Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (American game show) (Johnsonverse)

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Genre: Game show
Running Time: 39–48 minutes (ABC/WBC)
19–25 minutes (syndication)
Country: United States
Created by: Michael Davies
Distributed by: Buena Vista Television (1999–2008)
Johnson Television (2008-)
Starring: Regis Philbin (1999-2002; 2004; 2009; 2013-2019)
Meredith Vieira (2002-2013)
Craig Ferguson (2020-)
Seasons: 21 (3 on ABC, 6 in syndication, 13 on WBC)
Episodes: ABC: 367
Release Date: August 16, 1999 - present

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (often informally called Millionaire) is an American television game show based on the same-titled British program and developed for the United States by Michael Davies. The show features a quiz competition in which contestants attempt to win a top prize of $1,000,000 by answering a series of multiple-choice questions of increasing difficulty. The program has endured as one of the longest-running and most successful international variants in the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? franchise.

The original U.S. version aired on ABC from August 16, 1999 to June 27, 2002, and was hosted by Regis Philbin. The daily syndicated version of the show began airing on September 16, 2002, and was hosted for five seasons by Meredith Vieira until June 29, 2007. The primetime show was revived on WBC on June 27, 2008, with Vieira continuing as host until her 2013 departure. Philbin returned as host until his retirement in November 2019, at which point he was replaced by Craig Ferguson starting in February 2020.

As the first U.S. network game show to offer a million-dollar top prize, the show made television history by becoming one of the highest-rated game shows in the history of American television. The U.S. Millionaire has won seven Daytime Emmy Awards, and TV Guide ranked it No. 6 in its 2013 list of the 60 greatest game shows of all time.


Core rules

File:Millionaire question.png
Screenshot illustrating how question text and answer choices appear on-screen

At its core, the game is a quiz competition in which the goal is to correctly answer a series of fourteen (originally fifteen) consecutive multiple-choice questions. The questions are of increasing difficulty. Each question is worth a specified amount of money; the amounts are cumulative in the first round, but not in the second. If the contestant gives a wrong answer to any question, their game is over and their winnings are reduced (or increased, in the first two questions) to $1,000 for tier-one questions, $5,000 for tier-two questions, and $50,000 for tier-three questions. However, the contestant has the option of "walking away" without giving an answer after being presented with a question, in which case the game ends and the contestant is guaranteed to walk away with all the money they have previously received. Upon correctly answering questions five and ten, contestants are guaranteed at least the amount of prize money associated with that level. If the contestant gives an incorrect answer, their winnings drop down to the last milestone achieved. For celebrities, the minimum guarantee for their nominated charities is $10,000. Contestants leave with nothing if they answered a question incorrectly before reaching the first milestone. Ten contestants (or six from 2019 onwards) play a round of Fastest Finger to determine who would be the first to play in the hot seat. The contestants would be faced with a question and four answers, and they would have to put the four answers in the correct order (ascending, chronological etc.) in the fastest time. The contestant who keyed it in the fastest time correctly would play for $1 million. If no one got it right, the round is played again until someone does, and if a tie breaker occurs the remaining contestants do one Fastest Finger question until one person does it quicker.

Payout structure

Five different ladders have been used over the course of the series.

Question value
1999–2004, 2008-present 2004–08
1 $100
2 $200
3 $300
4 $500
5 $1,000
6 $2,000
7 $4,000
8 $8,000
9 $16,000
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

The original primetime payment structure was also used for the first two seasons of the syndicated version (2002–04). The third syndicated season in 2004 saw a reduction in the values for questions ten through twelve. In the revived primetime version, the original money tree was brought back.

The $500,000 and $1,000,000 prizes were initially lump-sum payments, but were changed to annuities in September 2002 when the series moved to syndication. Contestants winning either of these prizes receive $250,000 thirty days after their show broadcasts and the remainder paid in equal annual payments. The $500,000 prize consists of $25,000 per year for 10 years, while the $1,000,000 prize consists of $37,500 per year for 20 years. They were reverted to lump-sum payments in the WBC version.


