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Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (1998-)

Main image of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (1998-)
Celador for ITV, tx. 4/9/1998 - present
30 min editions (60 mins from 2000), colour
Created byDavid Briggs
Production CompaniesCelador Productions, Carlton Television
ProducersDavid Briggs
 Guy Freeman
 Colman Hutchinson

Presenter: Chris Tarrant

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Contestants compete for TV's biggest cash prize, with a little help from their three 'lifelines'.

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After languishing in development for over two years, the project originally entitled Cash Mountain was launched as Who Wants to be a Millionaire? in September 1998. The programme was the subject of speculation in the press even before it aired due to the enormity of its potential prize. Broadcasting regulations had restricted prizes until 1990, but prior to Millionaire the largest amount on offer was £100,000, on the BBC's National Lottery Big Ticket Show. As a post-Lottery quiz, Millionaire capitalised on the nation's thirst for big winnings. The format made the task of winning a million pounds appear relatively simple, but with genial host Chris Tarrant questioning their confidence and large sums of money at stake, many contestants were happy to settle for much less.

Contestants answer multiple-choice questions, each time doubling their winnings until they reach the million pound jackpot. This aspect of the format led to comparisons with US game show The $64,000 Question. With close-ups emphasising the contestant's personal dilemma at each stage and theatrical music and lighting, Millionaire turned the quiz show into high drama. Tarrant, though always sympathetic to the contestants, boosts the tension with his catchphrase, "Is that your final answer?", and excruciatingly long pauses before revealing the answer.

With a rolling format in which a contestant's game may be played over two programmes, Millionaire had found a surefire way to keep audiences coming back. In an innovative scheduling move, episodes were shown on consecutive nights, and the programme was a huge ratings hit. Millionaire also developed audience interactivity as a key source of revenue thanks to a premium rate phone line for would-be participants. As millions tuned in series after series, their patience was finally rewarded in November 2000 when Judith Keppel correctly answered all 15 questions and became the show's first millionaire.

In 2001 the show was embroiled in scandal when contestant Major Charles Ingram was accused of cheating by having accomplices in the studio audience cough to guide him to the correct answers. Ingram, his wife and a friend were subsequently convicted on conspiracy and deception charges

Variations included editions with couples and celebrity versions in which the winnings were donated to charity. Though the format and scheduling have been modified over the years, Millionaire remains a stalwart of ITV programming and the most successful television format of all time, having sold to over a hundred countries.

Lisa Kerrigan

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