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Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
Latest Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (UK) Logo
Format Game show
Created by Celador
Country of origin  United Kingdom
Running time 30–90 minutes
Original channel ITV
Original run 4 September 1998 – Present
External links
Official website

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is a television game show which offers very large cash prizes for correctly answering 15 (some versions, 12) consecutive multiple-choice questions of increasing difficulty. The format is owned and licensed by the Japanese production company Sony Pictures Television International. The maximum cash prize (in the original British version) is one million pounds. Most international versions offer a top prize of one million units of the local currency, though the actual value of the prize varies widely, depending on the currency's exchange rate. In the United States the top cash prizes have been changed to annuities.

The programme originated in the United Kingdom, where it is hosted by Chris Tarrant. It is based on a format devised by David Briggs, Steven Knight and Mike Whitehill, who also devised a number of the promotional games for Chris Tarrant's breakfast show on Capital FM radio. The original working title for the show was Cash Mountain. When it first aired in the UK on 4 September 1998, it was a surprising twist on the game show genre. Only one contestant plays at a time (similar to some radio quizzes) and the emphasis is on suspense rather than speed. In most versions there are no time limits to answer the questions and contestants are given the question before they must decide whether to attempt an answer.

In 2000, a board game based on the hit television series of the same name was released by Pressman Toy Corp. In March 2006, original producers Celador announced that it was seeking to sell the worldwide rights to the show, together with the UK programme library, as the first phase of a sell-off of the company's format and production divisions. Dutch company 2waytraffic acquired Millionaire and the rest of Celador's programme library. Two years later, Sony Pictures Entertainment purchased 2waytraffic for £137.5m.[1] The Who Wants to Be a Millionaire franchise is the most internationally popular television franchise of all time, having aired in more than 100 countries worldwide.[2]

The show served as a major plot device in the award winning film Slumdog Millionaire.



Ingram Wilcox (pictured) is the fifth and most recent winner of the British version of the franchise in 2006

The programme originated in the United Kingdom, where it is hosted by Chris Tarrant. It is based on a format devised by David Briggs, who, along with Steven Knight and Mike Whitehill, devised a number of the promotional games for Chris Tarrant's breakfast show on Capital FM radio, such as the bong game. The original working title for the show was Cash Mountain. It first aired in the UK on 4 September 1998.

The game has similarities with the 1950s show The $64,000 Question. In that show the money won would also double with each question, and if the wrong answer was given all the money was lost. Contestants would win a new car as a consolation prize if they had reached the $8,000 question.

In the 1990s, future Who Wants to be a Millionaire executive producer Michael Davies attempted to revive Question as The $640,000 Question for ABC, before abandoning that effort in favour of the British hit.

The title derives from the Cole Porter song of the same name. Ironically, the answer to the question in the song is "I don't!"

Disputed claims of creation

Since the show launched, several individuals have claimed that they originated the format and that Celador has appropriated their copyright.

Sponsored by the Daily Mail, Mike Bull, a Southampton-based journalist, took Celador to the High Court in March 2002 claiming authorship of the Lifelines. Celador settled out of court with a confidentiality clause.

In 2003 Sydney resident John J Leonard also claimed to have originated a format substantially similar to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (although it had no Lifelines). He has to date been unable to raise the minimum quarter of a million pounds a non-UK resident needs to finance legal action against Celador in the High Court. In an effort to finance his case he published a detailed account of how he created the show.[3][4]

In 2004, Alan Melville and John Baccini, real name John Bachini, sued Celador over a similar claim. On that occasion Celador reached separate out-of-court settlements with both men.[5]


Fragment of the Vietnamese version of the show; contestant and money tree.

The contestants first have to undergo a preliminary round, called "Fastest Finger First", where they are all given a question and four answers from the host. They are asked to put those four answers into a particular order. (In the very first series of the British version and until the end of the 2003 season in the Australian version, "Fastest Finger First" required the contestants to answer one multiple choice question correctly as quickly as possible.) The contestant who does this correctly and in the fastest time goes on to sit in the chair (the "hot seat") and play for the maximum possible prize (often a million in the local currency, though this depends on its value).

