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Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire title card
Format Game show
Created by Mike Whitehill
Steven Knight
Presented by Regis Philbin (1999–2002; 2004; 2009) (ABC)
Meredith Vieira (2002–present) (Syndicated)
Country of origin United States
No. of episodes ABC: 374 (As of Aug. 23, 2009)
Syndicated: 1,285[1]
Running time 60 minutes (1999–2002, 2004, 2009)
30 minutes (2002–Present)
Distributor Disney-ABC Domestic Television (USA)
Sony Pictures Television International (Global)
Original channel ABC (1999–2002, 2004, 2009)
Syndication (2002–Present)
Picture format 480i (SDTV)
Original run August 16, 1999 – June 27, 2002
September 16, 2002 – Present
External links
Official website

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (also known as Millionaire) is a television game show which offers a maximum prize of $1,000,000 (originally lump sum, now annuitized) for correctly answering 15 successive multiple-choice questions of increasing difficulty. The show is based on and follows the same general format of the original version of the show from the United Kingdom, and is now part of the international Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? franchise.


Broadcast History



Who Wants to Be a Millionaire debuted in the United States on August 16, 1999[2] on the ABC television network, and was hosted by television personality Regis Philbin.[2] The network version, whose episodes were originally shown just a day after their taping in New York City, became explosively popular in 2000, and at its peak was airing in prime time four nights a week on ABC. The show was popular enough that rival networks created or reincarnated game shows of their own (e.g., Greed, Twenty One, etc.) and an American import of various UK and Australian originals (Winning Lines, The Weakest Link, and It's Your Chance of a Lifetime).

Ratings and popularity

The prime time version of the show initially drew in up to 30 million viewers a day three times a week, an unheard-of number in modern network television. In the 1999–2000 season, it averaged #1 in the ratings against all other television shows. The next year (2000–2001), three nights out of the five weekly episodes placed in the top 10[3] However, the show's ratings began to fall during the 2000–2001 season, and by the start of the 2001–2002 season, the ratings were only a fraction of what they had been one year before. ABC's reliance on Millionaire's popularity led to the network's falling quickly from its former spot as the nation's most-watched network.

The show was immensely popular in that one could originally qualify for the show by competing in a telephone contest with hopefuls across the country by dialing a toll free number and answering three questions by putting things or events in order by using a telephone keypad, much like the show's Fastest Finger round (callers had 10 seconds to enter the order on a keypad, with any wrong answer ending the game/call). The 10,000–20,000 people who answered all three questions correctly were entered into a random drawing in which approximately 300 people would compete for 10 spots on the show using the same phone quiz method.[4] For the ABC version, accommodations for contestants outside the New York City-area included round trip airfare (or other transportation) and hotel. The syndicated version no longer offers accommodations to contestants at the production company's expense.

Repeat episodes of the prime time version have aired on GSN since September 2003. ABC has occasionally brought back the show for prime time specials, once in 2004; upping the top prize to $10 Million, and another in 2009; for the show's 10th anniversary.


In 2002, Disney's Disney-ABC Domestic Television began selling a new version of the show for daily syndication, with a new host, Meredith Vieira. The program was initially proposed and developed under the assumption that the prime time show would still be airing on ABC, but the prime time show was canceled a few months before the syndicated show premiered.

Potential contestants, depending on touring tryouts or tryouts held at ABC's New York studio center, are required to pass a quiz between 30 and 40 questions which is electronically scored. Contestants who pass the general-knowledge test are then interviewed by production staff, and those who impress the production staff the most are later sent a postcard in the mail stating that he/she is in a pool of potential contestants, which by the producers' discretion are sent to New York for their tapings.[5] This version has no Fastest Finger question and new contestants appear after the preceding contestant's game ends.

Vieira has won two Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Game Show Host.[6] The format is licensed by Sony Pictures Television as part of the acquisition of 2waytraffic in 2008, though the U.S. version was still distributed by Disney until 2006. Episodes of the syndicated show run 30 minutes in length every weekday.

