“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” is returning to ABC, this time with Jimmy Kimmel at the helm. A 20th anniversary edition of “Millionaire” will premiere in April, featuring celebrity contestants playing for charity.
Kimmel will host the special run of episodes, set to return on Wednesday, April 8 — the first time “Millionaire” has been seen on ABC in primetime since a 10th anniversary run in 2009.
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It’s also the first time “Millionaire” has been back in production since the long-running daytime version of the format ended its run last May.
Among the changes this time out: Celebrities playing “Millionaire” will be allowed to invite a guest (such as a relative or expert) in the hot seat to help them answer questions. And the new “Millionaire” will also introduce a live, play-along app that will allow viewers to compete to win the same amount of money that celebrities are playing for on the show.
Based on a British format, “Millionaire” originally bowed on ABC in summer 1999 as a special, and quickly roared to the top of the Nielsen ratings. It returned as an additional series of special events in the 1999-2000 TV season, then as a regular series. At its height, “Millionaire” averaged nearly 30 million viewers an episode, and fueled ABC to the top of the ratings heap.
“Millionaire” was believed to have made ABC parent Disney at least $1 billion early on, as the show spawned two best-selling CD-ROMS and other merchandise. It was a huge win for the then-William Morris Agency and its agents Ben Silverman and Greg Lipstone, who brokered the deal in the U.S.
The success of “Millionaire” also helped kick off the 2000s reality TV craze, which soon included entries such as CBS’ “Survivor.” And it turned Regis Philbin (and his monochromatic outfits) into a pop culture icon. Philbin’s catch phrase on the show — “Is that your final answer?” — remains a part of the lexicon, even today. (Philbin recently re-created that moment in time on the show for a November episode of ABC’s 1990s-set “Fresh Off the Boat.”)
But “Millionaire’s” primetime success was ultimately short-lived. It didn’t take long for ABC to overexpose the show, running it as often as five times a week. “Millionaire” ran for just three seasons on ABC, returning for specials in 2004 and 2009. But in syndication, it carried on for 17 seasons, from 2002 to 2019.
As a first-run syndicated gamer, “Millionaire” was hosted at first by Meredith Vieira, followed by Cedric the Entertainer, Terry Crews and Chris Harrison.
The 2020 edition will be executive produced by Kimmel, Michael Davies and Mike Richards.
“Regis came to me in a dream, asked me to do this and promised my own line of neckties if I did. I had little choice but to say yes,” Kimmel said.
Davies was an ABC alternative series exec when he bought “Millionaire” for the network, and segued over to be the show’s first executive producer. Before ABC, he developed shows at Disney’s Buena Vista Prods. such as “Win Ben Stein’s Money,” where he first hired Kimmel as host Ben Stein’s sidekick.
“My professional career has been inextricably linked with Jimmy’s since the days of ‘Win Ben Stein’s Money,’ and he was one of the first-ever celebrity contestants on ‘Millionaire’ in its original run,” Davies said. [Above, Kimmel on “Millionaire” in 2001.] “I can’t wait to work with him on this dynamic new version of the show that changed my life and the fortunes of so many who benefitted from and simply loved the game.”
Richards, meanwhile, has also been a game show host but also served as executive producer of “The Price Is Right.” He’s now in line to take over as executive producer of “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” later this year. The new edition of “Millionaire” will be produced by Sony Pictures TV’s Embassy Row, Kimmelot and Valleycrest Prods.
“Millionaire” isn’t just experiencing a revival in the U.S.: The show recently returned to the U.K., on ITV, hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, while it also has come back via local editions in Italy, France, the Netherlands, Argentina, Chile and Croatia. The German edition of “Millionaire” has continuously aired on RTL since 1999, while an Australian edition has been running since that same year. And the India “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” made famous by the film “Slumdog Millionaire,” has aired on and off since 2000.