Two years after the prime-time “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” died from overuse, ABC will bring the game — and Regis Philbin — back next month in a sweeps-month stunt with a $10 million payoff.
“Super Millionaire” will air five times in six days starting Feb. 22, the network said Monday.
The value of the show’s easiest question will jump to $1,000 and the 15th and final question will similarly be worth 10 times what it was in the show’s initial incarnation, said Lloyd Braun, ABC entertainment chairman.
Three new lifelines will be added to help contestants, who have been able to ask the audience and phone a friend for help answering a question. The game will also take on a different “look” when big money is at stake, he said.
Although Meredith Vieira is host of the game’s syndicated version, there was no question Philbin would return to prime time.
“He’s part of the appeal of the show, and when you add these new things to amp up the format it will be a perfect combination of familiarity and something new and different at the same time,” Braun said.
The time seemed right for the show’s return, with the Vieira-led version of the game showing healthy ratings in its second year, said Michael Davies, “Super Millionaire” executive producer.“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” was both ABC’s biggest success of the past decade and a huge downfall. An immediate sensation when introduced in the summer of 1999, ABC rode its success to a surprise season victory in the ratings.
The game was scheduled so often that audiences grew sick of it. When the ratings suddenly tumbled, ABC had little to replace it, leading to a collapse the network is still trying to recover from.
The last prime-time version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” aired on June 27, 2002.
Davies has always believed the game worked best in prime time as a periodic special event, not as a regular series. If it’s a hit next month, Braun swears he’ll resist the temptation to overuse it again.
“I’ve been very careful in my comments to make it clear that it will be resisted,” Braun said. “This is one small piece in a much bigger puzzle, no matter how well it does. This is a sweeps month special and nothing more.”
The game will air at 9 p.m. ET when it debuts on the fourth Sunday of February, then at 10 p.m. the following Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
The later start time may cost ABC a large family audience; one of the game’s early appeals was as a show parents and children could watch together.
Braun said the strength of ABC’s current schedule is its comedies, leaving much room for improvement at 10 p.m. He was also concerned about competing with Fox’s “American Idol” and NBC’s “The Apprentice” if it was on earlier.