Who Wants To Be Who Wants To Be A Millionaire
In 1999, things were looking bleak for the American TV Game Show
genre. There were no prime-time network game shows, and the only shows around were holdovers from the 1970s and 1980s — The Price Is Right
, Whoopi Goldberg's Hollywood Squares
revival, the latest (and lamest) Match Game
revival, and evergreens Wheel of Fortune
Then ABC decided to try out an American version of a British show called Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
, and quicker than you could say "A Mark Goodson
/Bill Todman Production", a new era in the old format was born.
Of course, when a show is successful, everybody else wants to Follow the Leader
. Many games, specifically in primetime, shamelessly borrowed many of the elements that made Millionaire
so unique and successful.
Shows that attempt to mirror Millionaire commonly have the following features:
Don't add examples to this page unless they clearly were influenced by WWTBAM.
- A large top prize, usually $1,000,000. This value can suffer a substantial demotion if the show doesn't do well enough in primetime and is reduced to a shortened daytime syndicated version.
- A single contestant or team competing against "the house", as opposed to multiple contestants competing against each other.
- A "money ladder" or "money tree", in which each right answer moves you up to a higher amount.
- Multiple-choice questions that tend to get more obscure and trivial as you progress, practically making the advertised jackpot Unwinnable by Design unless you happened to be an expert on the final question. Sometimes the show will water down the questions specifically when the producers recognize a drought in grand prize winners (or when the show is starting to flag in ratings and/or quality).
- Losing all of your money if you answer wrong, unless certain levels of the money ladder are "safe havens" where you're guaranteed to win at least that amount.
- An hour-long primetime format (half-hour format if the primetime version fails and the show is scaled down to daytime syndication), although actual gameplay might be less than three minutes, which leads to...
- Gratuitous Padding, such as pauses before the reveal of the answers (sometimes spilling over into commercial breaks). Sometimes coupled with running out of time and having to wait till the next episode to see the exciting conclusion. And of course, the mandatory segment where the contestant tells the audience and host a little about themself. Which can result in:
- Camera shots of friends, family members, or relatives of the contestants sitting in the audience (or meaningful photos on hand if the people in question could not be there for the taping) being sprinkled in intermittently during the episodes as a sympathetic-empathetic appeal to the at-home audience.
- Dark theater-in-the-round sets adorned with complex lighting setups. The lights may grow progressive darker as the stakes get higher until they finally all go out.
- Foreboding music, oftentimes involving a Heartbeat Soundtrack. The music may swell and escalate as contestants reach more substantial dollar figures, beginning with a fast-paced excited music tractk variant to ease into the first round, then transitioning to a slow but somewhat suspenseful theme in the middle rounds to show the contestant is now settle in. The more easygoing music may make up for its soothing qualities by rising in octave with each new question. And when the really significant rounds are reached, it becomes very tense and just plain ominous. It may even counteractively psych out the contestants. Then, on the final question, it may go quieter and play a minimal tune of especially intense musical echoes and heartbeats.
- Also, music that reacts with the nature of how the games play out, sounding triumphant when a big achievement is made, very disheartening when a contestant loses, or just aesthetic music which adds weight to gameplay actions (like dramatic stings when answers disappearing after being eliminated).
- Giving away the outcomes of upcoming games, in the hope that it'll entice people to watch.
- Occasional special episodes, such as ones with guest stars playing for charity, ones where the grand prize value is hiked, or ones where something is done to sweeten the jackpot, such as the possibility of winning a new car.
- Unique tournament-themed episodes where people compete against one another for a shot at the grand prize in a bracket.
- Qualifying rounds that decide who will play for the jackpot out of a random selection of contestants.
- Benchmark values/"safety nets" that act as a tantalizing Opt Out and are used to dissuade contestants from reaching the top value. The contestants are given the option to walk away with what they've won in between these benchmarks, usually starting off with small guaranteed amounts to ensure contestants don't walk away with nothing, but then escalating to potentially life-changing amounts (such as enough to pay off tuition or mortgage that will almost certainly cause contestants who have their family's welfare in mind foremost to walk away on the dot) with more unforgiving drops from accumulated winnings to the last benchmark if the contestant screws up. Conversely, the benchmarks can propel a contestant forward when they have nothing to lose.
