With a flock of new talk and court shows filling the first-run syndicated ranks this season, the biggest ratings growth has come from a 4-year-old game show: “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”
The strip is up 15 percent in households season to date for an average 3.1 rating this season, according to Nielsen Media Research. For the most recent week available, the week ended Oct. 15, “Millionaire” was up 18 percent to a 3.3.
Though a ways from the upper Nielsen atmosphere of genre leaders “Wheel of Fortune” (8.2) and “Jeopardy!” (6.4), the sudden growth is a boon to the Buena Vista series.
A few theories are emerging about why “Millionaire” is growing, and why now.
Janice Marinelli, president of “Millionaire” distributor Buena Vista Television, credits her sales team for gaining the show some time-period improvements since last year.
“We feel the show is on a great roll, there’s lots of excitement,” she said. “A lot of the growth can be attributed to our sales team being very aggressive in the marketplace and getting several upgrades and double runs for the show.”
One analyst suggested that the rising prominence of host Meredith Vieira is a factor in “Millionaire’s” success. “Millionaire” was adapted from a British format and first launched in the U.S. on ABC in 1999 with Regis Philbin as host. When the show was launched into syndication in 2002, “The View” co-host Ms. Vieira added hosting duties for “Millionaire.” Earlier this year, Ms. Vieira left ABC’s “The View” and became co-anchor of NBC’s “Today” show.
Then there’s “Deal or No Deal.” The popularity of NBC’s contemporary hit prime-time game show might be inspiring viewers to watch “Millionaire,” which was a similar phenomenon during its late-1990s run on ABC.
Ms. Marinelli said there’s modest validity to that theory, as does Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz TV Group.
“We’re going through a little bit of renaissance of games in prime time and it’s quite possible it would have a tangential rub-off effect on `Millionaire,”‘ Mr. Carroll said. “But usually the reasons shows improve are upgrades and time periods. Combined with the higher awareness of Meredith Vieira, it probably helped to build the additional performance.”
Garnett Losak, VP and director of programming for Petry TV, said the best reason for the newfound success of “Millionaire” might not be any new factor, just that the show has matured into a habit for many viewers.
“It’s been on the air for a while,” she said. “It’s found its time period in most markets and with stability comes growth.”