Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (American game show)
|Who Wants to Be a Millionaire|
|Developed by||Michael Davies|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||22 (5 on ABC, 17 in syndication)|
|No. of episodes|
|Running time||39–48 minutes (1999–2002; 2004 and 2009 specials; 2020–)|
19–25 minutes (1999; 2002–2019)
|Distributor||Disney–ABC Domestic Television[a]|
|Original network||ABC (1999–2002, 2004, 2009, 2020–)|
|Picture format||NTSC (1999–2011)|
HDTV 720p/1080i (2011–)
|Original release||August 16, 1999 –|
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (often informally called Millionaire)[b] is an American television game show adapted from the same-titled British program created by David Briggs, Steven Knight and Mike Whitehill and developed for the United States by Michael Davies. The show features a quiz competition with contestants attempting to win a top prize of $1,000,000 by answering a series of multiple-choice questions, usually of increasing difficulty. The program has endured as one of the longest-running and most successful international variants in the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? franchise, running continuously in some form since 1999.
The original U.S. version premiered on ABC on August 16, 1999, as part of a two-week daily special event hosted by Regis Philbin. After this and a second two-week event aired in November 1999, ABC commissioned a regular series that launched on January 18, 2000, and ran until June 27, 2002. Philbin hosted the entire run of the original network series as well as three additional special event series that aired on ABC in 2004 and 2009.
A daily version of Millionaire produced for syndication began airing on September 16, 2002, and was initially hosted by Meredith Vieira. Cedric the Entertainer took over the show in 2013 following Vieira's departure, with Terry Crews replacing him in 2014. The syndicated series' final host was Chris Harrison, who took over from Crews in 2015 and hosted until the show was cancelled, with the finale airing on May 31, 2019. On January 8, 2020, seven months after the cancellation was announced, ABC renewed the show for a twenty-first season, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel (who is also a co-executive producer of the show) with celebrity contestants. The twenty-first season premiered on April 8, 2020 and its success led to the show being renewed for further seasons.
The show has had numerous format and gameplay changes over its runtime and, since its debut, twelve contestants have answered all questions correctly and won the top prize. As the first U.S. network game show to offer a million-dollar top prize, the show made television history by becoming one of the highest-rated game shows in the history of U.S. television. The U.S. Millionaire won seven Daytime Emmy Awards, and TV Guide ranked it No. 6 in its 2013 list of the 60 greatest game shows of all time.
At its core, the game is a quiz competition in which the goal is to correctly answer a series of fifteen (14 from 2010 to 2019) consecutive multiple-choice questions. The questions are of increasing difficulty, except in the 2010–15 format overhaul, where the contestants were faced with a round of ten questions of random difficulty, followed by a round of four questions of increasing difficulty. Each question is worth a specific amount of money; the amounts are not cumulative. If at any time the contestant gives a wrong answer, the game is over and the contestant's winnings are reduced to $0 for tier-one questions, $1,000 for tier-two questions, and $32,000 for tier-three questions. However, the contestant may choose to stop playing after being presented with a question, allowing them to keep all the money they have won to that point. With the exception of the shuffle format, upon correctly answering questions five and ten, contestants are guaranteed at least the amount of prize money associated with that level. If the contestant gives an incorrect answer, their winnings drop down to the last milestone achieved. Since 2015 in the syndicated version, if the contestant answers a question incorrectly before reaching the fifth question, he or she leaves with $1,000, even on the first question that is worth only $500. For celebrities, the minimum guarantee for their nominated charities is $10,000. Prior to the shuffle format, a contestant left with nothing if they answered a question incorrectly before reaching the first milestone. In the shuffle format, contestants who incorrectly answered a question had their winnings reduced to $1,000 in round one and $25,000 in round two.
Original format (1999–2008; 2020–present)
From 1999 to 2002, 10 contestants played a round of Fastest Finger to determine who would play in the hot seat. The participants would be confronted with one question and four answers, and they would have to put the four answers in the correct order (ascending, chronological, etc.) in the fastest time. The competitor who did so correctly in the fastest time would play. If no contestant got the correct order, the round was played again, and when a tie occurred, the tied participants answered a second Fastest Finger question. This round was removed when the syndicated version began in 2002, though it returned in 2004 for Super Millionaire and in 2009 for the 10th Anniversary shows. The format remained unchanged, except for changes to the money staircase and the addition of a new lifeline, until 2008. When the show returned to ABC in 2020, the original format used from 1999–2004 was used, albeit with slightly different lifelines and the Fastest Finger round once again being removed.
The guaranteed amounts for correctly answering questions five and ten were $1,000 and $32,000 respectively for the entirety of the original network run, the syndicated version from 2002 to 2004, and from 2020 onwards. The Super Millionaire specials in 2004 had guarantees of $5,000 and $100,000 respectively. Beginning in 2004 on the syndicated version, the upper guarantee was decreased to $25,000; the 10th Anniversary specials also followed suit.
Clock format (2008–2010)
In 2008, the format was altered to include a time limit on each question. The amount of time for each question was as follows:
- Questions 1–5: 15 seconds
- Questions 6–10: 30 seconds
- Questions 11–14: 45 seconds
- Question 15: 45 seconds, plus the total of all unused time from the previous 14 questions
The timer began to run as soon as the four answer options were revealed, and the contestant had to give a final answer before it reached 0. The timer would temporarily pause if a lifeline was used, only to restart once it had ended. If time ran out, the game ended and the contestant left with whatever money they had won up to that point. However, if this happened while the Double Dip lifeline was in effect, the contestant's winnings were instead reduced to the last safety net they had reached. While the clock format was in use, the contestant was also shown the categories of all 15 questions in the order they would be asked.
For the first season of the clock format, the guarantees for answering questions five and ten were $1,000 and $25,000. For the final season, the lower guarantee was increased to $5,000, commensurate with a change in the money tree.
