Has it really been 10 years since Regis Philbin first asked someone for their final answer? • "I think it reinvented television game shows for sure," said Philbin, the energetic, old-school TV host who helped turn ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire quiz show into a ratings juggernaut that propped up the networks for years. "I mean, it just covered everything, every possibility … I loved every minute of the five years we did it." • Philbin, 77, who hosted his first game show in 1975, knows what he's talking about. And he's returning to ABC at 8 tonight with a retooled Millionaire that will air Sunday through Thursday for 11 nights. The shows will feature celebrities such as Snoop Dogg and Rachael Ray answering a single question for $50,000, plus brainiacs such as CNN's Wolf Blitzer and PBS' Gwen Ifill serving as sources on the "Ask the Expert" lifeline. And there'll be a new twist: time limits on every question for the non-celebrity players. • It's hard to remember now just how Millionaire shook up the TV world back in 1999. But as you prepare for another dose of Reege and his final answers, consider these ways Who Wants to Be a Millionaire reshaped the game show landscape.
Game show fever
These days, prime time TV is thick with Deal or No Deals, and Million-Dollar Passwords. But when Millionaire came around, the networks hadn't really featured game shows in prime time for 30 years, thinking it was too old school. Who knew a then-68-year-old talent would change that tune?
The chimes and drum roll before the answer is revealed. The fanfare for a correct answer. The thrum of a synthesizer raising tension as the question is read. Game show expert Steve Beverly said Millionaire's distinctive soundtrack was the first time a game show had specific music throughout an entire show, with every note calibrated for maximum tension.
Was there ever a time when game shows didn't have dark sets, MTV-ready banks of lights, whooshing sound effects and post-modern furniture? And what about those monochromatic suits, shirts and ties favored by Reege? Beverly said even game show king Bob Barker tried a version of the look after Millionaire broke big.
Millionaire and a little show called Survivor helped prove to Hollywood that game shows originally aired in Europe or overseas could be big hits in America, too. Of course, gems like Weakest Link, Lingo and The Apprentice prove that the trend may not always be a good one.
A $20,000 Pyramid and $64,000 question sound so quaint now. Millionaire's grand prize forced other producers to amp up the prizes and back up the money truck. The secret: Many shows' rules are so Byzantine or difficult, there's little chance they will award a million-dollar prize, anyway.
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