Welcome to game show week! All week I will have a game showr elated article. I used to love game shows, especially when I was a kid in the 80’s. But I am going to hold that discussion off for today. Instead I want to talk about the prime time game show revival in the late 90’s. This was an amazing thing and was kicked off by a show which was a flat out phenomenon! I am talking of course about:
I absolutely loved this show! Who Wants to be a Millionaire changed everything about game shows. The way they are played, the way they look, even the way the contestants got chosen! It also launched ABC into the ratings stratosphere, becoming amonster hit for the network. The best part may have been the host. Regis Philbin was perfect for this show, since he was able to casually talk with contestants and also keep the suspense of the game going. He did a great job teasing the contestants waiting to find out if their answer was correct or not/. No insult to Meredith Vieira intended, but if I didn’t know better I would think this show was madewith Regis in mind (it wasn’t, it came from England first).It was because of him that “Is that your final answer” became a national catchphrase.


So how was the game played? Pretty simply actually. First,you had to pass a phone screening to be selected. Then you would join nine other contestants for the fastest finger round which selected the next player (yes,I know they do not do this anymore I will get to that). If you answered the question the fastest, you were in. When you finally get to the hot seat, that’s when the real fun begins.
All you have to do is answer fifteen questions correctly, each question a higher dollar value until you hit the fifteenth question for One Million dollars! The first five questions were usually easy, but believe it or not there was a few contestants who blew it on the first question! Along the way you have three life lines. You can phone a friend, ask the audience, or 50/50 where the computer removes two wrong answers. There are also two times in the game where you can’t leave with less than what you have won, and you can stop any time and walk away with what you have earned.




The first person to finally win the $1,000,000 prize was IRS worker John Carpenter who plowed right through the questions without using any life lines except one he used to call his parents and inform them he was about to win! There were also celebrity episodes which were so much fun. They were like little variety shows and featured the likes of Rosie O’Donnell, Jon Stewart, and Drew Carey among many others.
The show featured a very different kind of set. Where shows in the 70’s and 80’s always had a relaxed feel, that wasn’t the case on this show. Dark lights, spotlights on the contestants, and ominous music added to the drama of the game. Of course soon every game show was like this; even revived classic games like Pyramid and Family Feud had to have these sleek sets. The more popular the show got the more the show was all over the place.They had a computer game which I did own, a clothing lime based on Regis’swardrobe on the show, and a Disney World attraction which I never saw.  And By the way, I love a lot of game show themes but the theme to Millionaire was especially cool It just makes you take notice and get excited.


So what was it that made this show such a phenomenon? Honestly…I have no idea. I think it was just a perfect combination of several factors. Great host, a game not that complicated, contestants we got to know and like which helps us route for them, and of course the way it was presented. Originally it aired over a two week period in August (when nothing new is on), a new episode every night. This made the show feel like an event, something you just didn’t want to miss. It was also so family friendly that quite literally the entire family could watch it together.That was becoming a fading trend then.Whatever it was people watched and couldn’t get enough.
But of course all good things have to come to an end, especially after ABC effectively killed it. Rather than keeping it as two week specials every so often they put it on three times a week, every week.  To make matters worse they scheduled it on Monday and Thursday night’s when people were more interested in other networks. People got bored and the show just lost that spark. It quietly went away exept for one or two “Super Millionaire” editions. It’s too bad because for a while that game show was absolute “must see TV” which was remarkable in an age where people were watching TV as a family less and less!


When the inevitable decline happened it looked as though the show might fade away forever. But a funny thing happened; it became a hit in syndication! Meredith Viera was a great host, and the syndicated version got rid of that annoying fastest finger stuff. It also added things including new lifelines and a clock. The synidcated version is still on but Meredith Viera finally left the hosting chair last year.
As I noted, Millionaire became a phenomenon! What always has to happen when something is a monster hit? Everyone and their mother have tocome up with their own game show to share the wealth, of course! Millionaire’ssuccess caused the other networks to unleash a slew of game show’s airing inprime time. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Chuck Woollery hosted this unnecessarily complicated game which had teams having to work together to answers questions. Then the teams would get whittled down by something called “The Terminator”. The big gimmick with this game was that this was the first to do the “lose and you get nothing” philosophy. Hey, I like consolation prizes! It actually was a decent show,having its own gimmick and not stealing from Millionaire so bad it was obvious.It seems complicated but when you get down to it it was just a basic questionand answer show, except you worked as a group.