Shuffle format (2010–2015)
The format was overhauled in September 2010, splitting the game into two rounds. The first round consisted of 10 questions, each in a different category and worth a different amount from $100 to $25,000. Both the category order and the amounts were randomized at the start of the game, with the latter hidden from the contestant's view (from 2014, the categories to the questions were no longer presented to the contestant). The difficulty level and value of each question were not tied to one another. The value of each question was revealed only after the contestant answered it correctly or chose to "jump" (skip) it; a correct answer added the money to the contestant's bank, while a jump put the value out of play. The maximum bank from this round was $68,600. If the contestant missed a question in the first round, they left with $1,000, even if their bank was lower than this total. Choosing to stop allowed the contestant to keep half their bank.
The second round presented four questions of increasing difficulty in the traditional format, each of which augmented the contestant's total winnings to a set value. A miss in this round reduced their winnings to $25,000, while choosing to stop allowed the contestant to keep all winnings accumulated thus far. Categories for these questions were not given ahead of time.
From 2011 to 2014, some weeks were "Double Your Money" weeks, in which one first-round question was randomly designated as being worth double its value. The maximum potential bank from this round thus became $93,600.
Fourteen-question format (2015–2019)
With the hiring of new host Chris Harrison, the format was changed once again to resemble that of the original Millionaire format. Each contestant faces 14 general-knowledge questions of increasing difficulty, with no time limit or information about the categories.
The guaranteed amounts for correctly answering questions five and ten were $5,000 and $50,000 respectively. Originally, contestants who failed to clear the first five questions won nothing. However, beginning in 2017, a contestant who missed any of the first five questions left with $1,000, even if the missed question was of a lower value.
Five different ladders have been used over the course of the series:
$100, $500, $1,000, $2,000, $3,000, $5,000, $7,000, $10,000, $15,000, and $25,000
The $500,000 and $1,000,000 prizes were initially lump-sum payments, but were changed to annuities in September 2002 when the series moved to syndication. Contestants winning either of these prizes receive $250,000 thirty days after their show broadcasts and the remainder paid in equal annual payments. The $500,000 prize consists of $25,000 per year for 10 years, while the $1,000,000 prize consists of $37,500 per year for 20 years, all less taxes.
From 2017 to 2019, contestants who answered one of the first five questions incorrectly received a $1,000 consolation prize. On the original primetime version and in earlier seasons of the syndicated version prior to 2010, contestants who missed one of the first five questions left with nothing.
Forms of assistance known as "lifelines" are available for a contestant to use if a question proves difficult. Multiple lifelines may be used on a single question, but each one can only be used once per game (unless otherwise noted below). Three lifelines are available from the start of the game. Depending on the format of the show, additional lifelines may become available after the contestant correctly answers the fifth or tenth question. In the clock format, usage of lifelines temporarily pauses the clock while the lifelines are played.
- +1 (2014–2019): The contestant may invite a friend onstage from the audience to assist with the current question. After the question result, the friend must return to the audience.
- 50:50 (1999–2008, 2015–2019, 2020): Two incorrect answers are eliminated, leaving the contestant with a choice between the correct answer and one remaining incorrect answer.
- Ask the Audience (1999–2019): The audience members individually use four-button keypads to register the answer they believe is correct, and the percentage of votes for each answer is then shown to the host, contestant, and home viewer. Beginning in 2004 and ending in 2006, AIM users who added the screen name MillionaireIM to their buddy list and were online were able to receive and register answers they believed to be correct to Ask the Audience questions in real-time; these results were then shown as a separate chart to the contestant.
- Ask the Expert (2008–2010): Based on Three Wise Men, the lifeline was earned after answering five questions correctly until 2010, when it was given to the contestant immediately following the removal of Phone a Friend. The contestant was connected to an expert via a video call, and the two could discuss the question with no time limit.
- Ask the Host (2020): Introduced during the 2020 season, this lifeline allows the contestant to ask for the host's advice on the current question and give the best possible answer. If used and the contestant answers, both the contestant and host do not see the correct answer until the computer reveals it.
- Crystal Ball (2012–2013): Used occasionally during the "shuffle" round, this lifeline allowed the contestant to see the value of the current question before either answering or jumping it (if Jump the Question had not yet been used).
- Double Dip (2004, 2008–2010): First used during Super Millionaire, this lifeline allowed a contestant to make a second guess at the answer if his/her first one was wrong. The contestant had to invoke the lifeline before making the first guess, and it was removed from play regardless of which guess was correct. In addition, the contestant could not walk away from the question after invoking the lifeline. It was used in the main series from 2008 to 2010, replacing 50:50.
- Jump the Question (2010–2015): This lifeline allowed the contestant to skip the current question, but the money associated with it was removed from play. It could be used twice per game from 2010 to 2014, but only once from 2014 to 2015.
- Phone a Friend (1999–2010, 2020): The contestant calls a pre-arranged friend and is given 30 seconds to discuss the question with that person. In 2010, this lifeline was dropped due to an increasing use of search engines by the friends to look up answers. The lifeline returned in 2020, with all friends being monitored by a member of the show's production team to prevent cheating.
- Switch/Cut the Question (2004–2008): Earned after answering 10 questions, this lifeline allowed a contestant to discard the current question and replace it with one of the same value. It was occasionally used from 2014 to 2019 during 'Whiz Kids' week and was available from the outset.
- Three Wise Men (2004): Used during Super Millionaire, this lifeline allowed the contestant 30 seconds of advice from a panel of three experts, who were sequestered backstage and saw the question only when their help was requested.
- The 2020 season features a lifeline similar to +1, replacing Ask the Audience. This lifeline is offered to the contestant after the tenth question and allows them to consult with their accompanying supporter one time during the final five questions. However, in order to obtain this lifeline, the contestant must exchange one of his or her other remaining lifelines. The contestant has unlimited access to their supporter for the first ten questions.
Top prize winners
Over the course of the program's history, twelve contestants answered all fifteen questions correctly and walked away with the top prize.
- John Carpenter – Became the first top prize winner in the history of the franchise on November 19, 1999.
- Dan Blonsky – Won on January 18, 2000.
- Joe Trela – Won on March 23, 2000.
- Bob House – Won on June 13, 2000.
- Kim Hunt – Won on July 6, 2000.
- David Goodman – Won on July 11, 2000.
- Kevin Olmstead – Won the top prize on April 10, 2001; however, because of the jackpot having been set to increase by $10,000 each episode, he won $2,180,000 – making him the biggest winner in television history at the time.
