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 new (and lamest) Match Game revival, and evergreens Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!. 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, and having just come out of their "Dark Period" where they lost the rights to almost every Goodson-Todman show.
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.
The oversaturation of Millionaire-styled game show clones has largely withered away as of The New '10s, as contemporary game shows since that point have largely reverted to more conventional formats.
Shows that attempt to mirror Millionaire commonly have the following features:
- 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:
- 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.
Don't add examples to this page unless they clearly were influenced by WWTBAM. 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.
- Child Support: A contestant answers trivia questions in a "money ladder" fashion, with the top prize being $200,000. If they get a question incorrect, the lifelines come in the form of children being asked the same question in a different room, and should they get the question right, the contestant is "saved", but does not go up the money ladder and the top prize is now one tier lower. If neither gets it right, the contestant walks away with nothing; there are a few "milestones" where the contestant has the option to stop and go home with what they have. The overall feel of the show — dark lighting, dramatic music, dramatic pauses, and the basic format give one a whole lot of "Millionaire" vibes.
- 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.
- Dont 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.
- Million Dollar Mind Game: An American version of the Russian series What? Where? When?, where six contestants work as a team to answer increasingly complex questions, often involving logic puzzles and visual components, with each player taking a turn as team captain., 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 version was structured as a Panel Game (played between a group of experts, and the viewers who submit questions), and had neither lifelines or a money tree (it did have 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 a million dollars 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). Besides this, a noticeably higher prize budget for the pricing games and Showcases, and a redecorated set (with more lighting effects and a giant, light-up "$1,000,000" sign at the back of the audience), it was otherwise business as usual and 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. While they have not been held again since, the daytime show has since done theme weeks featuring games played for large amounts of money or expensive automobiles (though in most cases, these prizes are assigned to games known for their difficulty, such as Plinko and 3 Strikes).
- 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 an updated rendition of 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: A pachinko-based quiz for NBC hosted by Chris Hardwick; a player in isolation must answer multiple-choice questions, and a player outside must choose where they want to drop one or more balls from on the board — which land into slots with different dollar amounts — based only on seeing the options for the next question. Correct answers add money to the team's bank, but wrong answers deduct; hence, where you play the balls depends on your confidence in whether your partner can answer correctly (higher values are pushed towards the right of the board). The bank can 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 (often by landing into said space). Plus, there is a mechanic similar to the aforementioned "Guardian Angel" on Set for Life: the partner is not given any information on the team's progress, but has to choose between taking whatever the outside contestant won (which could easily be nothing in some cases) or a Consolation Prize buy-out based on the number of questions they answered correctly. As usual for an NBC game show, its loaded with padding and melodrama, especially during the aforementioned endgame; you could make a drinking game out of how many times the show and its promos mention things like "life-changing money". The set, while dark and glitzy, does admittedly have Scenery Porn in the form of the Wall itself.
- Another show that followed in Millionaire's footsteps was the Arabian game show Waznak Dahab, which was broadcast by Abu Dhabi TV between 2002 and 2003. Contestants faced 18 general knowledge questions with three possible answers, each worth a specific value of gold (from 100 grams to at least 50 kilograms of gold). Unlike Millionaire, however, contestants were not allowed to walk away on any questions and there were no predefined "safety nets"; they had to use "gold cards" (which were earned via a preliminary round consisting of 5 true-or-false questions) in order to exchange a question for a new one or set the value of the current question as a "safety net". The concept of setting the value of a question as a "safety net" was later adopted by UK version of Millionaire when it was revived in May 2018.
- 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.
- You Deserve It: An interesting game for ABC weighed down by its melodrama. The contestant is given a vague clue towards a subject; if they answer correctly, they win the round's pot (the game is played in five rounds, $10,000-$25,000-$50,000-$100,000-$250,000). They can receive up to nine more clues, but each one requires the player to select a Mystery Box that deducts a share from the round's pot. The game was very drawn out, plus the contestant is not playing for themselves, but for a beneficiary who gets "surprised" by Brooke Burns on-location to be told that someone had won (hopefully) a decent amount of money just for them, in a scene of melodrama rivalling Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
- 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 $100,000 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. The British version, All Clued Up, similarly went in a low-stakes direction).
