Thursday, April 15, 2010

Musings On Millionaire

I've been watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? this week, for a specific reason. Meredith Vieira is taking a week off (something that's close to unheard of nowadays, but this isn't the first time she's done it) and the guest host is Steve Harvey. As Steve will be taking over Family Feud in the fall, I wanted to see if he's any good. Well, he isn't. He's trying way too hard to be funny...but that's not what I'm here to talk about. I want to talk about the show itself.

Today, of course, Millionaire has become the standard, to the point where I frequently describe new shows by saying things like "stereotypical post-Millionaire set" and "generic post-Millionaire music." Four of the most famous game shows of all time - Wheel Of Fortune, Jeopardy, The Price Is Right, and Password - were forced to introduce $1,000,000 jackpots simply to stay relevant. Indeed, it seemed that the only thing Millionaire couldn't change was itself - after the primetime version burned itself out, the show went to daytime, with a new host but everything else was pretty much the same way it had always been. That is, until it started changing.

I don't actually need to explain the rules of Millionaire, do I? You must remember. All together now: "You're just fifteen questions away from winning $1,000,000. You have three lifelines: 50\50, Phone A Friend, and Ask The Audience. Once you reach the $1,000 or $32,000 level, you are guaranteed to leave with no less than that. Are you ready? Audience, are you ready? Let's play!"

Well...that's how it used to be, anyway. Let's try again with today's rules: "You're just fifteen questions away from winning $1,000,000. The category for each question is now being displayed. You have fifteen seconds to answer each of the first five questions, thirty seconds for each of the next five, forty-five seconds for each of the next four, and on the $1,000,000 question, you have forty-five seconds plus any time left over. You have three lifelines: Double Dip, Ask The Expert, and Ask The Audience. Once you reach the $5,000 or $25,000 level, you are guaranteed to leave with no less than that. Are you ready? Audience, are you ready? Let's play!"

Let's be honest, it's not the same, is it? For starters, the lifelines, which were lopsided enough to begin with (did 50\50 ever work out?) are now... well, Double Dip might be useful if you had more time to think. Ask The Expert is usually an idiot has-been actor accessed via a video link sponsored by Skype. Ask The Audience, now more than ever, is the only useful lifeline. If the show would just give up on the other two and let you Ask The Audience three times, contestants might have a chance at reaching a six-digit number - but of course that would mean upping the show's budget, which I'm guessing is the real reason for all this.

Then there's the clock, which has to one of the worst ideas anyone has ever had. It starts before the choices are read, meaning that takes about ten seconds...then the contestant takes five more joking with the host before actually starting to consider the question. Like I said, it was probably all about the budget. Once upon a time, there was a genuine feeling that anyone who walked on that stage had a chance at winning $1,000,000. Now, if anyone does reach a six-digit number, it's promoted heavily and leaked to game show news sites weeks in advance.

So there you have it. People are amazed when I tell them this show is still on, and I'm guessing that if they actually watched, they'd be mortified...but the fact is, eleven years, huge changes, and countless ripoffs later, I still hold my breath when those lights circle around the contestant. Millionaire has gone from a great show to a good one, but we'll take good shows where we can get them.


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