Guest hosts

Since 2007, guest hosts have appeared in the second half of each season, usually during "theme weeks". Al Roker, Tom Bergeron, Tim Vincent, Dave Price, Billy Bush, Leeza Gibbons, Cat Deeley, Samantha Harris, Shaun Robinson and even Regis Philbin have guest hosted the syndicated program.


Preliminary Fastest Finger round

On prime time episodes, ten contestants competed for the right to play the main game on each episode. The contestants were presented with a question and a list of answers which needed to be ordered in the specified format (e.g., ordering four historic events starting with the most recent, ordering the size of animals starting with the smallest, etc.). Using the four keys labeled A, B, C and D on their podiums, each of the contestants attempted to type the correct order in the shortest amount of time.

Although more than one contestant may supply the correct order, only the contestant who supplied it in the fastest time advanced to the main game. In the event of a tie for first place, the tied contestants competed in another Fastest Finger round to determine who would play. If all contestants answered incorrectly, the round was repeated with another question.

If the main game ended and there was still time available for another game, the remaining contestants would play another Fastest Finger round for a chance to play the main game.

The Fastest Finger round was eliminated from the syndicated series.

Main game

Picture of Millionaire from Season 7, with a contestant faced with a question about Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

Once a contestant gets into the hot seat, the goal is to answer 15 multiple-choice questions correctly from progressively harder sets of questions. Each question is worth a specified amount of money, and the contestant has the option of "walking away" and not giving an answer after being presented with the question. In this case, their game ends and the contestant is awarded the amount of money they have earned for their previous correct answer. The amounts are not cumulative.

Upon correctly answering either question five or ten, the contestant is guaranteed at least the amount of prize money associated with that level ($5,000 and $25,000, respectively). If the contestant gives a wrong answer to any subsequent question, their game is over and their winnings will drop down to the last milestone achieved. If the contestant answers a question incorrectly before reaching the first milestone, he/she leaves with nothing.

Clock Format

On September 8, 2008, the start of Season 7 (2008–2009), time limits were introduced for each question. Contestants are given up to 15 seconds each for questions 1–5, 30 seconds each for questions 6–10, and 45 seconds each for questions 11–14. Unused time is banked and an additional 45 seconds is added prior to the start of question fifteen, the final question, should the contestant reach that level. Usage of lifelines temporarily pauses the clock while the lifelines are played. As the clock counts down, if it reaches zero prior to a contestant providing a final answer, contestants are forced to walk away with whatever winnings they have at that point. However, if a contestant uses the Double Dip lifeline and runs out of time prior making a second guess, the contestant is considered to have provided an incorrect answer and loses all winnings down to the last milestone achieved.

When the clock format was adopted the on-screen graphics were updated and a new "Millionaire Menu" was introduced that shows categories for each of the contestant’s 15 questions. The categories are revealed at the beginning of the game and are always visible to the contestant.

The cash prizes were also changed at the start of Season 8. This took effect after the ninth contestant from the 2009 prime time run played.[7]

Payout Structure

Question Value
1999 – 2004
Question Value
2004 – 2009
Question Value
2009 - Present
1 $100 $500
2 $200 $1,000
3 $300 $2,000
4 $500 $3,000
5 $1,000 $5,000
6 $2,000 $7,500
7 $4,000 $10,000
8 $8,000 $12,500
9 $16,000 $15,000
10 $32,000 $25,000
11 $64,000 $50,000
12 $125,000 $100,000
13 $250,000
14 $500,000
15 $1,000,000


Contestants are given a series of lifelines to aid them with questions they are finding difficult. They can use as many lifelines as desired per question, but each lifeline can only be used once throughout the entire course of gameplay. Three lifelines are traditionally available from the start of the game. Depending on the format of the show, additional lifelines may become available after correctly answering the fifth or tenth question.

In the timed format of the show, the game clock is frozen when a lifeline is used; once the lifeline is completed, the clock continues from where it was stopped.

