Throwback Thursday: Who Wants to Be A Millionaire (1999)

What: Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

When: Debuted August 16, 1999 and still going strong

Hosted by: Regis Philbin

Reason for the throwback: Can you believe that it was 15 years ago that Regis sat down on and introduced concepts like phone-a-friend, poll the audience, and 50/50 into our world? Neither can I.

While game shows and competition programs are ubiquitous nowadays, Millionaire was the catalyst for the current situation, reviving the concept for the North American audience by aping a British program and taking it to another level than we saw with The Weakest Link. While Anne Robinson and “Goodbye” got stale quickly, Millionaire is still on the air. Sure, there have been a few different hosts and some changes along the way, but the fact that 15 years later, some version of this show is still going strong and that’s impressive.

When it debuted, Millionaire was appointment viewing. Much like Ken Jennings’ crazy run on Jeopardy, you wanted to watch Regis get hyper asking contestants “Is that your final answer?” dozens of times a night as they tried to climb the quiz ladder to a million dollars. You played along at home, laughing when people got bounced in the opening round or screwed up an easy question and remembering the little nuggets of information you learned along the way. It was beyond entertaining—it was captivating and for a little while, it held the viewing audience captive night after night.

It took a little over three months for someone to win the million. All these years later, anyone that watched the show still remembers that John Carpenter (not the director) phoned his dad on the final question just to tell him, “I’m about to win a million dollars.” It was amazing.

You know you have a hit on your hands when the competition starts trying to bite your style, and that’s exactly what happened when ABC launched Millionaire and the show took off. The success of this show bred rip-offs like Greed and Twenty One, and ultimately begot Deal or No Deal with Howie Mandel.

The other way you know you’re a hit is when there are spin-offs and modified versions of the show that pop up over time, and that was the case here too, with Philbin coming back to host a 10-year anniversary week and things like Who Wants to Be a Super Millionaire taking place over the last 15 years. You don’t see that too often with TV shows, and especially not game shows. It’s crazy.

So for introducing “Is that your final answer?” into our lexicon and bringing us quality edutainment (at least initially) beginning 15 years ago, we’re throwing it back to Regis, ABC and Millionaire.

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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