Who Wants to Be "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"
In 1999, things were looking bleak for the American Game Show
genre. There were no prime-time network game shows, and the only shows around on the networks and syndication were holdovers from the 1970s and 1980s — The Price Is Right
, Whoopi Goldberg's The Hollywood Squares
revival, the latest (and lamest) Match Game
revival, and evergreens Wheel of Fortune
. Cable games weren't faring much better — most of the networks had either cancelled them (Lifetime
, Fox Family
), were shying away from game shows (Nickelodeon
), or had completely rid themselves of them (USA Network
). Even GSN
was at a low point, with several originals being either cancelled or not very good at all.
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 Filler and/or 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 themselves. 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 will become more suspenseful as contestants reach more substantial dollar figures, ending with a minimal but intense "hearbeat" on the final question. It will also react with the outcome of the game, with triumphant fanfares after big wins, dramatic stings when choices are eliminated, etc.
- 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:
- 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 Millionaire
-inspired. 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.
- 500 Questions: Mark Burnett brings ABC another spiritual successor to Millionaire; one person attempts to answer, well, 500 trivia questions in groups of 50. After 50 questions, money earned is kept and a new set of categories is presented. Normal questions allow 10 seconds to answer with no multiple choice options. A right answer with no incorrect guesses earns $1,000; failure to come up with the answer puts a strike on the board — three strikes and you're out, but the next right answer removes the strikes. Unusually for this format, an opponent stands waiting to take over, playing against the contestant in "Battle" questions and choosing the category when there are two strikes in an attempt to force a third. The Millionaire influence is strongly felt in the set, lighting, and music.
- 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.
- Clueless (Gra w ciemno) created by Polish TV network Polsat (a primary rival of TVN, the channel that bought the licence to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire): The major difference from WWTBAM are sealed envelopes instead of traditional money ladder. Each envelope has a check inside worth an unknown value, raging from 0 to 100,000 (in Polish zlotys). There are also traps like -50% and -100%. If the player got a -100%, they would lose the game and end with 0. If they got -50%, then the player would walk out with half of what they has. The contestant begins game by choosing several numbered envelopes from a board of 50. Next, the host poses 5 multiple choice questions that the contestant tries to answer. For each correct answer, the player gets to keep one envelope but for every incorrect answer, he or she has to destroy the envelope by shredding it in a paper shredder. After the five questions, the host starts offering the player various amounts of money to tempt them to trade their kept envelope(s) for cash. Not knowing how much money is in each envelope makes the decision very difficult and changes the show in a mind game of bidding and bluff between the player and host. The show ran from 2005 to 2007 and became very popular, prompting Polsat to sell the format to other countries, including Spain, Czech Republic, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam. English-language edition is yet to appear.
- While Deal or No Deal subverted many of the Millionaire clones by being a unique (at the time, anyway) 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 the 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: Answer categories of clues correctly to ascend a money ladder, with the added risk of throwing additional prizes off the side of a building.
- 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 studio has become somewhat darker and glitzier in recent years, 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 gives out prizes approaching $1,000,000 or more during special tournaments (such as the Million Dollar Masters, and the Ultimate Tournament of Champions 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.
- Perhaps the earliest clone was an obscure entry for the equally-obscure America One network, The Million Dollar Word Game (premiering in 1999), in which contestants had to clear through 14 rounds of word unscrambling in order to reach a prize board where they could possibly win $1,000,000. However, from a production standpoint, it had a very No Budget look more akin to a public access show than one purporting to give away $1,000,000 (at the start of the circulating episode, the host even announced that they would be increasing the top prize to $5,000,000!), and the host's demanor slowed things down more than anything.
- 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.
- In 2002, The Price Is Right started doing primetime Million Dollar Spectacular episodes as a follow-up to a run of military "Salute" specials that year, which offered a chance for contestants to win $1 million by hitting the dollar on a bonus spin in the Showcase Showdown (as opposed to the $11,000 prize normally given in daytime at the time). It was otherwise the daytime show in primetime, on a redecorated set with a giant, light-up "$1,000,000" sign at the back of the audience), and a larger prize budget than normal; it didn't magically turn into a Millionaire clone ... until they dimmed the lights and played suspenseful music on the bonus spin, that is. A second run of MDS episodes was done with then-new host Drew Carey during the Writers Guild of America strike.