- Bernie Cullen – Won on April 15, 2001.
- Ed Toutant – Won on September 7, 2001. Originally appeared on January 31, 2001, when the jackpot was at $1,860,000 when he was ruled out after answering his $16,000 question wrong. However, it was determined that there was an error in the question, so he was invited back and won the jackpot as it was at the time.
- Kevin Smith – First top prize winner on the syndicated version, winning the top prize on February 18, 2003.
- Nancy Christy – Won on May 8, 2003. Christy is the only female top prize winner.
- David Chang – Became the first top prize winner on the primetime revival and the first celebrity to win the top prize, winning $1,000,000 for his charity, Southern Smoke Foundation, on November 29, 2020.
In addition, the following contestants won at least a million dollars during their run, albeit not by answering fifteen questions correctly in regular gameplay:
- Robert Essig – Answered twelve of a possible fifteen questions correctly and walked away with $1,000,000 out of a possible $10,000,000 during Super Millionaire on February 23, 2004.
- Sam Murray – Answered eleven of a possible fifteen questions to win $50,000 out of a possible $1,000,000 in his first appearance, which earned him the No. 8 seed during the Million Dollar Tournament of Ten. Answered his million-dollar question in the tournament correctly on November 11, 2009 and remained the only contestant to do so, claiming the top prize on November 20, 2009.
The original network version of the U.S. Millionaire and the subsequent primetime specials were hosted by Regis Philbin. When the syndicated version was being developed, the production team felt that it was not feasible for Philbin to continue hosting, as the show recorded four episodes in a single day, and that the team was looking for qualities in a new host: it had to be somebody who would love the contestants and be willing to root for them. Rosie O'Donnell was initially offered a hosting position on this new edition, but declined the opportunity almost immediately. Eventually Meredith Vieira, who had previously competed in a celebrity charity event on the original network version, was named host of the new syndicated edition.
ABC originally offered Vieira hosting duties on the syndicated Millionaire to sweeten one of her re-negotiations for the network's daytime talk show The View, which she was moderating at the time. When the show was honored by GSN on its Gameshow Hall of Fame special, Vieira herself further explained her motivation for hosting the syndicated version as follows:
I did the show because I fell in love with the show, and really, first and foremost, as a parent, [I feel that] there aren't that many shows on television that you can watch as a family. And when Michael Davies approached me and said, "Would you be interested in hosting the syndicated version?", I said, "Just point me toward the contract! I am so there!"
From 2007 to 2011, when Vieira was concurrently working as a co-host of Today, guest hosts appeared in the second half of each season of the syndicated version. Guest hosts who filled in for Vieira included Philbin, Al Roker, Tom Bergeron, Tim Vincent, Dave Price, Billy Bush, Leeza Gibbons, Cat Deeley, Samantha Harris, Shaun Robinson, Steve Harvey, John Henson, Sherri Shepherd, Tim Gunn, and D. L. Hughley.
On January 10, 2013, Vieira announced that after eleven seasons with the syndicated Millionaire, she would be leaving the show as part of an effort to focus on other projects in her career. She finalized taping of her last episodes with the show in November 2012. While Philbin briefly considered a return to the show, Cedric the Entertainer was introduced as her successor when season twelve premiered on September 2, 2013. On April 30, 2014, Deadline announced that Cedric had decided to leave the show in order to lighten his workload, resulting in him being succeeded by Terry Crews for the 2014–15 season. Crews was succeeded by Chris Harrison, then host of The Bachelor and its spin-offs, when season 14 premiered on September 14, 2015.
On January 8, 2020, a twentieth anniversary revival of the show was announced, with late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel as host and co-executive producer. In March 2020, Philbin was invited to the new Millionaire studio in Culver City, California to take a look at the new set and talk to Kimmel about his tenure on the show. This was Philbin's last appearance on Millionaire before his death on July 24, 2020.
The original executive producers of the U.S. Millionaire were British television producers Michael Davies and Paul Smith, the latter of whom undertook the responsibility of licensing Millionaire to American airwaves as part of his effort to transform the UK program into a global franchise. Smith served until 2007 and Davies until 2010; additionally, Leigh Hampton (previously co-executive producer in the later days of the network version and in the syndicated version's first two seasons) served as an executive producer from 2004 to 2010. Rich Sirop, who was previously a supervising producer, became the executive producer in 2010 and held that position until 2014, when he left Millionaire to hold the same position with Vieira's newly launched syndicated talk show, and was replaced by James Rowley. Vincent Rubino, who had previously been the syndicated Millionaire's supervising producer for its first two seasons, served as that version's co-executive producer for the 2004–05 season, after which he was succeeded by Vieira herself, who continued to hold the title until her departure in 2013 (sharing her position with Sirop for the 2009–10 season).
Producers of the network version included Hampton, Rubino, Leslie Fuller, Nikki Webber, and Terrence McDonnell. For its first two seasons the syndicated version had Deirdre Cossman for its managing producer, then Dennis F. McMahon became producer for the next two seasons (joined by Dominique Bruballa as his line producer), after which Jennifer Weeks produced the next four seasons of syndicated Millionaire shows, initially accompanied by Amanda Zucker as her line producer, but later joined for the 2008–09 season by Tommy Cody (who became sole producer in the 2009–10 season). The first 65 shuffle format episodes were produced by McPaul Smith, and from 2011 onward, the title of producer was held by Bryan Lasseter. The network version had Ann Miller and Tiffany Trigg for its supervising producers; they were joined by Wendy Roth in the first two seasons, and by Michael Binkow in the third and final season. After Rubino's promotion to co-executive producer, the syndicated version's later supervising producers included Sirop (2004–09), Geena Gintzig (2009–10), Brent Burnette (2010–12), Geoff Rosen (2012–14), and Liz Harris (2014–16), who was the show's last co-executive producer.
The original network version of Millionaire was directed by Mark Gentile, who later served as the syndicated version's consulting producer for its first two seasons; he went on to serve as the director of Duel (which ran on ABC from December 2007 to July 2008) and Million Dollar Password (which aired on CBS from June 2008 to June 2009). The syndicated version was directed by Matthew Cohen from 2002 to 2010, by Rob George from 2010 to 2013, and by Brian McAloon in the 2013–14 season. Former The Price Is Right director Rich DiPirro (who later directed Mental Samurai) became Millionaire's director in 2014, and was later replaced by Ron de Moraes after the 2016–17 season, who remained as director until the show's cancellation.