Current lifelines
  • Ask The Audience: The contestant asks audience members to use touch pads to designate what they believe the correct answer to be.[8] Poll results are displayed to the contestant in percentage, bar graph format.[8] For a brief time, a separate poll showed how AOL Instant Messenger users responded to the same question. With the removal of "Phone-A-Friend", it is the only remaining original lifeline from the show's beginning.
  • Double Dip: Previously used on Super Millionaire, this lifeline allows the contestant to make two guesses at the question. However, once used, the contestant is committed to playing out the question and cannot walk away or use any further lifelines. This lifeline is available throughout the game (unlike Super Millionaire, in which it was only available after the contestant correctly answered question 10 for $100,000). The clock is frozen until contestants give their first answer, but this answer must be given right away. If that answer is wrong, the clock resumes for their second answer. A second incorrect answer (or failure to give a second answer before time expires) will result in a loss and the contestant's winnings dropping back down to the last milestone achieved.[7]
  • Ask the Expert: Similar to the Three Wise Men lifeline from Super Millionaire, this lifeline allows the contestant to call an "expert" via live face-to-face audio and video connection sponsored by Skype.[9] The expert can be anyone, and has sometimes been a celebrity, or a previous Millionaire contestant who did well. Past experts have included Bill Nye, Ogi Ogas, Alan Thicke, Jay Thomas, and Ken Jennings. The lifeline is only available once the contestant has correctly answered the first five questions; however after the removal of Phone-a-Friend, Ask the Expert is available throughout the whole game. Unlike the Three Wise Men lifeline, there is no set time limit, and the contestant and expert are allowed to discuss the question together. However, if a video link to the expert is unavailable, the expert joins the show via phone instead.[7]
Defunct lifelines
  • 50:50 (1999–2008): The computer eliminated two incorrect answers, leaving only one incorrect answer and the correct answer. Still used on most other international versions. Depending on the format, the two removed answers were either randomly chosen or predetermined. The removal of 50:50 coincided with the introduction of Double Dip.
  • Switch the Question (2004–2008): This lifeline was earned upon answering the tenth question. The computer replaced, at the contestant's request, one question with another of the same monetary value. Any lifelines used on the original question prior to the switching were not reinstated.
  • Phone-A-Friend (1999–2010): Contestant could call one of up to three prearranged friends, who all had to provide their phone numbers (and, beginning in September 2008, their pictures) in advance. The contestant had 30 seconds to read the question and answer choices to the friend, who then had the remaining time to offer their input to the contestant.
  • The Ask The Audience lifeline was later expanded in 2004 to include users of AOL Instant Messenger[10]. Users wishing to participate added the screenname MillionaireIM their buddy list and received an instant message when a contestant used his or her Ask the Audience lifeline. The message contained the question and four possible answers, and the internet user sent a reply with their choice. During instances where the AIM side of the lifeline failed to work, the contestant was only able to rely on the studio audience's response. The AOL Instant Messenger Ask the Audience lifeline was suspended in 2006 following AOL'S sponsorship withdrawal.
  • While Phone a Friend is still used on most other international versions, it was removed during Regis Philbin-hosted shows of the syndicated version in December 2009, and was permanently removed in January 2010.

Top prize winners

Eleven contestants have correctly answered all 15 questions and have won the top prize of $1,000,000 (nine on the prime time version and two on the Syndicated version). Two other contestants have won $1,000,000 without answering all 15 questions (Robert "Bob-O" Essig on Super Millionaire and Sam Murray in the Tournament of 10). Only one contestant has answered the $1,000,000 question incorrectly.


Nine contestants to date in the prime time version of Millionaire have correctly answered all 15 questions and have won the top prize of $1,000,000 (unless noted).

  • John Carpenter (November 19, 1999)[11]
  • Dan Blonsky (January 18, 2000)
  • Joe Trela (March 23, 2000)
  • Bob House (June 13, 2000)
  • Kim Hunt (July 6, 2000)
  • David Goodman (July 11, 2000)
  • Kevin Olmstead (April 10, 2001) – $2.18 million jackpot
  • Bernie Cullen (April 15, 2001)
  • Ed Toutant (September 7, 2001) – $1.86 million jackpot[12]


Two contestants on the syndicated version of Millionaire have correctly answered all 15 questions and have won the top prize of $1,000,000. A third contestant, Sam Murray, correctly answered a special $1,000,000 question during the Million Dollar Tournament of 10.

