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Adalian Column: ‘Millionaire’ Revival a Good Answer for ABC

Jan 11, 2009  •  Post A Comment

ABC is seriously considering bringing back one of the biggest franchises in modern TV history—and it’s about time.
If current discussions pan out, the network this summer will mount a primetime revival of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” the groundbreaking game show that—along with “Survivor”—ushered in the modern era of unscripted television. Staged as a multi-night event over one or two weeks, the “Millionaire” redux likely would air in August as a commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of the show’s American debut.
And yes, ABC wants Regis Philbin to return as host, according to several people familiar with the network’s thinking.
Because little in television is easy, ABC has yet to make an official call on resurrecting “Millionaire.” Some insiders believe it won’t get done. But I’m betting it will happen.
For one thing, the timing couldn’t be more ideal.
No matter how quickly Congress moves to pass a stimulus package, the nation’s economy is likely to be mired in recession for most of 2009. “Millionaire,” whose very title is filled with the offer of transformation, is the ultimate wish-fulfillment show. Imagine the primetime drama that could be generated by audiences seeing a laid-off autoworker with five adorable kids walk away with $500,000.
Also, the “Millionaire” format is very much back in the cultural zeitgeist. “Slumdog Millionaire,” about a contestant on the Indian version of the show, has turned into an indie hit with serious Oscar buzz. If the movie snags a best picture nomination, ABC’s Oscar broadcast could serve as a perfect launching pad for the “Millionaire” marketing campaign.
“Millionaire” executive producer Michael Davies has made no secret of his desire to bring the show back to primetime. If he still believes it makes sense, this would be the perfect year to do it.
Then there’s the economic argument in favor of bringing back “Millionaire.”
Startup costs shouldn’t be significant, since ABC parent Disney owns the U.S. rights to “Millionaire” and already produces a successful syndicated version of the show. Sets and production crews are already in place filming the five-day-a-week edition, making a primetime effort enormously cost-effective.
A primetime “Millionaire” event, airing just before the start of the fall season, also would be a very valuable advertisement for the Meredith Vieira-hosted syndicated show. With one move, Disney would boost two divisions.
The best reason for reviving “Millionaire,” however, is this: It’s a can’t-lose proposition.
Let’s assume for a second that viewers turn out not to be interested in “Millionaire” anymore. Or even that “Millionaire” does OK, but fails to achieve the sort of monster ratings it earned during its first incarnation.
So what? By positioning “Millionaire” 2009 as an anniversary special, network executives can simply say they wanted to honor two important part of ABC’s heritage—“Millionaire” and Mr. Philbin.
After all, it’s been nearly five years since “Millionaire” aired on ABC. Nobody can accuse the network of being overly reliant on the franchise. If anything, executives at the network have shown remarkable restraint in not bringing back the show sooner.
In addition to carrying little risk, pushing the reset button on “Millionaire” also has a big upside.
Given the economic climate and the enduring appeal of “Millionaire,” there’s a real chance the show could once again do sizable numbers for ABC. While insiders at the network insist there’s no desire to bring the show back as a weekly series—even in success—it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where “Millionaire” lives on as a twice- or thrice-per-year event.
That’s how the show originally aired in the United Kingdom, and it’s how Mr. Davies had always wanted it to run in the United States.
Networks these days are always talking about the need to decrease repeats and spread original episodes throughout the season. Having “Millionaire” on the bench would add a very attractive, cost-effective weapon to the ABC programming arsenal.
So what could prevent “Millionaire” from throwing a primetime anniversary party?
For one thing, Mr. Philbin hasn’t committed to the idea. Even if he wanted to return to “Millionaire,” he’s currently going steady with another game, CBS’ reincarnation of “Password.” If that show returns for another season, his deal might prevent him from appearing elsewhere in primetime.
But Mr. Philbin’s agent, Jim Griffin of William Morris, didn’t get into the business yesterday. If Mr. Philbin wants to return to “Millionaire,” it will happen.
ABC executives might also be skittish about revisiting the past. While Disney ultimately made hundreds of millions—yes, I said hundreds—from “Millionaire,” the show’s rapid ratings flameout sort of sullied its reputation.
Rightly or wrongly, ABC’s overreliance on “Millionaire” became synonymous with network hubris.
Fox’s “American Idol” is only on once a year because executives at that network didn’t want to repeat ABC’s perceived mistakes. And when “Deal or No Deal” became a breakout hit, NBC executives pledged to learn from “Millionaire” and not run the show into the ground. (Of course, NBC went ahead and did just that anyway, but that’s another column.)
It’s a good thing that ABC executives haven’t rushed to bring back “Millionaire.” And it’s also probably wise for the network to take its time and think through the pros and cons of doing so.
But sometimes, folks in TV land can overthink things. Bringing back “Millionaire” is a no-brainer on just about every level.
And yes, that’s my final answer.

140 Comments

  1. I’d personally LOVE to see Millionaire come back this summer. I personally think it’d be a huge hit, especially when you consider it’s ratings on GSN (it has been one of their top rated shows, even though it’s in repeats). I know they’re not stellar, but there’s a base for the show there. Also, Million Dollar Password has been pulled from the CBS sked, with no signs of a return, so it’s not a far-fetch’d assumption to say that it’s been canned (even though I really enjoyed it). The only thing is that they’d have to go back to the original…fastest finger, normal money tree ($32K after $8K, not $25K), no time limit, and crazy lifelines (stick with 50:50, Phone-a-Friend & Ask the Audience). Also, so gimmicks like adding $10K to the pot every night. I really think it would turn out to be a hit if it returned.

  2. Jeremy, Password was on only last week.
    And again this week, check their site. The guests are Jamie Kennedy and Norm MacDonald.
    Sure, I’d like to see Millionaire return, and with Regis. But it’s gonna take some legal wrangling or Password’s ratings need to tank.