The U.S. version of Millionaire was a co-production of 2waytraffic, a division of Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Valleycrest Productions, a division of The Walt Disney Company. 2waytraffic purchased Millionaire's original production company Celador in 2008, while Valleycrest remained throughout the show's history, and holds the copyright on all U.S. Millionaire episodes to date. The show was distributed by Valleycrest's corporate sibling Disney-ABC Home Entertainment & Television Distribution (previously known as Buena Vista Television and later known as Disney-ABC Domestic Television).
The U.S. Millionaire was taped at ABC's Television Center East studio on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York from 1999 to 2012. Tapings were moved to NEP Broadcasting's Metropolis Studios in East Harlem in 2013, and production moved to studios located in Stamford, Connecticut the following year. For the final three seasons, production relocated to Bally's Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Episodes of the syndicated version were produced from June to December. The show originally taped four episodes in a single day, but that number later changed to five.
When the U.S. version of Millionaire was first conceived in 1998, Michael Davies was a young television producer who was serving as the head of ABC's little-noticed reality programming division (at a time when reality television had not yet become a phenomenon in America). At that time, ABC was lingering in third place in the ratings indexes among U.S. broadcast networks, and was on the verge of losing its status as one of the "Big Three" networks. Meanwhile, the popularity of game shows was at an all-time low, and with the exception of The Price Is Right, the genre was absent from networks' daytime lineups at that point. Having earlier created Debt for Lifetime Television and participated with Al Burton and Donnie Brainard in the creation of Win Ben Stein's Money for Comedy Central, Davies decided to create a primetime game show that would save the network from collapse and revive interest in game shows.
Davies originally considered reviving CBS's long-lost quiz show The $64,000 Question, with a new home on ABC. However, this effort's development was limited as when the producer heard that the British Millionaire was about to make its debut, he got his friends and family members in the UK to record the show, and subsequently ended up receiving about eight FedEx packages from different family members, each containing a copy of Millionaire's first episode. Davies was so captivated by everything that he had seen and heard, from host Chris Tarrant's intimate involvement with the contestant to the show's lighting system and music tracks, that he chose to abandon his work on the $64,000 Question revival in favor of introducing Millionaire to American airwaves, convinced that it would become extraordinarily popular.
When Davies presented his ideas for the U.S. Millionaire to ABC, the network's executives initially rejected them, so he resigned his position there and became an independent producer. Determined to bring his idea for the show to fruition, Davies decided to bet his career on Millionaire's production, and the first move that he made was planning to attach a celebrity host to the show. Along with Philbin, a number of other popular television personalities were considered for hosting positions on the U.S. Millionaire during its development, including Peter Jennings, Bob Costas, Phil Donahue, and Montel Williams, but among those considered, it was Philbin who wanted the job the most, and when he saw an episode of the British Millionaire and was blown away by his content, Davies and his team ultimately settled on having him host the American show. When Davies approached ABC again after having hired Philbin, the network finally agreed to accept the U.S. Millionaire. With production now ready to begin, the team had only five months to finish developing the show and get it launched, with Davies demanding perfection in every element of Millionaire's production.
With few exceptions, any legal resident of the United States who was 18 years of age or older had the potential of becoming a contestant through Millionaire's audition process. Those ineligible included employees, immediate family or household members, and close acquaintances of SPE, Disney, or any of their respective affiliates or subsidiaries; television stations that broadcast the syndicated version; or any advertising agency or other firm or entity engaged in the production, administration, or judging of the show. Also ineligible were candidates for political office and individuals who had appeared on a different game show outside of cable that had been broadcast within the past year, was intended to be broadcast within the next year, or had played the main game on any of the U.S. or Canadian versions of Millionaire itself.
Potential contestants of the original prime time version had to compete in a telephone contest which had them dial a toll-free number and answer three questions by putting objects or events in order. Callers had ten seconds to enter the order on a keypad, with any incorrect answer ending the game/call. The 10,000 to 20,000 candidates who answered all three questions correctly were selected into a random drawing in which approximately 300 contestants competed for ten spots on the show using the same phone quiz method.[c] Accommodations for contestants outside the New York metropolitan area included round trip transportation and hotel accommodations, with airfare being used for contestants who did not hail from the northeastern areas of the country.
The syndicated version's potential contestants, depending on tryouts, were required to pass an electronically scored test comprising a set of thirty questions which had to be answered within a 10-minute time limit. Contestants who failed the test were eliminated, while those who passed were interviewed for an audition by the production staff, and those who impressed the staff the most were then notified by postal mail that they had been placed into a pool for possible selection as contestants. At the producers' discretion, contestants from said pool were selected to appear on actual episodes of the syndicated program; these contestants were given a phone call from staff and asked to confirm the information on their initial application form and verify that they met all eligibility requirements. Afterwards, they were given a date to travel to the show's taping facilities to participate in a scheduled episode of the show. Unlike its ABC counterpart, the syndicated version did not offer transportation or hotel accommodations to contestants at the production company's expense; that version's contestants were instead required to provide transportation and accommodations of their own.
The syndicated Millionaire also conducts open casting calls in various locations across the United States to search for potential contestants. These are held in late spring or early summer, with all dates and locations posted on the show's official website. The producers make no guarantee on how many applicants will be tested at each particular venue; however, the show will not test any more than 2,500 individuals per audition day.
In cases when the show features themed episodes with two people playing as a team, auditions for these episodes' contestants are announced on the show's website. Both members of the team must pass the written test and the audition interview successfully in order to be considered for selection. If only one member of the team passes, he or she is placed into the contestant pool alone and must continue the audition process as an individual in order to proceed.
