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ABC Bringing ‘Millionaire’ Back for Limited Run
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Regis Philbin, once America’s most-watched television personality, is coming back to ABC’s hot seat, and the network is hoping he’ll bring a ratings lifeline.
“Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” the onetime game show gargantuan that powered ABC to No. 1 in the ratings before withering in the glare of overexposure, will return for a brief run next month with host Philbin asking questions worth a lot more money, the Disney-owned network said on Monday.
ABC plans to air a souped-up version of the quiz show, retitled “Super Millionaire,” in five hour-long segments during the final full week of the February ratings “sweep.”
Like the original show, the new format will present contestants with 15 multiple-choice questions that escalate in difficulty as the size of potential winnings mount. But the value of the correct answers will be higher — ranging from $1,000 to $10 million. The old show started at $100 and built to a $1 million jackpot.
And new “lifelines” will be added to the three original last-resort assists the show was famous for offering its players — calling a friend, polling the studio audience and removing two incorrect answers from the multiple-choice list. As before, each contest will open with 10 players competing in a “fastest-finger round” to advance to the hot seat.
“For months, we have been carefully monitoring the environment to determine if the time is right for a new, totally amped-up version of ‘Millionaire,’ broadcast in its original, event-like form. We think this is the time,” ABC Chairman Lloyd Braun said in a statement.
The “Super Millionaire” sweeps gambit comes just after ABC announced plans to return to the game-show genre with another prime-time offering, “Deal or No Deal,” which will be added to the network’s schedule this spring.
Embracing the quiz show format is a risky move for ABC, following its experience with the original “Millionaire.”
“Millionaire” became an instant ratings bonanza for the network — and a pop culture sensation — when it launched with a two-week run in August of 1999. The show did so well during a second 18-day outing during the November sweeps that year that it earned a regular three-night-a-week place on ABC’s lineup in January 2000.
Airing Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, “Millionaire” averaged 28 million viewers a show, catapulting ABC from a distant third-place to a decisive first-place finish in one season while transforming the landscape of prime-time TV.
It made Philbin, then already the popular co-cost of the morning show “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee,” one of the hottest talents on television. His oft-repeated query of “Final answer?” became an American catch-phrase.
The colossal success of “Millionaire” sparked a wave of game shows on rival networks unseen on prime time since the late 1950s, but none did as well in the ratings. “Millionaire” also ushered in a new era of nonscripted programing that persists to this day.
At the start of the 2000-2001 season, “Millionaire” went to four nights a week, then ultimately wore out its welcome and was scaled back to twice weekly before its final telecast in April 2002.
ABC declined to renew the show last season but a daytime half-hour version of “Millionaire,” hosted by “The View” talk show moderator Meredith Vieira, was launched in the fall of September 2002.
The collapse of “Millionaire” coincided with the abrupt crash in ABC’s fortunes overall and was widely seen as a contributing factor in the resignation of ABC Entertainment Television Group co-chairman Stuart Bloomberg in January 2002.
Ten contestants on the original show won the big prize, including Kevin Olmstead, who actually took home a bonus $2.18 million jackpot in April 2001 and claimed a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest TV game show winner of all time.