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"Millionaire' wants women, minorities in the hot seat

Frustrated by its inability to put more minorities and women on the show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire delivered an on-air plea Tuesday for more non-whites and women to try qualifying.

Moreover, executive producer Michael Davies acknowledged that he is contemplating a change in the contestant selection method in order to increase diversity.

"I feel like I have one weakness with my program, and it's a weakness I'm extremely passionate about," Davies said. It has yet to be determined how to alter the procedure, but the goal is to blend a degree of selection into the current system, which allows viewers from all over the country to qualify by answering questions via the toll-free number (800) 433-8321.

At the least, the producers intend to test some sort of national contestant recruiting effort _ probably this summer _ as a temporary stunt to create a more diverse contestant pool.

Of the 100 people to occupy the ABC quiz show's "hot seat," only 11 have been women and one Latino _ a point of consternation in a year in which the networks have come under fire for a dearth of ethnic characters in their new prime-time entertainment series.

Millionaire host Regis Philbin opened Tuesday's program by saying, "Can anybody explain this to me: why is it that nearly all of our contestants are white men? I'm a white guy, so you know I have nothing against them. But come on, we would really like a little more diversity."

Philbin continued, "So here's the challenge: Everyone out there who has thought about being on the show _ who isn't a white male _ dial that 800 number and let's get into the game."

_ Times wires