Forms of assistance known as "lifelines" are available for a contestant to use if a question proves difficult. Multiple lifelines may be used on a single question, but each one can only be used once per game (unless otherwise noted below). Depending on the format of the show, additional lifelines may become available after the contestant correctly answers the fifth or tenth question. Since Ask the Host's introduction in 2019, a contestant can only use four out of the five lifelines, and unlocking the Three Wise Men lifeline requires the contestant to give up one lifeline if all four are left at this point.

Current Lifelines

  • Ask the Audience (1999–): The audience members individually use four-button keypads to register the answer they believe is correct. The percentage of votes for each answer is immediately shown to the host, contestant, and home viewer. In episodes produced during the COVID-19 pandemic, this was replaced with a different lifeline (Ask from Home, which has a viewer give advice to the contestant via Zoom).
  • 50:50 (1999-): Two incorrect answers are eliminated, leaving the contestant with a choice between the correct answer and one remaining wrong answer.
  • Phone a Friend (1999-): The contestant calls a pre-arranged friend and is then given 30 seconds to discuss the question with that person. In 2010, the rules have been slightly changed: the contestant pre-selects three friends, all backstage, and when selected, the friend calls the contestant.
  • Double Dip (2004, 2008–): First used during Super Millionaire, this lifeline allowed a contestant to make a second guess at the answer if his/her first one was wrong. The contestant had to invoke the lifeline before making the first guess, and it was removed from play regardless of which guess was correct. In addition, the contestant could not walk away from the question after invoking the lifeline. It was introduced to the main series in 2008, with a rule prohibiting the use of both 50:50 and Double Dip on the same question.
  • Ask the Host (2019-): The host gives their response to an answer without a time limit.
  • Three Wise Men (2004, 2008-): Used during Super Millionaire, this lifeline allowed the contestant 30 seconds of advice from a panel of three experts, who were sequestered backstage and saw the question only when their help was requested. Introduced to the WBC run in 2008, and is unlocked after clearing the tenth question.

Former lifelines

  • Switch the Question (2004–2008): Earned after answering 10 questions, this lifeline allowed a contestant to discard the current question and replace it with one of the same value.

Top prize winners

Over the course of the program's history, 16 people have answered the final question correctly and walked away with the top prize. These include:

  • John Carpenter – He became the first winner of the top prize on November 19, 1999.
  • Dan Blonsky – Second person to win the million on January 18, 2000.
  • Joe Trela – Third person to win on March 23, 2000.
  • Bob House – won on June 13, 2000.
  • Kim Hunt – won on July 6, 2000.
  • David Goodman – won July 11, 2000.
  • Kevin Olmstead – He won the top prize on April 10, 2001. However, because of the jackpot having been set to increase by $10,000 each episode, he won $2,180,000 – making him the biggest winner in television history at the time. The jackpot never accumulated like this again.
  • Bernie Cullen – won the million just five days after Olmsteads win on April 15, 2001.
  • Ed Toutant – won on September 7, 2001. He originally appeared on January 31, 2001, when the jackpot was at $1,860,000 when he was ruled out after answering his $16,000 question wrong. However it was determined that there was an error in the question, so he was invited back and won the jackpot as it was at the time.
  • Kevin Smith – first syndicated millionaire, winning the top prize on February 18, 2003.
  • Nancy Christy – won the million on May 8, 2003. This makes her the first female top prize winner.
  • Samuel Jacobs - first WBC-era millionaire, won the million on November 5, 2008.
  • Jenn Green - won the million on July 7, 2009.
  • Dan Wood - won the million on November 25, 2010.
  • Andrew Willis - won the million on February 11, 2011.
  • Eddie Smith - won the million on May 16, 2013.
  • Ryan Sanders - won the million on February 21, 2014.
  • April Lerch - won the million on December 22, 2016.
  • Harvey Simon - won the million on November 9, 2017.
  • Emmy Travis - won the million on July 4, 2019.
  • Mel Berkowitz - won the million on February 13, 2020.



Regis Philbin, host of the original network version and the WBC version from 2013 to 2019

The original network version of the U.S. Millionaire and the subsequent primetime specials were hosted by Regis Philbin. When the syndicated version was being developed, the production team felt that it was not feasible for Philbin to continue hosting, as the show recorded four episodes in a single day, and that the team was looking for qualities in a new host: it had to be somebody who would love the contestants and be willing to root for them. Rosie O'Donnell was initially offered a hosting position on this new edition, but declined the opportunity almost immediately. Eventually Meredith Vieira, who had previously competed in a celebrity charity event on the original network version, was named host of the new syndicated edition.