Originally, the U.S. Millionaire carried over the musical score from the British version, composed by father-and-son duo Keith and Matthew Strachan. Unlike older game show musical scores, Millionaire's musical score was created to feature music playing almost throughout the entire show. The Strachans' main Millionaire theme song took some inspiration from the "Mars" movement of Gustav Holst's The Planets, and their question cues from the $2,000 to the $32,000/$25,000 level, and then from the $64,000/$50,000 to $500,000 level, took the pitch up a semitone for each subsequent question, in order to increase tension as the contestant progressed through the game. On GSN's Gameshow Hall of Fame special, the narrator described the Strachan tracks as "mimicking the sound of a beating heart", and stated that as the contestant worked their way up the money ladder, the music was "perfectly in tune with their ever-increasing pulse".
The original Millionaire musical score holds the distinction of being the only game show soundtrack to be acknowledged by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, as the Strachans were honored with numerous ASCAP awards for their work, the earliest of them awarded in 2000. The original music cues were given minor rearrangements for the clock format in 2008; for example, the question cues were synced to the "ticking" sounds of the game clock. Even later, the Strachan score was removed from the U.S. version altogether for the introduction of the shuffle format in 2010, in favor of a new musical score with cues written by Jeff Lippencott and Mark T. Williams, co-founders of the Los Angeles-based company Ah2 Music.
When production resumed in 2020, the original Strachans' score was used.
The U.S. Millionaire's basic set was a direct adaptation of the British version's set design, which was conceived by Andy Walmsley. Paul Smith's original licensing agreement for the U.S. Millionaire required that the show's set design, along with all other elements of the show's on-air presentation (musical score, lighting system, host's wardrobe, etc.), adhere faithfully to the way in which they were presented in the British version; this same licensing agreement applied to all other international versions of the show, making Walmsley's Millionaire set design the most reproduced scenic design in television history. The original version of the U.S. Millionaire's set cost $200,000 to construct. The U.S. Millionaire's production design was handled at different times by David Weller, Jim Fenhagen and George Allison.
Unlike older game shows whose sets are or were designed to make the contestant(s) feel at ease, Millionaire's set was designed to make the contestant feel uncomfortable, so that the program feels more like a movie thriller than a typical quiz show. The floor is made of Plexiglas beneath which lies a huge dish covered in mirror paper. Before the shuffle format was implemented in 2010, the main game had the contestant and host sit in chairs in the center of the stage, known as "Hot Seats"; these measured 3 feet (0.91 m) high, were modeled after chairs typically found in hair salons, and each seat featured a computer monitor directly facing it to display questions and other pertinent information. Shortly after the shuffle format was introduced to Millionaire, Vieira stated in an interview with her Millionaire predecessor on his morning talk show that the Hot Seat was removed because it was decided that the seat, which was originally intended to make the contestant feel nervous, actually ended up having contestants feel so comfortable in it that it did not service the production team any longer.
The lighting system was programmed to darken the set as the contestant progressed further into the game. There were also spotlights situated at the bottom of the set area that zoomed down on the contestant when they answered a major question; to increase the visibility of the light beams emitted by such spotlights, oil was vaporized, creating a haze effect. Media scholar Dr. Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University, stated that the show's lighting system made the contestant feel as though they were outside of prison when an escape was in progress.
When the shuffle format was introduced, the Hot Seats and corresponding monitors were replaced with a single podium, so that the contestant and host stood throughout the game and were also able to walk around the stage. Also, two video screens were installed–one that displayed the current question in play, and another that displayed the contestant's cumulative total and progress during the game. In September 2012, the redesigned set was improved with a modernized look and feel, in order to take into account the show's transition to high-definition broadcasting, which had just come about the previous year. The two video screens were replaced with two larger ones, having twice as many projectors as the previous screens had; the previous contestant podium was replaced with a new one; and light-emitting diode (LED) technology was integrated into the lighting system to give the lights more vivid colors and the set and gameplay experience a more intimate feel.
The U.S. version of Millionaire was launched by ABC as a half-hour primetime program on August 16, 1999. When it premiered, it became the first U.S. network game show to offer a million-dollar top prize to contestants. After airing thirteen episodes and reaching an audience of 15 million viewers by the end of the show's first week on the air, the program expanded to an hour-long format when it returned in November. The series, of which episodes were originally shown only a day after their initial taping, was promoted to regular status on January 18, 2000, and, at the height of its popularity, was airing on ABC five nights a week. The show was so popular during its original primetime run that rival networks created or re-incarnated game shows of their own (e.g., Greed, Twenty One, etc.), as well as importing various game shows of British and Australian origin to America (such as Winning Lines, Weakest Link, and It's Your Chance of a Lifetime).
The nighttime version initially drew in up to 30 million viewers a day three times a week, an unheard-of number in modern network television. In the 1999–2000 season, it averaged No. 1 in the ratings against all other television shows, with 28,848,000 viewers. In the next season (2000–01), three nights out of the five weekly episodes placed in the top 10 and all five ranked in the top 20. However, the show's ratings began to fall during the 2000–01 season, so that at the start of the 2001–02 season, the ratings were only a fraction of what they had been one year before, and by season's end, the show was no longer even ranked among the top 20. ABC's reliance on the show's popularity led the network to fall quickly from its former spot as the nation's most watched network.
As ABC's overexposure of the primetime Millionaire led the public to tire of the show, there was speculation that the show would not survive beyond the 2001–02 season. The staff planned on switching it to a format that would emphasize comedy more than the game and feature a host other than Philbin, but in the end, the primetime show was canceled, with its final episode airing on June 27, 2002.
On May 8, 2003 (the same day that Nancy Christy became the second top-prize winner on the syndicated version), ABC broadcast footage from Charles Ingram's run on the British version of Millionaire as a special episode of Primetime, called "Who Wants to Steal a Million?"; the documentary was originally broadcast in the United Kingdom on April 21, 2003, as an episode of Tonight that was hosted by Martin Bashir, called "Major Fraud". During that program, Ingram was interviewed by Diane Sawyer.
In 2001, Millionaire producers began work on a half-hour daily syndicated version of the show, with producer Buena Vista Television (BVT) serving as distributor. Despite the ratings struggles of the network edition, there was still enough interest in Millionaire as a series that enough stations signed on for a fall 2002 launch; the original idea for the syndicated series to serve as an accompaniment to the network series did not come to fruition, as intended, due to ABC's decision to cancel Millionaire.