In the US version, this round was called "Fastest Finger", and was eliminated when the show moved to syndicated distribution in 2002; however it returns whenever the show returns to prime time. US contestants are now required to pass a standard game show qualifying test at contestant auditions.

Once in the hot seat, the contestant is asked increasingly difficult general knowledge questions by the host. Questions are multiple choice: four possible answers are given (labelled A, B, C and D), and the contestant must choose the correct one. On answering the first question correctly, the contestant wins £500 (in the UK – other countries vary the currency but have the same basic format). There is no time limit to answer a question; a contestant may (and often does) take as long as they need to ponder an answer. After the first few questions, the host will ask the contestant if that is their "final answer." Upon making the answer the final answer, it cannot be changed. The first five questions usually omit this rule, unless the contestant has guessed a wrong answer (at which point, the host is hoping the contestant will take the hint)[citation needed], because the questions are generally so easy that to require a final answer would significantly slow the game down; thus, there are five chances for the contestant to leave with nothing if he or she were to give a wrong answer before obtaining the first guaranteed amount; going for £1,000 after winning £500 is the last point in the game at which a contestant can still leave with nothing.

Subsequent questions are played for increasingly large sums (roughly doubling at each turn). On the first few questions, some choices often have joke answers. The complete sequence of prizes for the UK version of the programme is as follows:

Former (15 question format)

  • £100
  • £200
  • £300
  • £500
  • £1,000
  • £2,000
  • £4,000
  • £8,000
  • £16,000
  • £32,000
  • £64,000
  • £125,000
  • £250,000
  • £500,000
  • £1 million

Current (12 question format)

  • £500
  • £1,000
  • £2,000
  • £5,000
  • £10,000
  • £20,000
  • £50,000
  • £75,000
  • £150,000
  • £250,000
  • £500,000
  • £1 million

After viewing a question, the contestant can "take the money" (or rather "get the cheque" or "walk away" in some versions) that he has already won, rather than attempting an answer. If the contestant answers a question incorrectly, then he loses all the money he has won, except that the £1,000 and £50,000 prizes are guaranteed: if a player gets a question wrong above these levels, then he drops down only to the previous guaranteed prize. This means that the players can always attempt the £2,000 and £75,000 questions without fear, since they are guaranteed the previous amount even if they get the answer wrong. The question values are not cumulative.

The game ends when the contestant answers a question incorrectly, decides not to answer a question, or answers all twelve questions correctly, thus usually letting the host rip the cheque for £500,000 apart and winning the top prize of £1 million.

New formats and variations

Several international versions of the show have recently changed or modified their version of Millionaire.

Elimination of Fastest Finger First

In 2002, the syndicated US version eliminated the preliminary Fastest Finger round; contestants immediately take the hot seat. This was also done in the 2007 Australian, New Zealand and Italy formats. The 2009 ABC "10th Anniversary edition" did feature the Fastest Finger round, as well as the 2004 ABC Who Wants to Be a Super Millionaire? series. Also, this format is eliminated in some versions when celebrities play for charity (Denmark, Russia, Netherlands, Bulgaria, France and the United Kingdom versions).

12-question format

On 13 August 2007, it was announced that the UK version was changing its format, cutting the number of questions it takes to reach the £1 million jackpot. The prize money started at £500 rather than £100 and there are only 12 questions to replace the former 15. After reaching £1,000, the prize fund increases to £2,000, £5,000, £10,000, £20,000 and £50,000, which is the second "safe haven", previously £32,000. The first set of contestants to face the new rules were comedians Jon Culshaw and John Thomson in a charity special, shown on ITV on 18 August 2007.[6] The Show returned on Saturday 13 June 2009 on ITV1 at 7.30pm with a new episode after a long absence since 31 January 2009.

The 12-question format was introduced in a number of other countries, including Poland, Bulgaria, France and Arab world.