- Pyramid: The 2002-04 version (often referred to as Donnymid, after host Donny Osmond) felt like Sony was trying to replicate Millionaire and fuse it with classic Pyramid (strict judging, purple and black color scheme, dark metallic set, and loud techno theme), just minus a budget. Not helping was that one of the 2000 Osmond pilots was in fact The $1,000,000 Pyramid (for a run on NBC that didn't happen). Pretty much averted by the 2009 $1,000,000 pilots, which were an updated rendition of the 70s/80s Pyramid with a tournament structure for the $1,000,000 like the 80s/90s $100,000 runs. The current $100,000 Pyramid on ABC is more faithful to the classic $25,000 format, except with the payouts upped to $50,000 and $100,000.
- 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 Wall: NBC game that is essentially big-money Plinko with Chris Hardwick; balls are dropped into a giant pachinko board, and whether they add or remove money from a team's bank depends on whether their isolated contestant can answer a multiple-choice question correctly. The player outside must use their intuition, based on seeing just the choices for the next question, to decide where they want to drop their ball from (higher values are pushed to the right side of the board, meaning that you'd likely want to avoid it if you were uncertain that your partner would answer correctly. But of course, we are dealing with physics here), and on later questions, whether they want to drop two or three. Due to the mechanics of the game, your bank could fluctuate wildly between over $2,000,000 (the last round features a $1,000,000 space!), or down to nearly nothing because your balls turned into a Whammy (likely cause they landed into said space). Plus at the end of the game, much like the aforementioned Set for Life, your partner (who is not told anything about how you are doing) could accidentally deny you your winnings by taking a Consolation Prize buy-out, or by not taking the buy-out and unknowingly leaving with little or nothing. As usual for an NBC game show, its loaded with padding and melodrama too; you could make a drinking game out of how many times the show and its promotions mention "life-changing money". The set, while dark and glitzy, does admittedly have Scenery Porn in the form of the Wall itself.
- The Weakest Link: The influence is present in its overall look and feel, with a foreboding atmosphere and music, and Anne Robinson, who hosted with a snarky demeanor. However, the game itself subverts it by being a team-based game built around timed rounds of trivia followed by democratic elimination, and not necessarily having a large cash prize (though the U.S. primetime version ramped up the theoretical top prize to $1 million).
- Wheel of Fortune:
- The American version has been showing signs of this ever since Millionaire has been introduced to the United States. At first, Wheel mainly borrowed the usage of darker sets and heartbeat soundtrack additions to the Speed-Up and the Bonus Round. Later on, the Mystery Round was introduced with the show revealing the backs of the wedges whenever they are hit shortly afterward. Then, the Million-Dollar Wedge was introduced for Season 26 with the prize available in the Bonus Round if the contestant wins possessing said wedge. After the $1,000,000 was won within a month of its introduction, the show made the prize harder to win by making the second Bankrupt present throughout the whole game. Plenty of trailers have suggested that somebody could win the top prize even if the wedge is merely picked up.
- 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.
- 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 trivia battles. Most of the hallmarks are there, plus it also ripped off the "shuffle" format the syndicated version of Millionaire had recently begun using; each contestant is worth a random value between $1,000 and $20,000, and the final three contestants are worth $250,000, $500,000, and $1,000,000. Eventually got destroyed by The Voice and cancelled.
- Pak De Poen De Show Van 1 Miljoen is a subversion. It was a Belgian game show financed by the national lottery that included a top price of 1 million BF that in its first round looks more like a contest. However the final round, where the only still standing contestant is trying to get his price of 1 million BF, is straight-up this, as the contestant gets a lifeline (in the form of switching one question for another) to answer 10 questions and he would win 100000$ per correct question, but if he fails to answer a question correctly he would only gain the money that he had won with previous ones. The 100 questions were also arranged in separate packages of 10. It's a subversion because the show was made in 1987, 10 years before Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? debuted.
- The $1,000,000 Chance of a Lifetime both subverted it (as it was aired in the 1986-87 season) and played it straight; you had the dramatic fanfares, the massive confetti drops, the family in the audience. But there weren't any Lifelines, and no money ladder; rather, champions had to be on for three days and play the bonus round on their third day to get the million- which wasn't even a lump sum but rather an annuity and, for the second season, an annuity worth $900,000 in total plus $100,000 in various prizes, including two cars. Indeed, it was more of a normal game show which just happened to have a really big set and top prize (apparently it started as a 1979 pilot called The Letter Machine, while the British version dumped the big money gimmick into a rubbish bin and called it All Clued Up).