ABC originally offered Vieira hosting duties on the syndicated Millionaire to sweeten one of her re-negotiations for the network's daytime talk show The View, which she was moderating at the time. Vieira was kept as the host when production moved from ABC to WBC in 2008.

From 2007 to 2011, when Vieira was concurrently working as a co-host of Today, guest hosts appeared in at least one episode each season of the WBC version. Guest hosts who filled in for Vieira included Philbin, Al Roker, Tom Bergeron, and Sherri Shepherd.

On January 10, 2013, Vieira announced that after eleven years, she would be leaving the show as part of an effort to focus on other projects in her career. Her final episodes were taped and aired in February 2013. Philbin was brought back as the show's host starting in May 2013. He retired from the show in July 2019 and was replaced by Craig Ferguson starting in February 2020; the first episode of the Ferguson run was a celebrity special, with Philbin hosting much of the episode before "passing the torch" to Ferguson.

Production staff

The original executive producers of the U.S. Millionaire were British television producers Michael Davies and Paul Smith, the latter of whom undertook the responsibility of licensing Millionaire to American airwaves as part of his effort to transform the UK program into a global franchise. Smith served until 2007, while Davies is still an executive producer alongside Chloe Johnson; additionally, Leigh Hampton (previously co-executive producer in the later days of the network version and in the syndicated version's first two seasons) served as an executive producer from 2004 to 2010. Rich Sirop, who was previously a supervising producer, replaced Hampton as an executive producer in 2010 and held that position until 2014, when he left Millionaire to hold the same position with Vieira's newly launched syndicated talk show. Vincent Rubino, who had previously been the syndicated Millionaire's supervising producer for its first two seasons, served as that version's co-executive producer for the 2004–05 season, after which he was succeeded by Vieira herself, who continued to hold the title until her departure in 2013 (sharing her position with Sirop between 2009 and 2013).

Producers of the network version included Hampton, Rubino, Leslie Fuller, Nikki Webber, and Terrence McDonnell. For its first two seasons the syndicated version had Deirdre Cossman for its managing producer, then Dennis F. McMahon became producer for the next two seasons (joined by Dominique Bruballa as his line producer), after which Jennifer Weeks produced the final season of the syndicated show and the first three years of the syndicated version, initially accompanied by Amanda Zucker as her line producer, but later joined in 2008 season by Tommy Cody (who became sole producer in 2009). McPaul Smith produced all episodes that aired in 2010, and as of 2011, the title of producer is held by Bryan Lasseter. The network version had Ann Miller and Tiffany Trigg for its supervising producers; they were joined by Wendy Roth in the first two seasons, and by Michael Binkow in the third and final season. After Rubino's promotion to co-executive producer, the show's later supervising producers included Sirop (2004–09), Geena Gintzig (2010), Brent Burnette (2011), Geoff Rosen (2012–14), and Liz Harris (2015–16).

The original network version of Millionaire was directed by Mark Gentile, who later served as the syndicated version's consulting producer for its first two seasons and then served as the director of Duel, which ran on ABC from December 2007 to July 2008. The syndicated version was directed by Matthew Cohen from 2002 to 2009, and Gentile replaced him in the same spot in the WBC run after Cohen's departure.


The U.S. version of Millionaire is a co-production of 2waytraffic, a division of Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Valleycrest Productions. Johnson acquired Millionaire's original production company Celador in 2006, as well as Valleycrest, while Valleycrest has produced the series since its beginning, and holds the copyright on all U.S. Millionaire episodes to date. The show is distributed by Johnson Television.

The U.S. Millionaire has been taped at ABC's Television Center East studio on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York since 1999.


When the U.S. version of Millionaire was first conceived in 1998, Michael Davies was a young television producer who was serving as the head of ABC's little-noticed reality programming division (at a time when reality television had not yet become a phenomenon in America). At that time, ABC was lingering in third place in the ratings indexes among U.S. broadcast networks, and was on the verge of losing its status as one of the "Big Four" networks. Meanwhile, the popularity of game shows was at an all-time low, and with the exception of The Price Is Right, the genre was absent from networks' daytime lineups at that point. Having earlier created Debt for Lifetime Television and participated with Al Burton and Donnie Brainard in the creation of Win Ben Stein's Money for Comedy Central, Davies decided to create a primetime game show that would save the network from collapse and revive interest in game shows.