Maury Povich hosted….wait, Maury Povich??? Ugh! Anyway, he hosted this revival of the classic game show which killed game shows back in the old days. See, this was the game where the whole quiz show cheating scandal erupted over in the 50’s. It caused such a fury that it took game shows years to recover. So let’s revive it! I watched some episodes and the show was god awful boring, I won’t even bother explaining its lame premise. Think Millionaire with soundproof isolation booths.  It was dull and should have stayed in the 50’s. Some old shows just don’t do well in present day, isn’t that right “You Bet Your Life” starring Bill Cosby (anyone even see that?)????
Winning Lines


Here is proof that not everything Dick Clark touched was gold. He actually had a few game show bombs. A horrible show called The Challengers (a Jeopardy knock off), the equally horrible Scattegories (based on the board game), and this confusing mess which aired on CBS. The premise….ok, I will try to explain this briefly. You start with 49 contestants, and no that is not a typo! In the first round they all had to answer mathematical questions on keypads and the contestants who answer first within five seconds correctly moved on….you know what, to heck with it this game was confusing, made no sense, and is best forgotten. The big catch was that the audience could “play at home”. Yeah that wasn’t exciting in the 80’s when they tried it so it sure didn’t work in 2000!
The Weakest Link


This NBC show is an easy game show to hate. Why? Because they decided to dump the idea of the friendly host, and bring in that teacher you had as a kid who liked to yell at you. Anne Robinson made fun of the contestants and was heartless, calling them idiots for not raising the expected money and then just turning her back when they were voted off. But, I kind of liked this game. I called it a mix of Millionaire, Survivor, and Judge Judy.  I say Survivor because the contestants vote off the “weakest link” at the end of every round. Actually kind of cute way to do it because it raised suspense and it meant that players were voted off for personal reasons at times, for strategy or just because someone didn’t like them. If you could find Anne Robinson funny, rather than a cold witch, then this show was pretty good.
Dog Eat Dog
This was a weird show. Hosted by Brooke Burns the contestants had to answer questions and complete in physical competitions. Like American Gladiators with a trivia round at the end. Not much to say about this one.
It’s Your Chance of a Lifetime
From Fox, this was a lot like Millionaire except the contestant accrues credit card debt which he or she has to bet when advancing to the next round by answering trivia questions. It was really the closest clone to Millionaire of all these, having their own version of life lines and airing every day in the course of a week. Sadly it never returned after its first week.
Deal or No Deal
Howie Mandel hosted this other NBC game show, and yeah I kind of liked it to. The problem with this show was that while it could be exciting and suspenseful, it could also be flat out boring. There are 20 cases and you pick one. The cases all have dollar amounts ranging from $1 to $1,000,000 and before you open yours you open all the others to determine what is not in yours. Now if you want you can stop at any point when “the banker” calls with an offer, trade your case for a flat amount he comes up with . If you take the deal, you walk away. If you say “no deal” you continue and hope that what is in your case is the big money. Of course there is a chance there could be almost nothing in the case. So the suspense comes from the players trying to decide if they should keep going or quit. But if it becomes clear early that the big amounts are off the board, then the game gets boring, I saw one woman win $5 once. Howie Mandel was a great host on this show knowing just how to be friendly and keep the suspense going, even if “Deal or no Deal” was never as popular as “Is that your final answer”. And winning the big money was very difficult on this show.




Sadly the great revival of game shows we had in the 90’s has kind of faded; today we have these horrible reality shows instead. It was a lot of fun while it lasted, and who knows maybe someday the format will return.


Tomorrow game show week continues as I look at my all-time favorite game show!!

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