Does Who Wants To Be A Millionaire ever truly go away? It loiters around ITV’s schedules like an unflushable turd, popping its head up every few months for a celebrity special or round of plebs having their lives changed. Originally broadcast in 1998, WWTBAM has never actually gone from the schedules. While others like The Weakest Link and Wogan’s Perfect Recall have been and gone, it somehow clings on – and on primetime, too! No being shunted to a weekday slot, no “bung it on after the football, and we can cancel it if there’s extra time”.
The trouble is that the show’s as boring as a pig’s arse. You’re obviously familiar with the format – a handful of joke questions, a handful of normal questions and then a handful of bloody difficult ones, before they leave with £32,000.
The production team have made an effort to speed up the shit bit at the start – where you’re being asked daftly easy questions “which of these is an item of cutlery”, and the options are “fork”, “Italy”, “Richard Hammond” and “three nuns”. There are fewer questions and they’re answered against the clock, but why even bother including them at all? We’ve seen someone crushed at the realisation they’re going home with nothing. It’s not that nice, seeing him crushed. Funny, but not that nice.
Millionaire now goes out live, which leads to exactly zero extra tension or excitement, except for last night when the “Ask the Audience” buzzers broke, and they had to hold up bits of coloured card with their answers on, giving proceedings a distinct Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook feel. The upsetting part of going out live is that the ubiquitous sob-story element has been introduced. A woman received a phone-call LIVE ON AIR from her son in Australia (clearly their massive budget couldn’t stretch to flying him out and putting him up in a Travelodge for a couple of nights).
Weirdly too, the title is now the ridiculously unwieldy “Live Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The People Play“. The emphasis is on allowing civilians to play – in the WWTBAM world, Celebrity Specials have become the norm.
Despite the format tittery, there’s still an awful lot of padding. Does anyone really care what these people will spend the money on? Or what they do for a living? No. Of course not. Still, at least you can fast-forward through that, unlike, say, the American version, which decided to go all Goldenballs in the complexity department:
For the first 10 questions, the money tree values are randomly shuffled and the exact values for each question are not revealed to the contestant until a final answer is given. If a contestant answers correctly, the value of the question is added to the contestant’s bank. If a contestant does not know the answer, that person can walk away with half of the bank during the first ten questions. However, if a contestant answers a question incorrectly prior to the eleventh question (even if it is the first question), the contestant will only receive $1,000 (in effect, any contestant is guaranteed $1,000 simply for participating on the show, eliminating the possibility of leaving with nothing). Once the contestant answers all 10 questions correctly, the contestant will receive the accumulated money of all the questions they answered correctly (up to $68,600) and the contestant proceeds through the money tree as in earlier formats. Contestants are guaranteed only $25,000 in the U.S. version if any of the last four questions are answered incorrectly.
Got that? Of course not, you started skim reading when it seemed confusing. The introduction of these weird gimmicks is always a sign that a show is faltering – which after hundreds of episodes, is not exactly shocking – and Millionaire is definitely a victim of its own success. Its initial media onslaught and subsequent saturation have doomed it to be constantly tweaked, celebrity specialed and Saturday nighted until we’re left with the sickening sight of a middle aged lady breaking down in tears while on the phone to her son. LIVE!