  3. Joe, you are incorrect. It’s not scheduled at all in the near future. The information at CBS.com simply has not been updated. Check out any tv listings and you’ll see. In fact, if you click on the second ‘S’ (for Sunday) at the top of the CBS.com site, you’ll see that it’s not going to be on.

  4. Just to clarify, it was already scheduled for pre-emption this coming Sunday (for football), but that’s not what we’re talking about.

  5. I’d love to see the show come back. It’s the only program EVERYONE in my family liked and would watch together. It comes back? I’ll be watching.

  6. If ABC was smart, they’d make Millionaire a summer and winter event just as Dancing With The “Stars” is a fall and spring event and Wipeout was a summer event last season. Set aside a weekly Wednesday night slot. Once a week is fine, not Sunday nights, not Friday nights, and definitely not Saturday nights. If ABC can resist the urge to strip it nightly and keep the original rules (not the stripped down, faster-paced rules for the daily version), then I’m all for it.
    Otherwise, it’s no good for any one.

  7. Hopefully, the show will return to Primetime…

  8. I watch Millionaire with Meredith Viera in the afternoon on ABC and enjoy it more than I did with Regis, probably because I got tired of watching Regis. I haven’t gotten tired of Meredith, yet and I hope her show won’t be cancelled.

  9. Well, I basically said the same thing on Buzzerblog, but it bears some repeating: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO THIS.
    However, there should definitely be some changes.
    One thing for sure is we should definitely have Regis hosting. He and Millionaire are constantly put together in most people’s minds. Plus, with a couple of other rule changes and Regis hosting, we could bring back what Millionaire originally was: a game of suspense.
    Take a look at Robert “Bob-O” Essig, from Super Millionaire. His half-million and $1million wins were suspenseful as can be, and that’s what made Millionaire what it was.
    With a syndicated 30minute format, you just don’t have time for that kind of stuff, and the Fastest Finger and suspense were shoved out of the way.
    Two things should go: First, the timer. Again, Millionaire has always been a gameshow of suspense, and the timer just ruins that.
    Second, the category list. That’s basically a helper for the timer; having no knowledge of what’s coming is more suspenseful, of course- we fear the unknown more than the known.
    As far as money tiers and lifelines go, I would go with something like this:
    Three Lifelines to start: Ask Audience, Phone Friend, 50/50 (WHY did we remove this?!)
    $100
    $200
    $300
    $500
    $1,000 *Add Ask Expert*
    $2,500
    $5,000
    $10,000
    $25,000
    $50,000 *Add Double Dip*
    $100,000
    $250,000
    $500,000
    $1,000,000
    $2,000,000 *Top Prize*
    If nothing else this would work for the first few shows or until the first $2mil winner; the show hasn’t had a $1mil winner since Bob-O in 04, so something to commemorate the primetime show’s return / tenth ann’y would be cool.

  10. Personally, with Are You Smarter…? and Super Millionaire starting at $1,000, what I hated the syndicated show didn’t do as a way to reduce time instead of adding the stupid timer was just reduce the show to 12 questions with a similar prize layout as the original:
    * $1,000,000
    $500,000
    $250,000
    $125,000
    * $64,000
    $32,000
    $16,000
    $8,000
    * 4,000
    $3,000
    $2,000
    $1,000
    This could help people get a little further while still limiting the number of people who get to the million. One thing that must be avoided is what Britain did, which was institute a 12-question format but make it where the first milestone is reached after two questions. The reason Millionaire makes more sense than any other show like it is that the milestones are evenly spaced out. Also, with the fewer questions I’d rather keep the lifelines that were in the original. Extra lifelines should have remained Super Millionaire’s thing. This is not Super Millionaire, it should not have extra lifelines.

  11. ABC ruined the original millionaire show with the celebrities that were so boring, especially allowing them to CHEAT. We are very disappointed to see you have them return on this new show. It really disrupts the continuity of the excitement of this otherwise great program. We want to see ordinary people on the show really striving to make some good money for themselves. Thank you Michael and Madeline Johnson

  12. History is repeating itself at ABC-TV. Once again, Regis Philbin and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” spiked the network’s ratings, just as they did a few years ago, when it was reported in the trade press that “Regis saved ABC”.
    You remember what happened next, though. ABC dumped Regis and tried to continue with Meredith Viera. The show fell flat. It died. ABC slumped again.
    Now, it’s deja vu all over. You watch: the same thing will happen all over again. Ms. Viera is a nice person, charming, even, but she just doesn’t have the energy and doesn’t project the kind of excitement that Regis does. This is not a criticism of her; it’s not sexist, and certainly not ageist. Regis Philbin (funny name, serious host) just happens to be the right guy for that job. He invented it, and it’s HIS role. When “Reege” is not there, the show loses its heart.
    Whether he is too busy, ABC can’t afford him, or if ABC wants youth rather than experience, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter much.
    Regis Philbin was and is 90% of that program, and the writers, producers and pacing made up the other half. When he’s not there, it doesn’t sizzle, and that’s why it will die again.
    ABC News is not dumb. They did the right thing when they had to replace the late Peter Jennings. Charlie Gibson is very good, and Elizabeth Vargas is a very close second, probably better than Katie Couric, though that’s a whole other discussion. Moving George Stepahnopolis opposite Meet The Press was brilliant: he’s killin’ ’em.
    But in the quiz-show world, and specifically on this quiz show, Regis Philbin makes it happen. Without him, it will fail again. And darn it, that shouldn’t happen. Shame on the execs at ABC who are letting history repeat itself.
    Don’t those guys ever learn?
    * * * * * * * * *

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