB will conduct a 90 to 120-second "Daily Countdown", behind-the-scenes looks at what the delegates are doing, featuring each night's events and VIP parties.

On May 12, the night of the pageant, the Passport to the Universe grand prize winner will be announced when a contestant is crowned Miss Universe.

The Grand Prize winner will receive two first-class round trip airline tickets to the country of the newly crowned Miss Universe or any other country in the world of the winner's choice. The winner also will received deluxe hotel accommodations for eight days and seven nights in a luxury hotel and $1,000 for ground transportation, incidentals and spending money.

"To sponsor a show like this on CBS would cost at least $5 million; commercials would not be part of the program; and it would only be seen in the United States," Masini said. "Broadcasting in all the other countries would add enormous costs."

Last year, when the pageant was held at the Miami Beach Convention Center, the show rated second in its time period nationally with a national 9.8 rating/18 share, compared to 8.3/15 the previous year when it was held in Las Vegas. (Nationally, one rating point equals 970,000 homes.)

The pageant's total economic impact to the Miami region reportedly was about $500,000. But the more valuable benefit was the international television exposure the show produced, said Ida Moriarty, vice president of convention sales for the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. The Miami pageant gave the city nine minutes of free TV air time to showcase its major attractions; Hawaii will get at least 10 minutes, Masini said.

"The international prestige" of the Miss Universe Pageant complements a community with its own international diversity, tourism, culture and fashion, Vericella said.

"The pageant is not just one night of publicity, but in the promotions from CBS and other media outlets, there's publicity for weeks leading up to the actual main event, including delegate visits to local restaurants, hotels in Waikiki, tourist attractions and other businesses," he said.

It was in an October meeting at the Miss Universe offices in Los Angeles where the Masinis, Blanco and Vericella made Hawaii's initial low cash offer.

"They basically threw us out," Blanco said. "But Miss Universe asked for everything. They wanted us to pay them a lot more money than we even ended up doing, essentially give them a blank check so that anything they wanted the state would guarantee."

By the time the quartet left Los Angeles, they knew the site fee to Miss Universe would have to be $1 million cash, Blanco said.

Getting the $3.3 budget from the state meant convincing Cayetano, Souki and Mizuguchi that the publicity value from the pageant being held in Hawaii was worth it. A meeting was held at the governor's office, and the state's political movers and shakers promised their support.

After the deals were all done, the group celebrated with a dinner at Michel's.

"Oh, it was really fun," joked Vericella, raising a glass of red wine.

"I never had to raise my voice once," Blanco said, winking.

"I'm glad 'The Hammer' was on our side," April Masini said.

"Now the real hard part starts," Al Masini said.


Pageant Events

Miss Universe Pageant events will take place April 26 through May 12. The pageant will take place from 3-5 p.m. May 12 at the Stan Sheriff Arena on the University of Hawaii-Manoa campus. The television broadcast will be at the same time on CBS/KGMB.

Tickets for the pageant and two others at the arena are expected to go on sale within 10 days, local organizers said.

Public events:

Bullet "Brook Lee's Mahalo Party," April 26, time, ticket sales to be announced, Hilton Hawaiian Village. Hawaiian entertainment, performance by Lee. Information: Miss Universe office, 591-1933.

Bullet "Welcome Home Brook Lee Parade of Nations," April 28, 5:30-6:30 p.m., Waikiki. Contestants will make their first appearance in a parade from the Hilton Hawaiian Village to Kapiolani Park along Kalakaua Avenue.

Bullet "Made in Hawaii," fashion show and dinner, May 1, 6 p.m., HHV Coral Ballroom. Benefit for Junior Achievement of Hawaii, presented by the Hawaiian Fashion Industry Association. Contestants will model fashions. Tickets, $100 each or $1,000 for a table of 10. Information: 524-2211.

Bullet Na Paniolo Hoolaulea, May 2, 5-10 p.m., Ward Warehouse. Food booths, country-western music and line dancing, slack key guitarists, lei and paniolo demonstrations, Hawaiian crafters. Contestants will dance, teach dancing and singing. Information: 591-8411.

Bullet Aloha Tropical, May 3, 7:30-10:30 p.m., aboard the Alii Kai. Hosted by the Hispanic Center of Hawaii, Latin food, dancing. Tickets, $100. Information: 941-5216.

Bullet Rock, Jock and Relay, May 4, 6:30 p.m., All-Star Cafe. Teams of contestants compete in a relay wearing Shaquille O'Neal's oversize shoes.

Bullet Miss Universe Presentation Show, May 7, 7:30-9:30, Stan Sheriff Center. Contestants, called delegates by pageant officials, are judged in the evening gown and bathing suit competition. Tickets prices to be announced. Information: 591-1933.

Bullet Pageant dress rehearsal, May 11, 7:30-10 p.m., Stan Sheriff Center. Ticket prices to be announced. Information: 591-1933.

Bullet Miss Universe Pageant, May 12, 3-5 p.m., Stan Sheriff Center. Live telecast 3-5 p.m., CBS/KGMB. Ticket prices to be announced. Information: 591-1933.

Bullet Miss Universe Coronation Ball, May 12, 5-9 p.m., Hawaii Convention Center. Awards ceremony, dance, heavy pupus to be prepared by island chefs who will showcase their signature dishes. Limited tickets, prices to be announced. Information: 591-1933.

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