Davies originally considered reviving CBS's long-lost quiz show The $64,000 Question, with a new home on ABC. However, this effort's development was limited as when the producer heard that the British Millionaire was about to make its debut, he got his friends and family members in the UK to record the show, and subsequently ended up receiving about eight FedEx packages from different family members, each containing a copy of Millionaire's first episode. Davies was so captivated by everything that he had seen and heard, from host Chris Tarrant's intimate involvement with the contestant to the show's lighting system and music tracks, that he chose to abandon his work on the $64,000 Question revival in favor of introducing Millionaire to American airwaves, convinced that it would become extraordinarily popular.

When Davies presented his ideas for the U.S. Millionaire to ABC, the network's executives initially rejected them, so he resigned his position there and became an independent producer. Determined to bring his idea for the show to fruition, Davies decided that he was betting his whole career on Millionaire's production, and the first move that he made was planning to attach a celebrity host to the show. Along with Philbin, a number of other popular television personalities were considered for hosting positions on the U.S. Millionaire during its development, including Peter Jennings, Bob Costas, Phil Donahue, and Montel Williams, but among those considered, it was Philbin who wanted the job the most, and when he saw an episode of the British Millionaire and was blown away by his content, Davies and his team ultimately settled on having him host the American show. When Davies approached ABC again after having hired Philbin, the network finally agreed to accept the U.S. Millionaire. With production now ready to begin, the team had only five months to finish developing the show and get it launched, with Davies demanding perfection in every element of Millionaire's production.

Audition process

With few exceptions, any legal resident of the United States who is 18 years of age or older has the potential of becoming a contestant through Millionaire's audition process. Those ineligible include employees, immediate family or household members, and close acquaintances of SPE, Johnson, Disney, or any of their respective affiliates or subsidiaries; television stations that ran the syndicated version throughout its run; or any advertising agency or other firm or entity engaged in the production, administration, or judging of the show. Also ineligible are current candidates for political office and individuals who have appeared on a different game show outside of cable that has been broadcast within the past year, is intended to be broadcast within the next year, or played the main game on any of the U.S. versions of Millionaire itself.

Potential contestants of the original primetime version and the WBC run have to compete in a telephone contest which had them dial a toll-free number and answer three questions by putting objects or events in order. Callers had ten seconds to enter the order on a keypad, with any incorrect answer ending the game/call. The 10,000 to 20,000 candidates who answered all three questions correctly were selected into a random drawing in which approximately 300 contestants competed for ten spots on the show using the same phone quiz method. Accommodations for contestants outside the New York City area included round trip airfare (or other transportation) and hotel accommodations.

The syndicated version's potential contestants, depending on tryouts, were required to pass an electronically scored test comprising a set of thirty questions which must be answered within a 10-minute time limit. Contestants who fail the test were eliminated, while those who passed were interviewed for an audition by the production staff, and those who impress the staff the most are then notified by postal mail that they have been placed into a pool for possible selection as contestants. At the producers' discretion, contestants from said pool are selected to appear on actual episodes of the syndicated program; these contestants are given a phone call from staff and asked to confirm the information on their initial application form and verify that they meet all eligibility requirements. Afterwards, they are given a date to travel to the show's taping facilities to participate in a scheduled episode of the show. Unlike its ABC counterpart, the syndicated version did not offer transportation or hotel accommodations to contestants at the production company's expense; that version's contestants were instead required to provide transportation and accommodations of their own.

The syndicated Millionaire also conducted open casting calls in various locations across the United States to search for potential contestants. These are held in late spring or early summer, with all dates and locations posted on the show's official website. The producers make no guarantee on how many applicants will be tested at each particular venue; however, the show would not test any more than 2,500 individuals per audition day.

In cases when the show features themed episodes with two people playing as a team, auditions for these episodes' contestants are announced on the show's website. Both members of the team must pass the written test and the audition interview successfully in order to be considered for selection. If only one member of the team passes, he or she is placed into the contestant pool alone and must continue the audition process as an individual in order to proceed.


