ABC’s decision to use a retooled British quiz show as a limited-run series for sweeps has brought results that are far beyond what the network ever imagined. The low-budget Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, hosted by Regis Philbin, seems to have struck a nerve with the American public, propelling ABC to first-place in the November TV network sweeps.
ABC’s decision to use a retooled British quiz show as a limited-run
series for sweeps has brought results that are far beyond what the
network ever imagined. The low-budget Who Wants To Be a Millionaire,
hosted by Regis Philbin, seems to have struck a nerve with the American
public, propelling ABC to first-place in the November TV network
CARMA reviewed coverage of Millionaire and found that not only is the
show popular, it is being hailed as one of the biggest success stories
in television history. ABC executives appeared giddy at the overwhelming
success of their quiz show. ABC Entertainment co-chairman Stu Bloomberg
proudly referred to the program as ’a cultural phenomenon’ and stated
the show was ’undeniably the force that turbo-charged our (November)
sweeps performance’ (Dallas Morning News, December 1).
And it was not just ABC executives who were lavishing praise upon the
show. The media found no shortage of superlatives to describe the
program’s ratings success. The Los Angeles Times (November 28) declared
it ’the most popular quiz show in recent memory’ while the Atlanta
Journal-Constitution (December 2) declared it to be ’one of the most
astounding ratings phenomena in TV history.’ NBC and CBS also applauded
ABC’s sweeps victory, its first in five years.
While the media readily acknowledged the blockbuster success of
Millionaire, they also reported that ratings for ABC’s other programs
were not benefiting from any ’spillover effect.’ The Wall Street Journal
(November 26) quoted an industry analyst as saying, ’It hasn’t had any
spillover effect. People tune in for Millionaire and then tune out.’
Other reports noted that the game show had almost single-handedly
propelled ABC to win the sweeps.
Coverage frequently focused on plans by ABC’s competitors to jump on the
bandwagon of game show mania. Many reports noted that Fox already has
Greed on the air, while both NBC and CBS will air quiz shows soon.
Newsday (December 2) described CBS president Les Moonves’ motives as
’surprisingly candid’ when he announced, ’I wouldn’t be putting game
shows on my schedule if it wasn’t for Millionaire, and anyone who isn’t
admitting to being a copycat is a liar.’
The media portrayed talk about ABC’s decision to make the program a
thrice-weekly prime-time series as partly in response to public demand,
and partly to maintain its outstanding ratings. Its competitors
reportedly hope to either ride the game show euphoria with their own
programs or dilute the demand for Millionaire by airing a multitude of
Only a limited amount of backlash against Millionaire appeared in the
media, with the most frequent criticisms being that some of the show’s
questions are too easy, almost to the point of being an insult to the
contestants. The New York Daily News (November 30) wrote, ’You’d almost
have to be unconscious and bleeding from a fresh gunshot wound to not
walk away with at least dollars 32,000.’
ABC is poised to reap tremendous rewards in the short term, but no one
seems to have the answer to how long such programs will be in style.
- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be
found at www.carma.com.