  • Kevin Smith (February 18, 2003)
  • Nancy Christy (May 8, 2003)
  • Sam Murray (November 11, 2009)

Spin-offs and special editions

Special editions

Various special editions and tournaments have been conducted which feature celebrities participating in the game and where winnings are donated to charity of their choice. Additionally, other special weeks have been conducted featuring two or three family members or couples competing as a team, as well as both a Champions Edition (where former big winners returned and split their winnings with their favorite charities) and a Zero Dollar Winner Edition (featuring contestants who previously missed one of the first-tier questions and left with nothing). During episodes featuring celebrities, all contestants are allowed to receive help from their fellow contestants to attain the $32,000 level.

Other themed weeks featured college students, teachers and brides-to-be. The syndicated version has aired a Walk In & Win Edition annually with contestants who were randomly selected to play the game without requiring them to take the audition test.

In February 2001, H&R Block calculated the taxes of winnings so the contestants could earn their stated winnings after taxes, called Tax-Free Edition.

Special weeks have also included shows featuring questions concerning specific topics such as professional football, celebrity gossip, movies and pop culture. During a week of episodes in November 2007, to celebrate the 1,000th syndicated episode, all contestants that week started with $1,000, which meant that no contestant could leave with nothing. The contestants only had to answer ten questions to win the $1 million. During the week 20 home viewers each day also won $1,000 each.

Progressive Top Prize Jackpot

By January 2001, no contestant had won $1 million on the prime time version in 71 shows which aired over a period of five months. The top prize was then changed from a flat $1 million to an accumulating jackpot that increased by $10,000 for each contestant who could not answer all fifteen questions correctly. $710,000 was initially added to the jackpot for the previous 71 shows which produced no millionaire.

On April 10, 2001, Kevin Olmstead answered the final question to win $2.18 million, making him the biggest winner in television history at the time. After his initial appearance which involved a question containing an error, Ed Toutant was invited back for a second attempt to answer all fifteen questions for $1.86 million, the jackpot at the time of his original appearance. Toutant completed the task and won the jackpot; his episode aired September 7, 2001.

Who Wants to Be a Super Millionaire

In 2004, Philbin returned to ABC for 12 episodes of a spin-off program titled Who Wants to Be a Super Millionaire in which contestants could potentially win $10,000,000. The program aired five episodes during the week of February 22, 2004 and an additional seven episodes later that year in May.

Contestants again answered a series of 15 multiple choice trivia questions for higher dollar values.

1 $1,000
2 $2,000
3 $3,000
4 $4,000
5 $5,000
6 $10,000
7 $20,000
8 $30,000
9 $50,000
10 $100,000
11 $500,000
12 $1,000,000
13 $2,500,000
14 $5,000,000
15 $10,000,000

Contestants were given the standard three lifelines in place at the time (50:50, Ask the Audience, and Phone a Friend) at the beginning of the game. However, after the $100,000 question the contestant earned two additional lifelines: Three Wise Men and Double Dip. After Super Millionaire ended, the Double Dip lifeline was added to the syndicated version of the show replacing 50:50.[13] In addition, the "Switch the Question" lifeline was also eliminated from the syndicated version and replaced with a new lifeline called "Ask the Expert," a modification of the Three Wise Men.

Super Millionaire produced only one millionaire, Robert "Bob-O" Essig, in February 2004. He answered 12 questions to win $1,000,000, but left the game before reaching the $10,000,000 top prize.

Tenth Anniversary Special

To celebrate Millionaire's tenth anniversary, the show returned to ABC prime time in August 2009 with host Regis Philbin for a two week event.[14] The Academy Award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire and the 2009 economic crisis helped boost interest of renewal of the game show.[15]

The episodes featured gameplay based on the current syndicated version (including the rule changes implemented in the 7th season of syndicated version), but still using the Fastest Finger round to select the next contestant like the original prime time runs. The end of each episode also featured a celebrity guest playing a question for a chance at $50,000 for a charity of their choice, but still earning a minimum of $25,000 for the charity if the celebrity got the question wrong.