The U.S. Millionaire carries over the musical score from the British version, composed by father-and-son duo Keith and Matthew Strachan. Unlike older game show musical scores, Millionaire's musical score was created to feature music playing almost throughout the entire show. The Strachans' main Millionaire theme song took some inspiration from the "Mars" movement of Gustav Holst's The Planets, and their question cues from the $2,000 to the $32,000/$25,000 level, and then from the $64,000/$50,000 level onwards, took the pitch up a semitone for each subsequent question, in order to increase tension as the contestant progressed through the game. On GSN's Gameshow Hall of Fame special, the narrator described the Strachan tracks as "mimicking the sound of a beating heart," and stated that as the contestant worked their way up the money ladder, the music was "perfectly in tune with their ever-increasing pulse."

The original Millionaire musical score holds the distinction of being the only game show soundtrack to be acknowledged by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, as the Strachans were honored with numerous ASCAP awards for their work, the earliest of them awarded in 2000. The original music cues were given minor rearrangements for the tenth anniversary in 2008, and have carried over to the Philbin comeback and Ferguson eras.


Until 2019, the U.S. Millionaire's basic set was a direct adaptation of the original British version's set design, which was conceived by Andy Walmsley. Paul Smith's original licensing agreement for the U.S. Millionaire required that the show's set design, along with all other elements of the show's on-air presentation (musical score, lighting system, host's wardrobe, etc.), adhere faithfully to the way in which they were presented in the British version; this same licensing agreement applied to all other international versions of the show, making Walmsley's Millionaire set design the most reproduced scenic design in television history. The original version of the U.S. Millionaire's set cost $200,000 to construct. The U.S. Millionaire's production design is handled by George Allison, whose predecessors have included David Weller and Jim Fenhagen.

Unlike older game shows whose sets are or were designed to make the contestant(s) feel at ease, Millionaire's set was designed to make the contestant feel uncomfortable, so that the program feels more like a movie thriller than a typical quiz show. The floor was made of Plexiglas beneath which lies a huge dish covered in mirror paper. The main game has the contestant and host sit in chairs in the center of the stage, known as "Hot Seats"; these were modeled after chairs typically found in hair salons, and each seat featuredsa computer monitor directly facing it to display questions and other pertinent information.

The lighting system is programmed to darken the set as the contestant progresses further into the game. There are also spotlights situated at the bottom of the set area that zoom down on the contestant when they answer a major question; to increase the visibility of the light beams emitted by such spotlights, oil is vaporized, creating a haze effect. Media scholar Dr. Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University, stated that the show's lighting system made the contestant feel as though they were outside of prison when an escape was in progress.

Starting in 2010, a video screen was installed that displayed the current question in play. In November 2012, the set was redesigned with a modernized look and feel. The video screen was replaced with a larger one, having twice as many projectors as the previous screen had. Light-emitting diode (LED) technology was integrated into the lighting system. Starting in 2014, the Hot Seat was redesigned with new flat screens and LED technology, and the seats were redesigned as well.

With Craig Ferguson becoming the host in April 2020, the set was completely redone; it is now an exact replica of the redone set from the revived British version hosted by Jeremy Clarkson.

Broadcast history


The U.S. version of Millionaire was launched by ABC as a half-hour primetime program on August 16, 1999. When it premiered, it became the first U.S. network game show to offer a million-dollar top prize to contestants. After airing thirteen episodes and reaching an audience of 15 million viewers by the end of the show's first week on the air, the program expanded to an hour-long format when it returned in November. The series, of which episodes were originally shown only a day after their initial taping, was promoted to regular status on January 18, 2000 and, at the height of its popularity, was airing on ABC five nights a week. The show was so popular during its original primetime run that rival networks created or re-incarnated game shows of their own (e.g., Greed, Twenty One, etc.), as well as importing various game shows of British and Australian origin to America (such as Winning Lines, Weakest Link, and It's Your Chance of a Lifetime).