On September 16, 2002, nearly three months after the network Millionaire ended its run, the syndicated series premiered. Right away, it found itself having similar ratings issues. Some stations began to look for other options to place in the slots where they had initially plugged Millionaire; this included several larger market stations, especially their largest market affiliate, and thus Millionaire was looking at a second cancellation notice in less than a year. As fate would have it, though, this turn of events happened to coincide with a significant one going on at two of BVT's corporate siblings.
When BVT initially sold Millionaire into syndication, the largest market station to come on board was WCBS-TV in New York, the flagship of the CBS network. Looking to bolster its offerings in the two hours between the end of CBS' daytime schedule and its first evening newscast of the day, which had been an ongoing problem for the station for years, Millionaire was one of two major additions to WCBS' lineup for the 2002–2003 season. The station gave it the 4:00 p.m. weekday timeslot that had housed Weakest Link, a syndicated version of another network primetime quiz show (in this case, produced by NBC) that had launched in January 2002.
The timeslot, at the time, was a fairly competitive one. WABC-TV had been airing The Oprah Winfrey Show, which had consistently been the most popular daytime talk show, there since December 1986. WNBC at the time carried Judge Judy, which was the second-highest rated program in daytime syndication behind Oprah. Millionaire was unable to cut into the audience for either program, despite having the other major WCBS acquisition, the talk show Dr. Phil, as its lead in. WCBS again decided to switch its lineup.
In April 2003, with the season in its final weeks, WCBS announced its addition of The People's Court to its lineup for fall 2003 after the revived series had aired since its 1997 debut on WNBC. WCBS announced that The People's Court would be airing at 4:00 p.m. once it joined the station's lineup, which meant that Millionaire would be forced out of the timeslot after one year. BVT tried to negotiate with WCBS for another timeslot but the station had other obligations and thus could not accommodate them. There was not much in the way of open time slots on any of the other New York stations either, as they had other obligations in daytime and nighttime fringe slots, and BVT was in a position that could have seen Millionaire be reduced to airing in a post-midnight period or another non-traditional time that syndicators try to avoid.
Meanwhile, ABC was about to shake up its daytime schedule in a move made shortly after Millionaire concluded its season. The network had long programmed a thirty-minute serial at 12:30 p.m., and since 1997 that time slot had belonged to Port Charles. In July 2003, however, the network decided that it would be discontinuing the program after its contract to air it expired in October and, once that happened, the timeslot Port Charles had occupied would be given back to the affiliates to program as they wished. BVT decided to go to its parent company's flagship station and offered Millionaire to WABC as the replacement for Port Charles, and the two sides agreed; as the second season of Millionaire premiered in September 2003, weeks before Port Charles aired its final episode, WABC was forced to air the last few weeks of Port Charles in a late-night time slot. Millionaire remained part of the station's daytime lineup for the rest of its run. ABC was impressed enough with the ratings improvement that the network, with one or two exceptions (WLS-TV in Chicago and KABC-TV in Los Angeles, though the latter would eventually add the series) picked up Millionaire for the other stations it owned.
Following the 2014–15 season, Millionaire was nearly cancelled after a disagreement with BVT's successor, Disney-ABC Domestic Television, and Sony Pictures Entertainment, the owner of the format rights through its subsidiary 2waytraffic. According to e-mails released in the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack, Millionaire's declining ratings prompted DADT to demand a dramatically reduced licensing fee for renewal, which SPE was hesitant to accept. The two sides eventually agreed on terms for renewal, which included a return to the original question format (but with fourteen questions) and cuts to the production budget, which resulted in the series leaving New York for Stamford, Connecticut (although this had been done in 2014) and later moving to Las Vegas. Had the show not been renewed, SPE was going to place the show on extended hiatus for three years, after which it would reclaim full rights to the show and be free to shop the revived show to another network or syndicator. DADT, meanwhile, would keep the rights to the format changes made in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
Despite its renewal, many of the stations airing Millionaire, especially the ABC-owned stations, added the talk show FABLife for 2015. When FABlife failed to gain an audience and was cancelled at midseason, Millionaire was able to return to many of its former airing times for 2016; beginning that year, Millionaire and the viral video show RightThisMinute began being sold as a package to ABC stations.
As the seventeenth season progressed, the future of Millionaire became uncertain. Its strongest group of stations, the ABC-owned stations, had announced that they would be picking up a new talk show hosted by former NBC News anchor and correspondent Tamron Hall for Fall 2019, making no announcement about the future of Millionaire with it; thus, it was speculated that the series would likely be facing its end. On May 17, 2019, the cancellation announcement came down, with Millionaire airing its final first-run episode on May 31, 2019.
Just over a year later, another shakeup involving Disney properties gave the series life again. As part of their acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s broadcasting assets in 2019, Disney became the syndicator for series that were previously distributed by Fox through its subsidiary 20th Television. This included syndicated reruns of the first twenty-five seasons of the TV series Cops. In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, first-run episodes were cancelled by the series’ current producer, Paramount Network, as were all reruns. Disney responded by immediately removing all of the episodes of Cops under its control from local stations. Many of the stations airing the rerun package were offered reruns from the final season of the syndicated version of Millionaire as a replacement and many took them up on the offer.
Game Show Network (GSN) acquired the rerun rights to the U.S. Millionaire in August 2003. The network initially aired only episodes from the three seasons of the original prime-time run; however, additional episodes were later added. These included the Super Millionaire spin-off, which aired on GSN from May 2005 to January 2007, and the first two seasons of the syndicated version, which began airing on November 10, 2008. On December 4, 2017, GSN acquired the rerun rights to the Harrison episodes of Millionaire (seasons fourteen and fifteen), which began airing December 18, 2017.
Various special editions and tournaments have been conducted which feature celebrities playing the game and donating winnings to charities of their choice. During celebrity editions on the original ABC version, contestants were allowed to receive help from their fellow contestants during the first ten questions. The only celebrity contestant to win the top prize is David Chang, who won $1,000,000 for his charity, Southern Smoke Foundation. Other successful celebrity contestants throughout the show's run have included Drew Carey, Rosie O'Donnell, Norm Macdonald, Chip Esten, Lauren Lapkus, Anderson Cooper, and Julie Bowen, all of whom won $500,000 for each of their charities. The episode featuring O'Donnell's $500,000 win averaged 36.1 million viewers, the highest number for a single episode of the show.
