Vieira up for ‘Millionaire,’ but ‘Squares’ has a hole

Apr 29, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Depending on whom you talk to, CBS station general managers were either scratching their heads or breathing sighs of relief following announcements last week about the direction of upcoming syndicated strips “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “Hollywood Squares.”
Both game shows had large holes to fill; Buena Vista’s “Millionaire” still needed to name a host nearly a year after announcing the sale of the series to the CBS station group, and King World Production’s “Squares” had to find both a production company and a center-square occupant following the departure of Whoopi Goldberg earlier in the month.
Last week came word that Buena Vista was close to signing Meredith Vieira of ABC’s “The View” to fill the “Millionaire” host slot, joining a slew of Disney talent that pulls double duty within the company. Ms. Vieira had reportedly received overtures from CBS about replacing Bryant Gumbel as host of “The Early Show.” Many speculate the added profile and paycheck from her “Millionaire” duties was enough to sway her to stay in the Disney/ABC camp. Sources said that the studio was close to bringing on “Extra” host Leeza Gibbons earlier in the month before opting to go with Ms. Vieira.
Reaction to the decision on the new “Millionaire” host has been mixed. Many CBS-owned station managers were simply glad to have a name to promote after 10 months of speculation, since Ms. Vieira is a fixture on “The View.” The ABC daytime series has averaged a 2.6 rating this season, ranking No. 6 among all daytime talk shows.
Other managers said they were let down not only by the lack of an A-list name but also by losing the regular prime-time support of weekly “Millionaire” telecasts on ABC.
Back to the laughs
Meanwhile, the King World crew is hoping to pin down a center-square resident within the next week or two but has signed Hollywood veterans Henry Winkler and Michael Levitt as new executive producers of the series, replacing outgoing production team Moffitt-Lee.
“Quite frankly, the show just wasn’t that funny anymore, and I’d like to get back to where we started,” said CBS Enterprises and King World CEO Roger King. “This team we’re putting together is a winning combination. Every station I’ve talked to is very excited about bringing in Henry Winkler and Michael Levitt for the show. This team has expertise in talent relations, writing and producing and will make the show more fun to watch than ever.”
Best known for playing The Fonz on “Happy Days,” Mr. Winkler has served as executive producer and director on a slew of television projects, including the hit series “MacGyver,” which he co-executive produced for seven seasons. In 1984, Mr. Winkler founded Fair Dinkum, a production company through which he served as executive producer for the Fox series “Sightings,” which currently airs on the Sci-Fi Channel, “So Weird” for the Disney Channel and various ABC After School Specials and CBS Schoolbreak Specials.
Mr. Levitt has produced many televised entertainment specials that include “The Billboard Music Awards” from 1997-2001, “The Blockbuster Awards” from 1997-2001, “The Teen Choice Awards” from 1999-2001 and the 2001 “TV Guide Awards.” In 1999, Mr. Levitt founded Michael Levitt Productions and under that banner produced the 2001 “VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards,” “Britney Spears: There’s No Place Like Home,” “Britney in Hawaii” and `”N Sync ‘Ntimate Holiday Special,” among others.
Meanwhile, sources said the company is still weighing several “A-list” names to fill the center square on the series.
“This series has a huge budget, and stations know that I will spend the money to develop a hit,” said Mr. King. “My favorite sale is a renewal because it’s very hard to develop a hit. But I’m not satisfied with a 2.8. We’re going after a 5.6 with strong demos, so I look forward to seeing the show grow.”