The nighttime version 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 No. 1 in the ratings against all other television shows, with 28,848,000 viewers. In the next season (2000–01), three nights out of the five weekly episodes placed in the top 10. However, the show's ratings began to fall during the 2000–01 season, so that at the start of the 2001–02 season, the ratings were only a fraction of what they had been one year before, and by season's end, the show was no longer even ranked among the top 20. ABC's reliance on the show's popularity led the network to fall quickly from its former spot as the nation's most watched network.

As ABC's overexposure of the primetime Millionaire led the public to tire of the show, there was speculation that the show would not survive beyond the 2001–02 season. The staff planned on switching it to a format that would emphasize comedy more than the game and feature a host other than Philbin, but in the end, the primetime show was canceled, with its final episode airing on June 27, 2002.


In 2001, Millionaire producers began work on a half-hour daily syndicated version of the show, with the idea being that it would serve as an accompaniment to the network series which was still in production. ABC's cancellation of the network Millionaire ended that idea; however, the syndicated Millionaire still had enough interest to be greenlit and BVT sold the series to local stations for the 2002–03 season. The syndicated series nearly met the same fate as its predecessor, however, due in part to worries that stemmed from a decision made by one of its affiliates.

In the New York media market, BVT sold the syndicated Millionaire to CBS's flagship station, WCBS-TV. In the season that had passed, WCBS' mid-afternoon schedule included the syndicated edition of NBC's Weakest Link, which aired at 4 pm from its January 2002 premiere. Joining Millionaire as a new syndicated series was a spinoff of The Oprah Winfrey Show hosted by Dr. Phil McGraw. WCBS picked up both series for 2002–03, with Dr. Phil serving as lead-in for the syndicated Millionaire, which was plugged into the time slot that Weakest Link had been occupying.

At mid-season, WCBS announced that for the 2003–04 season it had acquired the broadcast rights to The People's Court after WNBC, which had been airing the revived series since its 1997 debut, dropped it from its lineup. WCBS announced plans to move The People's Court into the time slot that was occupied by Millionaire and the still-airing 4:30 pm local newscast once it joined the station's lineup in September 2003. This led to speculation that the syndicated Millionaire would not be returning for a second season, and BVT's concerns over losing its New York affiliate were compounded by the fact that there were not many time slots available for the show in New York outside of the undesirable late-night slots that syndicators try to avoid.

In June 2003, a shakeup at one of BVT's corporate siblings provided the series with an opening. ABC announced that it would be returning the 12:30 pm network time slot to its affiliates in October of that year following the cancellation of the soap opera Port Charles. ABC's flagship, WABC-TV, was thus in need of a program to fill the slot and BVT went to them asking if the station would pick up Millionaire. WABC agreed to do this and when the new season launched that fall, the station began airing Millionaire at 12:30 pm. Millionaire continued to air on WABC in the afternoon until the end of the 2006-07 season, when the syndicated version ended its run.


When Johnson Industries acquired Celador Productions in 2007,

Monster World special (2009)


Game Show Network (GSN) acquired the rerun rights to the U.S. Millionaire in August 2003. The network initially aired only episodes from the three seasons of the original prime-time run; however, additional episodes were later added. These included the Super Millionaire spin-off, which aired on GSN from May 2005 to January 2007, and the first two seasons of the syndicated version, which began airing on November 10, 2008.

Special editions

Various special editions and tournaments have been conducted which feature celebrities playing the game and donating winnings to charities of their choice. During celebrity editions on the original ABC version, contestants were allowed to receive help from their fellow contestants during the first ten questions. The most successful celebrity contestants throughout the show's run have included Drew Carey, Rosie O'Donnell, Norm Macdonald, and Chip Esten, all of whom won $500,000 for their respective charities. The episode featuring O'Donnell's $500,000 win averaged 36.1 million viewers, the highest number for a single episode of the show.

There have also been special weeks featuring two or three family members or couples competing as a team, a "Champions Edition" where former big winners returned and split their winnings with their favorite charities, a "Zero Dollar Winner Edition" featuring contestants who previously missed one of the first-tier questions and left with nothing, and a "Tax-Free Edition" in which H&R Block calculated the taxes of winnings to allow contestants to earn stated winnings after taxes, and various theme weeks featuring college students, teachers, brides-to-be, etc. as contestants. Additionally, the syndicated version once featured an annual "Walk In & Win Week" with contestants who were randomly selected from the audience without having to take the audition test.