16-question format

In 2007, before they adopted to "Hot Seat" competition format, the Australian version slightly modified the normal format to add an additional bonus 16th question, worth AUS$5 Million. Thailand also used this format before switching to the 12-question format.

Clock format

Fragment of new "Clock format" in the United States with contestant Ken Basin facing the format's first million dollar question about Lyndon Johnson's fondness for Fresca. He would go on to fail and have his winnings decimated.

Beginning in 2008, the US version changed its format; now limiting its contestants to answer questions within a time limit each of 15 seconds for questions 1–5, 30 seconds for questions 6-10, and 45 seconds for questions 11-14. After 14 questions have been answered correctly, the time paused after giving an answer is "banked" for the last question. The clock for each question begins counting down immediately after all four answer choices have been revealed, and is temporarily paused when a lifeline is used. Contestants who exceed this time limit are forced to walk away with all prize money they have won up to that point; however, the only exception to this rule is if the "Double Dip" lifeline is currently being used; if the clock expires before a second final answer is given, it is treated as an incorrect answer.

In addition to the clock, contestants now see the category of their questions before they are asked, and the lifelines 50:50 and Switch the Question were replaced with Double Dip and Ask the Expert. Later changes included a change to the money tree and the controversial removal of Phone a Friend[7]. For a period in November 2009 the show also had a one-off event called the Million Dollar Tournament of 10 in response to the show's lack of a top-prize winner since Nancy Christy in 2003. The winner of the tournament was Sam Murray, who became the first person to win the top prize of $1 Million with the Clock format. No contestant has won the top prize under the clock format in the normal tradition.

The Japanese version adopted this format beginning on 15 September 2009; although using the original three lifelines, a time limit each of 30 seconds for questions 1–9, 1 minute for questions 10–12, and 3 minutes for questions 13–15, and the unused time will not be banked.

Similar clock rules and time limits also exist in the Taiwanese version, the former Play It! Disney theme park attraction, the Video Games based on this game show, as well as the Hot Seat format (See Below). The former Australian version had no true time limit, although a 60-second shot clock would go into effect if the player took too long to answer a question; if the shot clock expired, the contestant would be forced to walk away.

Hot Seat Format

In 2008, the Norwegian version tried out a new format, essentially involving 6 contestants playing at once, with each taking turns to climb the money tree. The usual lifelines are removed, replaced with a single 'pass' that can, at any one time, transfer the onus of answering the question to the next contestant in line, who cannot then re-pass to the next contestant. Also added are time limits on every question, with 15 seconds allocated for the first five questions, 30 for the middle five, and 45 for the last five. Walking away is no longer allowed, rendering several questions' values pointless, as they cannot be won. If a player fails to give out an answer in the time limit, it is considered an automatic pass. If that question can't be passed on or if answered incorrectly, that player is eliminated and the highest value on the money tree is removed.

The game ends either when all contestants are eliminated, or when the question for the highest value in the money tree is answered. If this last question is answered correctly, the answering player receives the amount of money. If it is answered incorrectly, or all contestants are eliminated before the final question is reached, the last player to be eliminated receives either nothing, or a smaller prize if the 5th question milestone is reached.

This format was used in Italy from 15 December 2008 – 18 March 2009, and has been adopted by the Australian version starting in April 2009, and the Danish version starting in October 2009.

The first contestant to ever win with this format was Bjørn Lien in the Norwegian version on 19 January 2010. He was also the first person to win in that version of the show; Normal or Hot Seat format.[8]


If at any point the contestant is unsure of the answer to a question, he or she can use one or more "lifelines". After using lifelines, contestants can either answer the question, use another lifeline, or walk away and keep the money (except for the Double Dip lifeline). Each lifeline can only be used once.

