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"Millionaire' admits 2nd wrong answer

Published Sep. 26, 2005

ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire on Wednesday admitted it made a mistake in a $64,000 question on its Jan. 25 broadcast.

The show, the nation's most-watched series, already is embroiled in a dispute over a question about the age of U.S. presidents.

This time, contestant Dr. Kurt Warkenthein of Naperville, Ill., was asked to identify the classic TV show for which Neil Simon and Woody Allen wrote.

Warkenthein guessed I Love Lucy, but host Regis Philbin, reading from the computer screen in front of him, said the correct answer was Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows.

In fact, Allen wrote for Caesar's Hour, a later series, not Your Show of Shows.

"We're wrong," said Millionaire executive producer Michael Davies, "and we have to make some sort of reparations."

What specific form those reparations might take is still being discussed, Davies said.

Reached at his family-practice medical office in Naperville, Warkenthein said he had not yet heard from the producers.

"But if they made a mistake," he said, "it was an honest mistake."

The physician said he didn't know whether he would return to the show if Davies asked him to take a second shot at the $1-million jackpot.

"You know, those people were so wonderful to my wife and me, I'd hate like heck to take advantage of something like that," he said. "I personally don't hold them accountable for that. I enjoyed being there on the show. I don't want to be part of any sour grapes kind of thing."

On the other hand, if Davies said it was a matter of maintaining the show's credibility, "I would probably do that because we love the show and we love Michael so much."

Warkenthein described his visit to New York _ the first for himself and his wife _ as "a myth-busting experience. You know, I'm a Chicago kid, and when you're raised in Chicago, New York is like the anti-Chicago.

"But I came to that town and everybody was terrific. The cab drivers knew where they were going, the people were spectacularly friendly and helpful and the place was immaculate!"

Davies said he first was alerted to the error by legendary TV writer Larry Gelbart, who worked with star Sid Caesar in the 1950s.

"He phoned and said that neither he nor Woody ever wrote for Your Show of Shows. I went to our research department, and there were about 10 really good sources that said they did."

Davies acknowledged that the show did not consult Dictionary of Teleliteracy, by New York Daily News TV critic David Bianculli, who interviewed Allen and Gelbart and called the notion that the two men wrote for Your Show of Shows "one of the most persistent myths in TV history."

Davies insisted that "the integrity of the material and the program is paramount. We will never be perfect, but we work as hard as possible to be right."

During the game show's maiden on-air voyage in August, Millionaire producers admitted a mistake and invited contestant David Honea to return to the show and resume play where he incorrectly had been stopped.

Last week, contestant Bob Bass of Chappaqua, N.Y., complained that a question he missed on Jan. 27 about the youngest inaugurated U.S. president was unfairly ambiguous.

But Davies said he has since confirmed the answer to Bass' question _ both with the show's original sources and with additional sources.

Davies also said he has reviewed the tape of the show and found "no evidence on the tape that Bob was confused" during the game itself.

"We tell all contestants that if a question confuses you, ask that it be read again. Then ask Regis. And if you're still confused, we'll stop tape and I'll come out and talk to you about it. I won't give away the answer, but I'll clarify things.

"I feel lousy that Bob Bass feels unhappy with his experience with the show," Davies said. "I don't begrudge a single contestant who raises a question about the game."

Nevertheless, Davies said, he is not going to reverse his decision. "Ultimately," he said, "I'm the final judge, and I have to make lots of discretionary decisions."