- Let's Just See What WOULD Have Happened: If a contestant does opt out because they fear they can't answer right, they're probed for the answer they would have said anyway. If it's a wrong answer, then it's a sigh of relief for the contestant, knowing they quit at just the right time. If it's a right answer, however, then it is an utterly ruthless moment of Yank the Dog's Chain.
- Showing the contestant and everyone else watching actual, bankable checks written for the money won so far in the game to prove that the game isn't staged. Which can lead to:
- A commemorative over-sized check being presented to the contestant if they win the grand prize.
- Obscene amounts of confetti being dumped from the rafters when the contestants actually do win the grand prize (not shown: the janitors demanding a pay raise during the cleanup after the show's over)
- Dramatic ticking if a clock format is used in some way. Expect the ticking to sound even more pressuring near the last seconds of the countdown.
The mere presence of Lifelines
or a $1,000,000+ prize does not automatically mean it's a Millionaire
clone. Premiering after Millionaire
doesn't instantly make it comparable to the show. We're looking for shows that tried to emulate the whole package — game format, presentation, etc.
Shows that tried to follow in Regis Philbin's footsteps:
- 1 vs. 100: From the creators of Deal, a multiple-choice quiz against a "mob" of 100 contestants for a $1,000,000 prize. In the NBC version, the resemblance was only made stronger in season 2 with the addition of a money ladder, plus its original question writing style was thrown right out the window in favor of the same style of writing from Millionaire.
- Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?: A million-dollar quiz where a single player answers up to 11 questions from grade school textbooks, using Lifelines known as "Cheats" to gain answers from an appropriately aged classmate.
- Deal or No Deal: While subverting many of the Millionaire clones by being a unique (well, at the time) game based more on luck and intuition instead of knowledge, it still managed to hit all of the non-quiz features (i.e. single player, big money, padding, dark and glitzy set, the soundtrack, etc.). Deal ended up being so popular that it, and a Writers Guild of America strike, triggered a second renaissance of primetime game shows, many of which ended up meeting this trope.
- Don't Forget The Lyrics: A carbon copy of Fifth Grader, using song lyrics as opposed to academia.
- Duel: Millionaire meets World Series Of Poker. Players compete for a growing jackpot by defeating opponents in a multiple-choice quiz. The second season enhanced the comparison even further by awarding the jackpot to winners of five consecutive matches. Defeated champs who had won at least three matches had their winnings cut in half; otherwise, it was All or Nothing.
- Downfall: Million-Dollar Joker's Wild 1990 (identify the subject of these sets of definitions) with a money ladder and the added risk of throwing additional prizes off the side of a building. No giant slot machine either.
- Greed: One of the first (and most blatant) imitations, with a team-based format and increasingly complex multi-answer questions. FOX ads gleefully bragged that contestants could win two million dollars on its show. The main original additions were "The Terminator", which momentarily had two players against each other instead of the house, and a system for the last four questions out of eight where teams had to select the correct four answers out of a selection of six, then seven, then eight, then nine, which is as difficult as it sounds.
- It's Your Chance of a Lifetime: The only differences between this show and its forefather were: an opening question to pay off a credit card bill, only nine questions in your stack instead of 15, and wagering on each question to determine its value. Aside from that, probably the closest imitator of the bunch.
- Jeopardy averts this trope. Although the Trebek version uses complex lighting and it is possible to lose a lot of money, the show debuted long before Millionaire. Aside from those occasions when someone manages to be returning champion for 74 games straight, the show only really gives out prizes approaching $1,000,000 or more during special tournaments (such as the Million Dollar Masters and the Ultimate Tournament of Champions, itself held in the wake of Ken Jennings' success). Also, Jeopardy has far less Padding, usually cramming all 61 questions into a half-hour slot.