  • Fifty-Fifty (50:50): The contestant asks the host to have the computer randomly eliminate two of the incorrect answer choices, leaving the contestant with a choice between the correct answer and one incorrect one.
    • Originally, in both the UK and (original prime-time) U.S. versions, the answers eliminated were not random but were pre-selected as the ones the contestant was least likely to pick. This was not mentioned on the air (for example, U.S. host Regis Philbin would just explain "The computer will now take away two of the wrong answers leaving only one wrong answer and the correct one.") but was revealed in interviews.[citation needed] In syndication, the selection was random (and U.S. host Meredith Vieira always says so). This lifeline has been eliminated in the seventh season of the U.S. syndicated program, and has been removed from all current U.S. versions.
  • Ask the Audience: The contestant asks the studio audience which answer they believe is correct. Members of the studio audience indicate their choices using an audience response system (having 20 seconds to do so, though many televised versions will edit out most of the time). The results are immediately displayed on the contestant's and host's screens. This is a popular lifeline, known for its near-perfect accuracy. Philbin once said that the audience's answer is statistically 95% of the time correct.[citation needed]
    • For some time on the syndicated U.S. version, the question was also asked through AOL Instant Messenger to those who had signed up to answer questions for this lifeline. The contestant saw the studio-audience and AOL responses displayed separately. The AOL tie-in was discontinued beginning with the 2006-2007 season. Also, the Norwegian Version uses the Ask the Nation, similar to that lifeline.
  • Phone-A-Friend: Contestants may call one of up to five (in some countries, three) pre-arranged friends. As of the U.S. Clock Version in the Syndicated (as of 2008)/10th Anniversary (August 2009) era, three friends are provided. The contestant must provide the required number of friends' names and phone numbers in advance, as well as, now, their pictures. In countries where the show is broadcast live, the friends are alerted when their contestant reaches the hot seat, and are told to keep the phone free and to wait for three rings before answering.[citation needed] The contestant has thirty seconds to read the four choices to the friend, who must select an answer before the time runs out. Phone-a-friends often express their certainty as a percentage (I am 80% sure it's C). In the event that a contestant has a disability which affects his or her ability to use this lifeline without assistance, the contestant will have the option of having the host read the question and answer choices to the friend, and obtain an answer from them. Phone-a-friends may not be called on cellular phones, and individuals participating as phone-a-friends may do so only twice during any given edition of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. This lifeline was removed on the US version at the end of 2009, and the Ask the Expert is available throughout the whole game, but the Regis Philbin hosted syndicated episodes were aired out of order 30 November – 4 December 2009, with Philbin as substitute host under the new rules. It has been explained that the lifeline was removed because of the increased usage of internet search engines such as Google by the contestant's friends[9], although the decision and the reason has been widely criticized by fans.[10][11] In Germany, the players can use this lifeline in this way or alternatively call some random person (which can be specified by town/region or gender) to answer the question. The latter will usually be chosen when a strongly regional question is asked (e.g.: What is the largest city on the island of Hiddensee? may lead to a phone call to a random person from Hiddensee).

In February 2004, the U.S. launched a short-lived spin-off known as Who Wants to Be a Super Millionaire. On this particular version, two new lifelines were introduced, but they were only available after a contestant cleared the $100,000 question (the tenth question in this version):

  • Three Wise Men: The contestant asks a sequestered panel chosen by the sponsor which answer they believe is correct. The panel, consisting of three people, one being a former million-dollar-winner of the show, has thirty seconds to select an answer but does not need to reach a consensus—each member of the panel may provide a different answer. This lifeline is also used in the Russian version of the show when the 100,000 rubles isn't a guaranteed sum, though it can be used on any of the 15 questions.
  • Double Dip (X2): The contestant can give two answers for a question. However, once a contestant elects to use the Double Dip lifeline, the contestant cannot walk away from the question, nor use any additional lifelines after using the Double Dip. The contestant must indicate and confirm that he or she intends to use this lifeline before giving a first answer. If the first answer is incorrect, the contestant gives another answer—but if the second answer is also wrong or if time runs out, then the contestant will go back down to the milestone they reached. (For example if they failed on the $25,000 question, they would go back down to $5,000). If the first answer given is correct, the lifeline is still considered to have been used. In versions where both 50:50 and Double Dip are available, if a contestant uses this lifeline having already used 50:50, they can get past this question freely.

