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TV Preview: Regis returns with more millions

Friday, February 20, 2004

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

More money, more lifelines and more Regis: "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" returns Sunday as "Super Millionaire" with the potential grand prize upped from $1 million to $10 million.

 
 

'Super Millionaire'

When: 9 p.m. Sunday on ABC.

   
 

Regis Philbin, who hosted the show when it took ABC from worst to first and back to worst again after it premiered in summer 1999, is back on board as host.

"It's going to be fun and quite expensive to ABC," Philbin said last week, referring to the jackpot and not his salary, which he said remains the same as the last time he hosted. "I think it's just what we need to energize the audience and get them in here with us."

Executive producer Michael Davies said there have long been informal discussions about returning the series to ABC's airwaves. After ABC tested the concept of "Super Millionaire" and received a positive response from viewers who were queried, the series' revival was on a fast track.

Davies said some of the tweaks to the revival -- including a spiffed-up set, new music and graphics -- were inspired by watching a young relative play a video game.

"He suddenly got to a certain level and got to a new world where the stakes were higher, the risks were worse if something went wrong and the rewards were greater if he managed to vanquish all his opponents," Davies said. "I thought, this might be a great analogy for a new version of 'Millionaire.' "

In addition to the three existing "lifelines" contestants can use to get help answering questions, "Super Millionaire" includes two additional options: "Three Wise Men" and "Double Dip."

In "Three Wise Men," contestants get access via an audio/video feed to three smart people sequestered backstage. The Wise Men, which will always include at least one woman, include academics, journalists and past quiz show winners.

In "Double Dip," a contestant gets two chances to answer a question correctly, but the contestant will not have the option of walking away with their accumulated winnings. When used in conjunction with the "50/50" lifeline, contestants are guaranteed to get the question right.

Another change: The easiest question is now worth $1,000, rather than $100 in the first edition of "Millionaire."

Davies said he thinks there's a 50 percent chance any contestant will win $10 million next week.

"What is critical is that our viewers believe that our contestants have a fair shot of getting that $10 million," he said. "If you look not only at the kinds of questions we're asking and the fact they're getting two additional lifelines at the $100,000 level, I believe they have a fair shot."

ABC executives, who long ago acknowledged they screwed up the show's winning formula by overexposing it -- sometimes as a weekly series it aired as many as four times per week -- say this time they'll restrain themselves. If this five-night run draws high ratings, the show will return, but only on the same limited basis, two or three times per year.

Davies said he'll vehemently fight ABC if the network attempts "celebrity" editions of "Millionaire," which many viewers and insiders feel hurt the franchise the first time around.

In addition to Sunday's episode, "Millionaire" will air at 10 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday next week. That late time period runs contrary to the show's popularity as a family viewing option. No doubt, ABC's inability to launch high-rated 10 p.m. dramas played into the network's programming decision, but Davies said data shows when the original "Millionaire" aired at 10 p.m. a few times, it drew a sizable audience.

"But we would like, in success, for this show to remain a consecutive-night strip on the occasional basis," Davies said, "and we would like to prove to ABC that we should be a 9 p.m. or 8 p.m. television show."


Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582.

Post questions to post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.

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