Classic “Millionaire” returns to ABC with a solid revival, yet the new host doesn’t fit the bill
By Ethaniel Reyes
21 years after it first premiered on ABC primetime, the classic quiz show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” is back on the network with the popular late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel. The eight-episode long series is airing primetime on the network every Thursday at 8:00pm, bringing back all the original pieces of “Millionaire” from the past — including the question cues, money payouts and lifelines.
The revival invites celebrity contestants such as Eric Stonestreet from “Modern Family”, CNN broadcaster Anderson Cooper and well-known T.V. psychologist Dr. Phil to raise money for charities across the US. The contestants are able to bring “the smartest person they know” on the show, as well as win at least $32,000 just for making an appearance — making it clear that the show is trying to give away as much money to worthy causes as they can.
But how does the show execute itself as a revival of the original? How well does the show recreate the greatest game show in the world to viewers like me who have been die-hard fans for the longest time?
What are the changes?
It’s clear to see the number of changes to the production of the show as we know it today. During an interview featured in the 2020 documentary “Who Wants to be a Millionaire: Secrets and Surprises”, producer Michael Davies stated that “21 years later, we have 21-year-later technology”, listing out examples such as an LED floor, new lighting, and new logos. “This is Classic Millionaire in every way, but we wanted to modernize it,” Mr. Davies stated.
The newer design of the studio is very appealing to me, especially the new beams surrounding the perimeter of the ceiling. Compared to the original version, the added touch in lighting creates a more dramatic atmosphere. The lights even flash in accordance to the music, flashing every time there’s a heartbeat in the music cues. Although this is something minor and something almost unnoticeable, it’s a thoughtful detail and I really appreciate it.
There have also been changes in the format itself: although the show mainly reverts back to its original 1999 gameplay, they have decided to replace the audience lifeline with a new “Ask the Host” feature, wherein the lights shine on Kimmel as he gives his personal opinion on a question.
This lifeline change is certainly necessary, as there is no studio audience due to the current restrictions regarding COVID-19. This is a very interesting change and an adequate compensation in terms of gameplay. The audience lifeline typically only gives a general opinion — much like “Ask The Host”.
In other countries around the world, production has taken place to accommodate for the current circumstances. In the Turkish and Vietnamese versions of the show, they also play without a studio audience. In the case of France’s celebrity version, they even decided to scrap the idea of playing in the studio and take production at their homes. This lasted for three weeks before returning production to an empty studio.
Another gameplay change details that up until the $32,000 question, a celebrity can rely on their “smartest person” — but not for the rest of the game unless they trade a remaining lifeline to use them again. A lot of celebrities take advantage of this trade, sometimes even replacing “Ask The Host” for their “smartest person”.
This seems like a smart choice of gameplay, although the show is presented as if the contestant is completely reliable on their “smartest person”, putting too much emphasis on the fact that the celebrities need training wheels for a general quiz show. It’s embarrassing, to say the least, but at least we now know how dumb celebrities really are.
Jimmy Kimmel misses the mark
In the past, we’ve seen many different hosts take the mantle of the show’s moderator: the iconic Regis Philbin, the long-running Meredith Vieira, the stylish Cedric the Entertainer, the ecstatic Terry Crews and even Mr. Chris “The Bachelor” Harrison.
And now, we add Jimmy Kimmel to that list. Unlike with the original host, there are still a couple things that are lacking with Kimmel’s late-night style of hosting that doesn’t quite fit with the premise of “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire”.
According to Chris Harrison, when interviewed about what it takes to be a host on “Millionaire”, he answered “you have to be a therapist, a referee, a host. You have to do it all.” But when tested on the proverbial hot seat, Kimmel doesn’t fit the bill.
The problem is that he undertakes the game show much like he undertakes his late-night talk show. A lot of the time is spent talking and cracking jokes, to the point where the game doesn’t feel like it’s taken seriously.
For instance, a $2,000 question was asked on last Thursday’s show about giraffes dropping their offspring as they give birth. The rest of the segment was simply Kimmel and contestant Hannibal Buress making jokes and laughing about being “higher than a giraffe”. It felt out-of-place and inappropriate, and it slowed the tempo of the game. As a viewer, this didn’t appeal to me at all.
Some might argue that I’m just a bit too invested in the level of gameplay, and they would be right: I’m a big-time “Millionaire” fan and I have been for the longest time. However, even my 68-year-old grandmother, who has watched the first three episodes with me in a row, argues the same thing and constantly feels the urge to skip every time Kimmel jokes around.
Additionally, Kimmel doesn’t know how to build up suspense. This isn’t to say that he doesn’t try, but as the gameplay progresses and contestants reach six-figure-value questions, Kimmel is a little clueless — especially when the answer is about to be revealed. He doesn’t build up the suspense, he merely says “that is a correct answer”, while giving a smirk. It’s not the worst way of announcing, but it doesn’t compare to Regis’ “You’re right for a half-million dollars!” with the level of ecstasy on his face.
It’s still a pretty significant event
Despite the show’s shortcomings, it is still an amazing television event that has come back in one of America’s trying times. Given what America is going through with the pandemic, it’s important to have a show like this which gives us a bit of humor through the tougher times. The show and it’s original format make good entertainment for the most part, yet things need to be changed about Kimmel’s style of hosting. Overall, the revival is pretty solid and the ratings continue to stay pretty decent for American television today.
Featured Image(at the top of the post): Set of “Millionaire” during syndication. PHOTO CREDIT: Andy Otto, Flickr