In 2004, the syndicated U.S. version introduced another new lifeline:

  • Switch the Question: This lifeline becomes available only after the contestant has correctly answered the 10th question, or 5th for some versions. If the contestant has not chosen a final answer on the revealed question, this lifeline entitles the contestant to switch out the original question for another question of the same value. Once the contestant elects to use this lifeline, he or she cannot return to the original question, and thus the correct answer is revealed for the record. In addition, any lifelines used by the contestant while attempting to answer the original revealed question prior to the question switch will not be reinstated. This lifeline has also been used in occasional specials of the UK show, but referred to as Flip. It is now used in the Spanish, Colombian, Australian, Arabic, Greek, Israeli, Indonesian, Indian, Italian, New Zealand, Polish, Portuguese, Serbian, and Turkish versions of the show. In the Portuguese version, the difficulty level of the second question can be higher or lower than the first one. The Polish version requires the player to forfeit the second save haven to have this lifeline available, which the player decides to do so before the game starts.

In 2008, the syndicated U.S. version eliminated the 50:50 and Switch the Question lifelines, revived the Double Dip (to replace the 50:50) and introduced a new lifeline.

  • Ask the Expert: This lifeline replaced "Switch the Question" as the fourth lifeline, and is sponsored by Skype. This lifeline is similar in nature to the "Three Wise Men" lifeline mentioned above. The contestant is able to consult with an expert as to what they believe the correct answer is. It is available to the contestant after they successfully answer the $5,000 (fifth) question. After phone-a-friend was discontinued midway through Season 8, the rule that stated it was available starting with the sixth question was eliminated, so the Expert could be used during any question. This lifeline is also used in Poland starting in 2009 replacing Phone-a-Friend.

The 2009 10th Anniversary Primetime series uses the four lifelines from the U.S. Syndicated Clock Version: Double Dip, Ask the Audience, and Phone a Friend always available—Ask the Expert available after $1,000 has been won.

In the Hot Seat versions of the show, a new lifeline was introduced to replace all existing lifelines:

  • Pass: True to its name, if a player does not know the answer to the question, they may pass, however, they forfeit their place in the Hot Seat. The next player in line is then forced to answer the question correctly within the allotted time. If they answer correctly, they retain control of the Hot Seat, and play continues. If they answer incorrectly, they are eliminated, and the top prize money is reduced. As with all other lifelines, Pass may only be used once.

In the German version, an additional lifeline exists, which will be given if the player decides to forfeit the second save haven before the game starts.

  • Ask one of the audience: The host will reread the question and ask all members of the audience, who think they would be able to answer that question, to stand up. The contestant may choose one of these (judging by looks only) and may discuss the question at length with said audience member. He may or may not choose any answer after that. If he chooses the suggested answer and it proves to be correct, the audience member will also receive a price of EUR500.

Is that your Final Answer?

The series also used the catchphrase with "Is that your final answer?", or more commonly the ultimatum "Final Answer?" This question derived from a rule requirement that the players must clearly indicate their choices before being made official (since the nature of the game allows the player to think aloud about the options before committing to an answer). As a side effect, once a final answer has been given, it cannot be changed. Many parodies of the game show capitalised on this phrase.

Players can pre-empt the host asking this question by themselves stating "final answer" or some variant, and this is common during the early questions of each round.

Another hallmark of the show is using dramatic pauses before the host acknowledges whether or not the answer was correct. Occasionally, if it is time to go for a commercial break, the host will take the final answer but not announce if it is correct until after the break. Because of the clock format in the United States, this is not usually done when there is a commercial break.

The host of the Australian show, Eddie McGuire, popularised the catchphrase "Lock it in?" rather than "Is that your final answer?". This has been adopted on the New Zealand and Finnish versions, "Lukitaanko vastaus?" in the latter. This phrase is also used in the game show Don't Forget the Lyrics, where contestants 'lock in' lyrics.