There have also been special weeks featuring two or three family members or couples competing as a team, a "Champions Edition" where former big winners returned and split their winnings with their favorite charities, a "Zero Dollar Winner Edition" featuring contestants who previously missed one of the first-tier questions and left with nothing, and a "Tax-Free Edition" in which H&R Block calculated the taxes of winnings to allow contestants to earn stated winnings after taxes, and various theme weeks featuring college students, teachers, brides-to-be, etc. as contestants. Additionally, the syndicated version once featured an annual "Walk In & Win Week" with contestants who were randomly selected from the audience without having to take the audition test.
Special weeks have also included shows featuring questions concerning specific topics, such as professional football, celebrity gossip, movies, and pop culture. During a week of episodes in November 2007, to celebrate the 1,000th episode of the syndicated Millionaire, all contestants that week started with $1,000 so that they could not leave empty-handed, and only had to answer ten questions to win $1,000,000. During that week, twenty home viewers per day also won $1,000 each.
Who Wants to Be a Super Millionaire
In 2004, Philbin returned to host 12 episodes of a spin-off program titled Who Wants to Be a Super Millionaire in which contestants could potentially win $10,000,000. ABC aired five episodes of this spin-off during the week of February 22, 2004, and an additional seven episodes later that year in May. As usual, contestants had to answer a series of 15 multiple-choice questions of increasing difficulty, but the dollar values rose substantially. The questions for Super Millionaire were worth $1,000, $2,000, $3,000, $4,000, $5,000 (the first safe haven), $10,000, $20,000, $30,000, $50,000, $100,000 (the second safe haven), $500,000, $1,000,000, $2,500,000, $5,000,000, and $10,000,000.
Contestants were given the standard three lifelines in place at the time (50:50, Ask the Audience, and Phone-a-Friend) at the beginning of the game. However, after correctly answering the $100,000 question, the contestant earned two additional lifelines: Three Wise Men and Double Dip (see Lifelines).
10th Anniversary Celebration
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of Millionaire's U.S. debut, the show returned to ABC primetime for an eleven-night event hosted by Philbin, which aired from August 9 to 23, 2009. The Academy Award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire and the 2008 economic crisis helped boost interest of renewal of the game show.
The episodes featured game play based on the previous rule set of the syndicated version (including the rule changes implemented in season seven) but used the Fastest Finger round to select contestants. Various celebrities also made special guest appearances at the end of every episode; each guest played one question for a chance at $50,000 for a charity of their choice, being allowed to use any one of the four lifelines in place at the time (Phone-a-Friend, Ask the Audience, Double Dip, and Ask the Expert), but still earned a minimum of $25,000 for the charity if they answered the question incorrectly.
On August 18, 2009, New York City resident Nik Bonaddio appeared on the program, winning $100,000 with the help of the audience and later, Gwen Ifill as his lifelines. Bonaddio then used the proceeds to start the sports analytics firm numberFire, which was sold in September 2015 to FanDuel, a fantasy sports platform.
|$1,000,000 (15 of 15) – 4:39 time limit|
|For ordering his favorite beverages on demand, LBJ had four buttons installed in the Oval Office labeled "coffee", "tea", "Coke" and what?|
|⬥ A: Fresca||⬥ B: V8|
|⬥ C: Yoo-hoo||⬥ D: A&W|
|Ken Basin's million dollar question|
The finale of the tenth anniversary special, which aired on August 23, 2009, featured Ken Basin, an entertainment lawyer from Los Angeles, California, who went on to become the first contestant to play a $1,000,000 question in the "clock format". With a time of 4:39 (45 seconds + 3:54 banked time), Basin was given a question involving President Lyndon Baines Johnson's fondness for Fresca. Using his one remaining lifeline, Basin asked the audience, which supported his own hunch of Yoo-hoo rather than the correct answer. He decided to answer the question and lost $475,000, becoming the first contestant in the U.S. version to answer a $1,000,000 question incorrectly. After Basin finished his run, Vieira appeared on-camera and announced that all remaining Fastest Finger contestants would play with her on the first week of the syndicated version's eighth season. After this, the million dollar question was not played again on a standard episode until September 25, 2013, when Josina Reaves became the second U.S. Millionaire contestant to incorrectly answer her $1,000,000 question, though she only lost $75,000 as she had used her Jump the Question lifelines on her $250,000 and $500,000 questions.
Million Dollar Tournament of Ten
Although the syndicated Millionaire had produced two millionaires in its first season, Nancy Christy's May 2003 win was still standing as the most recent when the program began its eighth season in fall of 2009. Deciding that six-plus years had been too long since someone had won the top prize, producers conducted a tournament to find a third million dollar winner. For the first nine weeks of the 2009–10 season, each episode saw contestants attempt to qualify for what was referred to as the "Tournament of Ten". Contestants were seeded based on how much money they had won, with the biggest winner ranked first and the lowest ranked tenth. Ties were broken based on how much time a contestant had banked when they had walked away from the game.
The tournament began on the episode aired November 9, 2009, and playing in order from the lowest to the highest seed, tournament contestants played one at a time at the end of that episode and the next nine. The rules were exactly the same as they were for a normal million dollar question under the clock format introduced the season before, except here, the contestants had no lifelines at their disposal. Each contestant received a base time of 45 seconds. For each question they had answered before walking away, the contestants received any unused seconds that were left when they gave their answers. The accumulated total of those unused seconds was then added to the base time to give the contestants their final question time limit.
Each contestant had the same decision facing them as before, which was whether to attempt to answer the question or walk away with their pre-tournament total intact. Attempting the question and answering incorrectly incurred the same penalty as in regular play, with a reduction of their pre-tournament winnings to $25,000. If the question was answered correctly, the player that did so became the tournament leader. If another player after him/her answered correctly, that player assumed the lead and the previous leader kept their pre-tournament winnings. The highest remaining seed to have attempted and correctly answered their question at the end of the tournament on November 20, 2009 would be declared the winner and become the syndicated series' third millionaire.
