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Regis Philbin, retooled 'Millionaire' return for two weeks

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 music

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.

The look

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.

The imports

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.

The money

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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The Comedy Central Roast of Joan Rivers, 10 tonight: First, it's hosted by flame-haired celebrity-basher Kathy Griffin, who looks more like a Rivers-in-training than the 76-year-old diva's own daughter, Melissa. Second, Rivers is one of the few old school comics still active who could evoke the bawdy style of nightclub veterans like Rodney Dangerfield, ensuring whatever happens will be decidedly adults only.


The Nine Lives of Marion Barry, 9 p.m. Monday on HBO: From the moment comic Chris Rock posed the question, it's something I've always wondered: Why did Washington, D.C., re-elect a politician caught smoking crack? Unfortunately, despite interviews with the former D.C. mayor's now-deceased ex-wife and access so close they watch him wake and shave one morning, this documentary's filmmakers get no closer to explaining why such a ground-breaking politician fell into drugs, drinking and womanizing. Or how he still charmed his way back into the City Council.

News outlets that still deliver

These days, too many alleged news outlets are too focused on whipping up controversy or pandering politically to actually inform their audiences. Here are some outlets that do an excellent job excavating complex, important subjects:

National Public Radio's Fresh Air (airs weekdays at 10 a.m. on WMNF-88.5 FM, podcasts at From experts who can actually explain stuff like the role of derivatives in the financial crash and the Federal Reserve to reporters fresh from Afghanistan and Iraq, Terri Gross' interview show excels at civil, informative conversation on important issues.

CBS Sunday Morning (9 a.m. Sundays, WTSP-Ch. 10): The best meld between PBS substance and network TV news storytelling; a refreshingly old school but substantive look at compelling stories.

Esquire magazine: Look past the gimmicky star interviews, girly pictures and tips on picking suits and you'll find stories on a Texas cop taking out Mexican hitmen and why a pandemic won't happen anytime soon.

NPR's Planet Money team ( Okay, technically, this is two NPR shout-outs, but I can't help it. At its spot on NPR's site, the team of journalists focuses on covering the economy in new ways, complete with a blog, podcasts and newsletter dissecting financial issues in plain English and cheeky humor.

Regis Philbin, retooled 'Millionaire' return for two weeks 08/08/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 17, 2009 2:14pm]
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