In Depth

Facelift for ‘Millionaire’

Veteran Game Show Calls on Skype as It Refreshes Lifelines

As part of a format revamp, producers of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” have completed a deal with Skype to connect contestants with experts as one of the new lifelines for the series.

Skype will provide an online video connection for the syndicated strip’s new “Ask the Expert” lifeline, where the contestant will be given access to experts on any question past the $1,000 level. “Millionaire” will aim to make available newsmakers, journalists, former “Millionaire” contestants, trivia champs, politicians, doctors, professors and others.

“Skype has proven to be the perfect partner for our new ‘Ask the Expert’ lifeline,” said executive producer Michael Davies. “With Skype, we’ve not only found an interesting and visually compelling way to offer contestants help in the hot seat, but we’ve done it in a really modern way, using new technology that’s becoming increasingly popular.”

Among the experts utilized will be Bill Nye (airing Sept. 8-12) and Ogi Ogas, a former “Millionaire” contestant from Boston who walked away with $500,000 in winnings (airing Sept. 15-19).

“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” which continues to rank as one of the top three game shows in syndication as it enters its seventh season, is getting a number of tweaks, including the new lifelines as well as new graphics and a heightened tension level with the addition of a time limit for answers.

“Most successful game shows have changed and morphed their look over time, and I just think it was time for us to do the same thing,” Mr. Davies said. “Our show was always designed to be the most modern game show on television, and the timing was right to take our unique format and look and evolve them into something even more exciting.”

The 50/50 and “Switch the Question” lifelines will be dropped from the game. In their place will be “Ask the Expert” and “Double Dip,” in which contestants are allowed to take two guesses on any given question. “Double Dip” originally was utilized on ABC’s “Super Millionaire.”

“We really took a good look at the lifelines we already had and modernized them,” Mr. Davies said. “We quickly got rid of 50/50 as it was always the most unpopular lifeline on ‘Millionaire.’ Then we noted the ‘Switch the Question’ was not helping the contestants much. By replacing it with ‘Ask the Expert,’ we were able to create a truly effective lifeline that also looks very modern and different and cool.”

The new season also will update the graphics package for the series, including the “Millionaire Menu,” in which the categories of the contestant’s entire pyramid of 15 questions are revealed at the beginning of the game. Among the topics could be “Scary Movies,” “Presidential Posses,” “‘SNL’ Characters,” “In the News” and “Potter!” The “Millionaire Menu” will serve as an in-show tease for home viewers, providing them with a sneak peek at what’s coming up on the show.

The “Phone a Friend” lifeline graphics package also will be updated, providing photos, name and hometown for each of the contestant’s three potential lifeline friends.

“All of these add up to only a little change for the show, but they each add a dramatic impact to what viewers will see,” Mr. Davies said.