The first contestant to attempt to answer the million dollar question was Sam Murray, the tournament's eighth-seeded qualifier. On November 11, Murray was asked approximately how many people had lived on Earth in its history and correctly guessed 100 billion. Murray was still atop the leaderboard entering the November 20 finale as he remained the only contestant to even attempt to answer his or her question. The only person who could defeat him was top seed and $250,000 winner Jehan Shamsid-Deen, who was asked a question regarding the Blorenge, cited as "a rare example of a word that rhymes with orange". Shamsid-Deen considered taking the risk, believing (correctly) that the name belonged to a mountain in Wales. However, she decided that the potential of losing $225,000 did not justify the risk and elected to walk away from the question, giving Murray the win and the million dollar prize.
A 2020 reboot of the show featuring celebrity guests playing for charity is produced by Kimmel, who is also the host, Davies and Mike Richards. Nine episodes were filmed without an audience in two days mid March 2020, just before California issued a stay-at-home order due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Partly due to this change, the "Ask the Audience" lifeline was removed. A new lifeline, Ask the Host, was introduced. The celebrities featured in the first season were Eric Stonestreet, Will Forte, Nikki Glaser, Jane Fonda, Anthony Anderson, Ike Barinholtz, Hannibal Buress, Catherine O'Hara, Dr. Phil, Kaitlin Olson, Lauren Lapkus, Anderson Cooper, and Andy Cohen, the latter two of which played as both contestants and supporters.
On May 21, 2020, Deadline reported that the revival was given an order for a second season, to air during the 2020–21 television season. On June 17, 2020, it was announced that the second season of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was scheduled to air on Sunday nights at 9:00 p.m. ET starting Fall 2020. ABC announced in August 2020 that the second season would premiere on October 18. In addition to celebrity contestants playing for charity as they did in the first season, the second season had "frontline heroes" also playing for the $1,000,000 prize. The celebrities that appeared in the second season of the reboot were Tiffany Haddish, Julie Bowen, Ray Romano, Rebel Wilson, Joel McHale, and David Chang, the latter of which became the 1st celebrity on the show to win the top prize for his charity, Southern Smoke Foundation.
Since its introduction to the United States, GSN credited Who Wants to Be a Millionaire with not only single-handedly reviving the game show genre, but also breaking new ground for it. The series revolutionized the look and feel of game shows with its unique lighting system, dramatic music cues, and futuristic set. The show also became one of the highest-rated and most popular game shows in U.S. television history, and has been credited with paving the way for the rise of the primetime reality TV phenomenon to prominence throughout the 2000s.
The U.S. Millionaire also made catchphrases out of various lines used on the show. In particular, "Is that your final answer?", asked by Millionaire's hosts whenever a contestant's answer needs to be verified, was popularized by Philbin during his tenure as host, and was also included on TV Land's special "100 Greatest TV Quotes and Catch Phrases", which aired in 2006. Meanwhile, during his tenure as host, Cedric signed off shows with a catchphrase of his own, "Watch yo' wallet!"
The original primetime version of the U.S. Millionaire won two Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Game/Audience Participation Show in 2000 and 2001. Philbin was honored with a Daytime Emmy in the category of Outstanding Game Show Host in 2001, while Vieira received one in 2005, and another in 2009. TV Guide ranked the U.S. Millionaire #7 on its 2001 list of the 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time, and later ranked it #6 on its 2013 "60 Greatest Game Shows" list. GSN ranked Millionaire #5 on its August 2006 list of the 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time, and later honored the show in January 2007 on its only Gameshow Hall of Fame special.
In 2000, Pressman released two board game adaptions of Millionaire as well as a junior edition recommended for younger players. Several video games based on the varying gameplay formats of Millionaire have also been released throughout the course of the show's U.S. history.
Between 1999 and 2001, Jellyvision produced five video game adaptations based upon the original primetime series for personal computers and Sony's PlayStation console, all of them featuring Philbin's likeness and voice. The first of these adaptations was published by Disney Interactive, while the later four were published by Buena Vista Interactive which had just been spun off from DI when it reestablished itself in attempts to diversify its portfolio. Of the five games, three featured general trivia questions, one was sports-themed, and another was a "Kids Edition" featuring easier questions. In 2007, Imagination Games released a DVD version of the show, based on the 2004–08 format and coming complete with Vieira's likeness and voice, as well as a quiz book and a 2009 desktop calendar. Additionally, two Millionaire video games were released by Ludia in conjunction with Ubisoft in 2010 and 2011; the first of these was a game for Nintendo's Wii console and DS handheld system based on the clock format, while the second, for Microsoft's Xbox 360, was based on the shuffle format.
Ludia made a Facebook game based on Millionaire available from 2011 to 2016. This game featured an altered version of the shuffle format, condensing the number of questions to twelve—eight in round one and four in round two. Contestants competed against eight other Millionaire fans in round one, with the top three playing round two alone. There was no "final answer" rule; the contestant's responses were automatically locked in. Answering a question correctly earned a contestant the value of that question, multiplied by the number of people who responded incorrectly. Contestants were allowed to use two of their Facebook friends as Jump the Question lifelines in round one, and to use the Ask the Audience lifeline in round two to invite up to 50 such friends of theirs to answer a question for a portion of the prize money of the current question.
Disney Parks attraction
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – Play It! was an attraction at the Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park (when it was known as Disney-MGM Studios) at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida and at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California. Both the Florida and California Play It! attractions opened in 2001; the California version closed in 2004, and the Florida version closed in 2006 and was replaced by Toy Story Midway Mania!
The format in the Play It! attraction was very similar to that of the television show that inspired it. When a show started, a Fastest Finger question was given, and the audience was asked to put the four answers in order; the person with the fastest time was the first contestant in the Hot Seat for that show. However, the main game had some differences: for example, contestants competed for points rather than dollars, the questions were set to time limits, and the Phone-a-Friend lifeline became Phone a Complete Stranger which connected the contestant to a Disney cast member outside the attraction's theater who would find a guest to help. After every level the player completed, he or she was awarded a collectible lapel pin. Additional prizes were awarded after every fifth question they answered correctly.
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