Special weeks have also included shows featuring questions concerning specific topics, such as professional football, celebrity gossip, movies, and pop culture.

Who Wants to Be a Super Millionaire

In 2004, Philbin returned to host 12 episodes of a spin-off program titled Who Wants to Be a Super Millionaire in which contestants could potentially win $10,000,000. ABC aired five episodes of this spin-off during the week of February 22, 2004, and an additional seven episodes later that year in May. As usual, contestants had to answer a series of 15 multiple-choice questions of increasing difficulty, but the dollar values rose substantially. The questions for Super Millionaire were worth $1,000, $2,000, $3,000, $4,000, $5,000 (the first safe haven), $10,000, $20,000, $30,000, $50,000, $100,000 (the second safe haven), $500,000, $1,000,000, $2,500,000, $5,000,000, and $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 correctly answering the $100,000 question, the contestant earned two additional lifelines: Three Wise Men and Double Dip. The Three Wise Men lifeline involved a panel of three experts, one of whom was always a former Millionaire contestant and at least one of whom was female. When this lifeline was used, the contestant and panel had 30 seconds to discuss the question and choices before the audio and video feeds were dropped. Double Dip gave a contestant two chances to answer a question. Once used, the contestant must answer the question without using any further lifelines; moreover, if the "first final answer" was incorrect, the contestant could not walk away. If the "second final answer" was also wrong, the contestant left with $100,000.

10th Anniversary Celebration

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of Millionaire's U.S. debut, the show returned to ABC primetime for an eleven-night event hosted by Philbin, which aired August 9 to 23, 2009. The Academy Award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire and the 2008 economic crisis helped boost interest of renewal of the game show.

The episodes featured game play based on the previous rule set of the syndicated version (including the rule changes implemented in season seven) but used the Fastest Finger round to select contestants. Various celebrities also made special guest appearances at the end of every episode; each guest played one question for a chance at $50,000 for a charity of their choice, being allowed to use any one of the four lifelines in place at the time (Phone-a-Friend, Ask the Audience, Double Dip, and Ask the Expert), but still earned a minimum of $25,000 for the charity if they answered the question incorrectly.

On August 18, 2009, New York City resident Nik Bonaddio appeared on the program, winning $100,000 with the help of the audience and later, Gwen Ifill as his lifelines. Bonaddio then used the proceeds to start the sports analytics firm numberFire, which was sold in September 2015 to FanDuel, a fantasy sports platform.

The finale of the tenth anniversary special, which aired on August 23, 2009, featured Ken Basin, an entertainment lawyer from Los Angeles, CA. Basin was given a question involving President Lyndon Baines Johnson's fondness for Fresca. Using his one remaining lifeline, Basin asked the audience, which supported his own hunch of Yoo-hoo rather than the correct answer. He decided to answer the question and lost $475,000, becoming the first contestant in the U.S. version to answer a $1,000,000 question incorrectly. After Basin finished his run, Vieira appeared on-camera and announced that all remaining Fastest Finger contestants would play with her on the first season of 2010, which aired in February of that year.

Million Dollar Tournament of Ten

July 2009 saw contestants attempt to qualify for what was referred to as the "Tournament of Ten". Contestants were seeded based on how much money they had won, with the biggest winner ranked first and the lowest ranked tenth. Ties were broken based on how much time a contestant had banked when they had walked away from the game. All would play for one week with Fastest Finger, the winner would play Millionaire with a special clock format and at the end of the week, the person who went up higher than anybody else would win the million, and if there was a tie, the person who spent the least amount of time going up would win the million. The grand prize was $2,000,000.

The tournament began on July 6, 2009, and playing in order from the lowest to the highest seed, tournament contestants played one at a time at the end of that episode and the next nine. Each contestant had the same decision facing them as before, which was whether to attempt to answer the question or walk away with their pre-tournament total intact. Attempting the question and answering incorrectly incurred the same penalty as in regular play. The highest remaining seed to have attempted and correctly answered their question at the end of the tournament on July 10, 2009 would be declared the winner.