- Million Dollar Mind Game: An American version of the Russian Panel Game What When Where, six contestants work as a team to answer increasingly complex questions with each player taking a turn as team captain. The main difference from other shows on here is that visual aids are used for many of the questions, up to three incorrect answers are allowed and the contestants vote on whether they want to keep playing the game or walk away after each question. It's worth noting that the original Russian game have neither lifelines nor money tree. It has a lot of padding though.
- Million Dollar Money Drop: Inverts the trope by giving the team the million dollars right at the start, but forcing them to keep it by placing the money on answers to multiple-choice questions, and losing money placed on wrong answers.
- Minute to Win It: Millionaire money ladder meets Beat the Clock-type stunt show, with bonus heavily caffeinated Guy Fieri. Early episodes played it straight, but later episodes loosened up the feel of the show, and even added lifelines.
- Paranoia: A single studio contestant tries to win money while three other contestants playing via satellite and scores of online players tried to siphon the money away.
- Million-Dollar Password: Tried to slap a money ladder onto the classic Password game while overhauling the front end to be rapid-fire. Was hosted by original Millionaire host Regis Philbin.
- Power Of 10: Players answered survey questions to win up to ten million dollars.
- At the time, CBS also began to air The Price Is Right Million Dollar Spectacular specials, primetime episodes with a bonus prize of $1 million (initially by hitting the dollar on a Showcase Showdown bonus spin, but later by fulfilling a certain condition in a specified game). However, they subverted being Millionaire clones by maintaining Price's status quo, format and style-wise; pretty much the only major differences were that the set was glitzed up a bit, and the prize budget was noticeably higher.
- Show Me The Money; a show for ABC from the creators of Deal or No Deal and hosted by William Shatner of all people, which had contestants answer open-ended questions to potentially win just over $1,000,000 (up to $1,150,000 to be exact, although the odds of this were 1 in 924, and that's assuming no mistakes are made). Instead of lifelines, the contestant was given common themes with three possible questions, and could switch to another question but was not allowed to return to a previous one. 12 cash amounts and one "killer card" were hidden in scrolls randomly distributed among 13 "dancers". The contestant won money on correct answers but lost money on wrong answers, possibly resulting in a negative score. If the killer card was picked, the contestant had to answer a single question correctly to continue, otherwise the game was over and the contestant left with nothing. It was also possible for the game to end immediately if it was impossible for the contestant to finish with a positive score.
- 21: The 2000 revival of the rigged quiz had a cumulative money ladder that ultimately awarded a million dollars for a player's seventh consecutive win, and a Lifeline in the form of a family member being brought on stage to help on one question. All of the questions were multiple choice (although for the most difficult questions, players would have to pick two correct answers out of five choices).
- The Weakest Link: The American version had the usual "money ladder" format with only minor changes from the original version of the show.
- Wheel of Fortune has been showing signs of this:
- At least a few international versions (including France, New Zealand, and Poland) used complex lighting setups in their 2000s revivals, whereas their original versions did not. These versions also used heartbeat soundtracks.
- Australia's 2008 revival not only saw a set and soundtrack change, but a $1,000,000 top prize was added.
- After the Million-Dollar Wedge was introduced in the United States for Season 26, plenty of trailers would suggest somebody could win the top prize.
- Winning Lines: Originally produced by the same people behind Millionaire, its U.S. version for CBS was adjusted to compete against it. The relatively minor changes included the addition of a $1,000,000 top prize to its Bonus Round, along with additional Lifelines and a way to lose.
- Who's Still Standing?: In the U.S. version of the Israeli show, there's one main challenger who challenges a circle of other contestants in duels over trivia. Most of the hallmarks are there; even better, the show managed to stay up to date and rips off the new "shuffle" format the syndicated version of Millionaire had started using; each contestant is worth between $1,000 and $20,000, and the final three contestants are worth $250,000, $500,000, and $1,000,000. Eventually got destroyed by The Voice and cancelled.