- A discussion of overdramatic, big money quiz shows is not complete without the Ur-Example from CBS, The $64,000 Question. Based on Take It or Leave It — a popular radio quiz from the 1940s, the show offered the chance for contestants to win up to $64,000 by answering questions regarding a single specialized subject. The contestant's money doubled with each correct answer, starting with $64 (the original top prize of the radio version), up towards $512, then to $1,000 and beyond. Beginning at $4,000, contestants only played one level per-episode, and at $8,000, the contestant answered questions from a Sound Proof Booth. The questions also got more demanding too, often requiring multiple answers. The show made a huge deal out of all of these aforementioned features, as well as having security guards on set and an IBM sorting machine for "randomizing" the questions, to play up the drama. The series was a massive hit, to the point that its big winners became instant celebrities, Question overtook I Love Lucy as the #1 show of the 195556 season, and other big-money game shows of the era, such as 21, took numerous stylistic cues from Question. It also had a competitive spin-off series, The $64,000 Challenge.
- There was one other feature that Question and several other game shows of the era shared: dishonesty. At the time, sponsors held a high degree of influence over the production of television programs, and it was in their best interests to keep viewer interest (and in turn, ratings) high. It was common for shows to play up contestants with personalities and stories that would be memorable to the audience, so that viewers would be encouraged to continue following their journey every week. Revlon CEO Charles Revson frequently meddled against contestants he didn't like, such as Joyce Brothers — who was forced into having boxing be her category. However, she beat the producers at their own game by studying the subject extensively, and became the only woman to win the $64,000 grand prize. Oh, and that IBM sorting machine? It was just a prop.
- However, several other shows went the extra mile and outright rigged games; after its sponsor was unimpressed by how the contestants performed in early episodes, Twenty-One became outright scripted — with contestants being told to answer certain questions in specific ways, to win or lose specific matches, and coached on how to portray themselves on-air. The most infamous example was that of Herb Stempel, who was portrayed as a scrawny underdog and spent six weeks as champion. That is, until ratings were falling and they decided to bring in a new champion they thought viewers would like better: university professor Charles Van Doren — who became a celebrity after "winning" $129,000 on the show.
- Stempel attempted to expose the fraud, but it wasn't until a Smoking Gun exposing internal coaching on another quiz show, Dotto, that he was taken seriously. The scandal was a Genre-Killer for the big-money game show, with networks preferring more low-stakes games and more control over productions; it took until the 1970's for shows such as The $10,000 Pyramid to break the five-figure barrier again, while the 1986 The $1,000,000 Chance of a Lifetime was the first to break the seven-figure barrier as an annuity (but as mentioned, besides the bonus round, it was otherwise a typical game show of the era). In the 1990's, an ABC executive was actively considering reviving Question, until he caught wind of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?, and decided to pursue a U.S. version of that instead. CBS filmed a pilot for a revival in 2000 to capitalize on Millionaire (with a top prize of $1,028,000), but it didn't make it to air (and as mentioned, the network ultimately decided to order a big-money version of Winning Lines — another show from the producers of Millionaire).
Some notable parodies of Milliomaire's tropes include
- The Amanda Show parodied Millionaire with So You Wanna Win Five Dollars, where the host would grow increasingly infuriated with the contestants' antics.
- Win Ben Stein's Money lampooned the Millionaire motif in one episode with dramatic (and increasingly unnecessary) music and silly lifelines, though the episode's top prize didn't exceed WBSM's standard $5,000 pot.
Jimmy Kimmel: If you are too stupid to answer the questions in this round, we've got three ways to help you cheat. Number one, you can dial 1-900-ASS-PARTY; they may not have the answers, but it is a lot of fun. Number two, you can poll our audience, but they're really only good if it's a drug question. And, number three, you can ask me, but that's not usually much help either.
- The short-lived game show based on the comedic quiz video game franchise You Don't Know Jack (which aired on ABC, no less) lampooned Millionaire with a "$2,000,000 Question" round. That is, the value of the question would start at $2 million and drained away over time until someone answered it. However, no one got the memo that maybe the clock shouldn't start until the host finishes reading the question — so they proceeded to deliberately pad out as much as possible with various gags and distractions to the host. By the time the host actually finished reading the question, it was only worth around $200 or less.