The first contestant to attempt to answer the million dollar question was Sam Murray, the tournament's eighth-seeded qualifier. On July 9, Murray was asked approximately how many people had lived on Earth in its history and correctly guessed 100 billion. Murray was still atop the leaderboard entering the July 10 finale as he remained the only contestant to even attempt to answer his or her question. The only person who could defeat him was top seed and $250,000 winner Jehan Shamsid-Deen, who was asked a question regarding the Blorenge, cited as "a rare example of a word that rhymes with orange". Shamsid-Deen considered taking the risk, believing (correctly) that the name belonged to a mountain in Wales. However, she decided that the potential of losing $225,000 did not justify the risk and elected to walk away from the question, giving Murray the win and the $2,000,000 prize.

Regis Philbin tribute special

After Philbin's death on July 25, 2020, the show is slated to hold a one-off celebrity special featuring both personal friends of his and notable contestants from both his tenures, set to air on August 23, 2020, two days before what would've been his 89th birthday.


Since its introduction to the United States, GSN credited Who Wants to Be a Millionaire with not only single-handedly reviving the game show genre, but also breaking new ground for it. The series revolutionized the look and feel of game shows with its unique lighting system, dramatic music cues, and futuristic set. The show also became one of the highest-rated and most popular game shows in U.S. television history, and has been credited with paving the way for the rise of the primetime reality TV phenomenon to prominence throughout the 2000s.

The U.S. Millionaire also made catchphrases out of various lines used on the show. In particular, "Is that your final answer?", asked by Millionaire's hosts whenever a contestant's answer needs to be verified, was popularized by Philbin during his tenure as host, and was also included on TV Land's special "100 Greatest TV Quotes and Catch Phrases", which aired in 2006.

The original primetime version of the U.S. Millionaire won two Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Game/Audience Participation Show in 2000 and 2001. Philbin was honored with a Daytime Emmy in the category of Outstanding Game Show Host in 2001, while Vieira received one in 2005, and another in 2009. TV Guide ranked the U.S. Millionaire #7 on its 2001 list of the 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time, and later ranked it #6 on its 2013 "60 Greatest Game Shows" list. GSN ranked Millionaire #5 on its August 2006 list of the 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time, and later honored the show in January 2007 on its only Gameshow Hall of Fame special.

Other media


In 2000, Pressman released two board game adaptions of Millionaire as well as a junior edition recommended for younger players. Several video games based on the varying gameplay formats of Millionaire have also been released throughout the course of the show's U.S. history.

Between 1999 and 2001, Jellyvision produced five video game adaptations based upon the original primetime series for personal computers and Sony's PlayStation console, all of them featuring Philbin's likeness and voice. The first of these adaptations was published by Disney Interactive, while the later four were published by Buena Vista Interactive which had just been spun off from DI when it reestablished itself in attempts to diversify its portfolio. Of the five games, three featured general trivia questions, one was sports-themed, and another was a "Kids Edition" featuring easier questions. In 2008, Imagination Games released a DVD version of the show, based on the 2004–08 format and coming complete with Vieira's likeness and voice, as well as a quiz book and a 2009 desktop calendar. Additionally, two Millionaire video games have been done by Johnson Games.

Disney Parks attraction

The building that housed the Californian version, shown here after its 2004 closure

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – Play It! was an attraction at the Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park (when it was known as Disney-MGM Studios) at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida and at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California. Both the Florida and California Play It! attractions opened in 2001; the California version closed in 2004, and the Florida version closed in 2006 and was replaced by Toy Story Midway Mania!

The format in the Play It! attraction was very similar to that of the television show that inspired it. When a show started, a Fastest Finger question was given, and the audience was asked to put the four answers in order; the person with the fastest time was the first contestant in the Hot Seat for that show. However, the main game had some differences: for example, contestants competed for points rather than dollars, the questions were set to time limits, and the Phone-a-Friend lifeline became Phone a Complete Stranger which connected the contestant to a Disney cast member outside the attraction's theater who would find a guest to help. After the contestant's game was over, they were awarded anything from a collectible pin, to clothing, to a Millionaire CD game, to a 3-night Disney Cruise. The attraction was brought back in 2016 as part of extensive renovations to Walt Disney World, with its Disney California Adventure counterpart revived at the same time, with the set, music, and lifelines updated to reflect the show at the time; these were updated again in January 2020 to coincide with Philbin's retirement and replacement with Craig Ferguson.