Ken Basin playing the $1,000,000 question in the finale of the 10th anniversary special.

The finale of the tenth anniversary special on August 23, 2009 featured a contestant named Ken Basin, an entertainment lawyer, Harvard Law graduate and former Jeopardy! Contestant, who went on to play the first $1 Million Question in the Clock format era. Basin was given a question involving Lyndon Baines Johnson's fondness for Fresca (see photo for actual question). Using his one remaining lifeline, Basin asked the audience for help, which supported his own hunch of Yoo-hoo rather than the correct answer. He decided to answer the question and lost $475,000, the first and so far only time in the U.S. version that a $1 Million question was answered incorrectly.

After the show’s broadcast, Basin posted an entry in his blog about his experience in the show, including why he went for Yoo-hoo. He explains that he remembers a photo of LBJ meeting the Beatles in which he's drinking a Yoo-hoo; a photo which he has not been able to find since.[16]

Million Dollar Tournament of 10

In the eighth season of syndicated Millionaire in 2009, in response to the show's lack of a top-prize winner since Nancy Christy in 2003, the show introduced the "Million Dollar Tournament of 10”. For the first 45 episodes of season 8, each contestant's progress was recorded and the top ten performing contestants were seeded based on how far they progressed and how much time was banked from their initial questions.

Beginning with episode 46 on November 9, the top ten seeds returned one at a time at the end of each episode to answer a single question valued at $1,000,000 without the use of any lifelines. Contestants risked previous winnings in the event of an incorrect answer, and could walk away with their winnings from their prior appearance if they chose not to answer the question. Correctly answering the question placed the contestant in the running for the $1,000,000 prize.

In the event that more than one contestant correctly answered the $1,000,000 question, only the top seed would have their winnings augmented to the top prize. Sam Murray was the only contestant to correctly answer the $1,000,000 question and increased his original $50,000 winnings to the top prize.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – Play It!

A version of this game named Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? - Play It! was formerly an attraction at the Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida and at Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, California. The game was very similar to the television version. When a show started, a "Fastest Finger" question was given, and the audience was asked to put the four answers in order. Fastest time was first contestant in the Hot Seat for that show.


  1. ^ ""Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" Celebrates Its Tenth Anniversary". ABC. 2009-07-27. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  2. ^ a b "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire". Retrieved March 2, 2010. 
  3. ^ "TV Ratings 2000-2001". Retrieved March 2, 2010. 
  4. ^ To qualify for Super Millionaire, potential contestants had to answer five questions. Each person who successfully answered all five questions chose one tape date, and the contestants for that tape date were drawn from that pool.
  5. ^ Claudia Perry (Wednesday, March 28, 2007). "Who wants to be a game-show contestant?". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  6. ^ "Meredith Viera biography". Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  7. ^ a b c Game Show Forum (2009-08-31). "WWTBAM doing their own "Million Dollar Mission"". Retrieved 2009-08-31. 
  8. ^ a b
  9. ^ Phil Wolff (1 January 2009). "Skype product placement: Who Wants to be a Millionaire (US)". Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Carpenter was the first millionaire in the worldwide Millionaire franchise.
  12. ^ Toutant was originally ruled to have answered his $16,000 question incorrectly on January 31, 2001. It was later discovered that there was a mistake in Toutant's $16,000 question and he won a $1.86 million jackpot after he was invited back.
  13. ^ Purcell, Chris (2008-08-17). "‘Millionaire’ Gets Refreshed". Retrieved 2008-08-20. 
  14. ^ "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Returns With A Hollywood Makeover". Retrieved March 2, 2010. 
  15. ^ "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: ABC Game Show Returning to Primetime". April 22, 2009. Retrieved March 2, 2010. 
  16. ^ Ken Basin (Monday, August 24, 2009). "Official postmortem"., Personal blog of Ken Basin. Retrieved 11 March 2010. 

External links

Preceded by
Win Ben Stein's Money
Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game/Audience Participation Show
Succeeded by


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