Cheating scandal

Charles Ingram and his wife Diana.

In April 2003, British Army Major Charles Ingram, his wife Diana and college lecturer Tecwen Whittock were convicted of winning £1 million on the UK version of the show by fraudulent means when Ingram was a contestant on the show in September 2001. The allegation was that when host Chris Tarrant asked a question, Whittock, one of that edition's nine other Fastest Finger contestants, would cough in order to guide Ingram to the correct answer. Ingram won the £1 million top prize, but members of the production crew raised suspicions over Whittock's coughing and the police were called in to investigate. The program was not broadcast until after the trial. The defence claimed that Whittock simply suffered from allergies, but all three were found guilty and given suspended sentences. They maintained their innocence.[12]

Dumbest Contestant hoax

In 2006, a screenshot from the site[13] was digitally altered and used in a piece on the satire site BS News. The image was also widely circulated as an email[14] in which it was purported to show a contestant named Kathy Evans failing to answer her $100 question correctly after using all three lifelines because she was too skeptical of the assistance that was given.

Which of the following is the largest?
• A: A Peanut • B: An Elephant
• C: The Moon • D: A Tennis Ball
An infamous fragment of the French version of the show, in which neither the contestant nor the audience can answer the following question worth €3,000: "What gravitates around the Earth?"; he and the audience guessed answer B, the Sun, but the correct answer was A, the Moon.

This parodies the actual performances of contestants, who answered the first question incorrectly, such as Robby Roseman,[15] Brian Fodera,[16] Paul Weir Galm,[17] Chase Sampson,[18] and Lovi Yu[19]. It also parodies a contestant who missed the $500 question after using all three lifelines, again because he doubted the assistance that was given.

The screenshot used in the parody image was actually a digitally-altered image of real-life contestant Fiona Wheeler on the original UK version answering a different question from a higher tier. Far from failing at the first question, Wheeler won £32,000, only to miss another question later on after passing that mark. She was famous for stating that she wanted to bathe in a bathtub filled with chocolate, which she later went on to do in a photo shoot.[20]

International variants

Since its debut in the UK in 1998, international versions have spawned in over a hundred countries, more than any other game show. While most versions follow the original format, some have altered or changed the format as written above.


The UK version has been working on a spinoff of the show called 50/50. Such a spinoff has aired in Macedonia, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Greece and Japan.

Top prize winners

Out of all contestants that have played the game, few have been able to win the top prize on any international version of the show. The first was John Carpenter, who won the top prize on the U.S. version on 19 November 1999. Carpenter did not use a lifeline until the final question, using his Phone-a-Friend not for help but to call his father to tell him he would win the million.[21]

Other notable top prize winners include Judith Keppel, the first winner of the UK version; Kevin Olmstead from the U.S. version, who won a progressive jackpot of $2.18 Million; Martin Flood from the Australian version; who was accused of cheating much like Charles Ingram but was later acquitted; and Takeshi Kitano from the Japanese version, who participated in 2 celebrity episodes, one of which answered the final question incorrectly and won the top prize in a later episode.

See also


External links

Original United Kingdom version
Internet Movie Database pages

Simple English

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is a British quiz show, produced by Celador. In May the Dutch company 2way Traffic bought the license for the international format.


Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? aired in UK for a first time on 4th September, 1998. The show is hosted by Chris Tarrant. It had its biggest raitings in March 1999 when more than 19 million were watching the show.

National variants

More than 100 countries around the world have bought the license and air local versions of the show, for example Australia, Bulgaria, Germany, Poland, Russia, USA. The United States version became a big hit when Regis Philbin started hosting it in 1999. John Carpenter, a man who worked for the IRS, became the first person to win the grand prize of $1,000,000 in 1999. Philbin hosted the show until 2002.

Each country airs the show under one and the same rules, including the studio design and music.

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