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Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is a television game show.

When it first aired in the mid-1990s, it was a surprising twist on the genre. Only one contestant plays at a time (similar to some radio quizzes); and the emphasis is on suspense rather than speed. There is no time limit to answer questions, and contestants are given the question before they must decide whether to attempt an answer.

It originated in the United Kingdom, where it is hosted by Chris Tarrant, and the following description is of the British version of the show. For differences in other countries, see the end of the article.

At the beginning of each show, the host introduces a set of ten potential contestants, giving their names and where they are from. The potential contestants have to undergo a preliminary round, called "Fastest Finger First", where they are all asked to put four answers in a particular order. The contestant who does this correctly and in the fastest time goes on to sit in the chair and play for a possible £1,000,000.

The contestant is asked increasingly difficult general knowledge questions by the host. To each question, they can choose from four multiple choice answers. Answering the first question correctly wins the contestant a small monetary prize, and the subsequent questions are played for increasingly large sums. If the contestant answers incorrectly they lose all the money they have won. However, the £1,000 and £32,000 prizes are guaranteed: if a player gets a question wrong above these levels then they drop down only to the previous guaranteed prize.

The sequence of prizes is as follows: £100, £200, £300, £500, £1,000, £2,000, £4,000, £8,000, £16,000, £32,000, £64,000, £125,000, £250,000, £500,000, £1,000,000.

The game ends after the contestant answers a question incorrectly or decides not to answer the question, or when they have answered all fifteen questions correctly, at which point they win the top prize of £1,000,000.

If at any point the contestant is unsure of the answer to a question, they can use one of their three "lifelines": they can "phone a friend" (being given 30 seconds to talk to their chosen friend, who must be taken from a list nominated by the contestant beforehand), "ask the audience" (getting a bar chart of the audience's answers), or go for a "50:50" (when the computer will randomly remove two incorrect answers and leave the right answer and one wrong answer). Each of these lifelines can be used only once.

Variants on the format have been tried, such as celebrities playing for charity and couples games (where both partners must agree on the answer). Tarrant's catchphrases on the show include "Is that your final answer?".

The Major Charles Ingram Affair In an episode of the British show recorded on September 10, 2001, Major Charles Ingram won the £1,000,000 prize. During the recording it was noticed that a suspicious pattern of coughing could be heard. The Major's unusual behaviour in the "hot seat" also drew attention. When subsequently analysed it became apparent that another contestant, Tecwen Whittock, seated in "contestant row" was offering Major Ingram prompts in the form of coughs, indicating the correct answers. On many of the questions Major Ingram read aloud all of the four answers, until a cough was heard, before choosing his answer. In some cases he even dismissed an answer, read aloud the answers again, and picked an answer he had earlier dismissed.

Further investigation revealed that the Major's wife Diana (who had won £32,000 on a previous show, as had his brother-in-law) had organised the scam. A number of pagers had been purchased and telephone records revealed what appeared to be a practice session for another plan to cheat the system that was not subsequently carried out. The plan was for the Major to secrete four pagers about his body that would vibrate when an accomplice called the pager indicating the correct answer. Following a trial at Southwark Crown Court[?] lasting a month, Major Ingram, his wife Diana and Tecwen Whittock were convicted of "procuring the execution of a valuable security by deception" on 7 April 2003. Ingram and his wife were each given suspended 18-month prison sentences and fined £15,000, while Whittock received a 12-month suspended sentence and was fined £10,000. Together with legal costs, it is estimated that the Ingrams will have to pay £50,000 in total.

Despite the conviction, the Ingrams and Tecwen Whittock continue to deny that they colluded or acted dishonestly. They plan to appeal the court ruling. In an ITV1 documentary entitled "Millionaire: a Major Fraud" and presented by Martin Bashir, broadcast in Britain on 21 April 2003 excerpts from the recording were broadcast with enhanced audio highlighting the coughs emanating from Tecwen Whittock. Immediately afterwards the full programme in its original format was broadcast on ITV2[?]. The documentary included additional video recorded during the programme of Mrs Ingram sitting in the audience and apparently prompting the Major with her own coughing and making glances in the direction of Mr Whittock. The documentary also contained interviews with production staff and other contestants present at the recording of the original programme describing how they felt that something unusual had been happening. Major Ingram described the documentary as "one of the greatest TV editing con tricks in history". Celador the quiz show's producers have suggested that they might turn the affair in to a "blockbuster movie".

Foreign Variants

Although it originated in the United Kingdom, the format of show has subsequently been exported to many countries around the world. As of early 2003 the producers' website lists the following territories as having licenced the show: Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, the Caribbean, Chile, China, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, the Middle East, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Poland. Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia and Montenegro, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, the Philippines, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, United States, Vatican City, Venezuela, and Vietnam.

Here are some details of the differences in some of those countries:-

  • Australia: The local version is hosted by Eddie McGuire. It is virtually identical in format to the British original. Several big wins (though not the actual million dollars) to "professional" game show contestants who spent thousands of dollars ringing the competition line to get on the show has led to a changing of the rules regarding appearances - only one phone call per person per week is now permitted.
  • Austria: In Austria the show is called Die Millionenshow. The Austrian state TV (ORF[?]) uses the same Cologne studio as the Germans, which may cause problems for candidates who would like to "ask the audience" if the question happens to be about Austrian trivia. The current host, Armin Assinger[?], used to be a skier with the Austrian national team. Assinger has been criticized by some for his broad Carinthian accent.
  • Canada: Canada's CTV network rebroadcasted the United States version for most of its run, but in 2000 it aired two specials entitled Who Wants to Be A Millionaire: Canadian Edition. Hosted by Pamela Wallin[?], the show was taped on the ABC set in New York. A Canadian audience was flown to the city for help when a contestant needed to ask the audience on a Canadian-themed question.
  • France: Here the show is called Qui veut gagner des millions? (Who wants to win millions?). It is hosted by Jean-Pierrre Foucault[?] and aired by the commercial TV station TF1[?].
  • Germany: The show, called Wer wird Millionär? (Who becomes a millionaire?), is aired by the commercial TV station RTL and presented by Günther Jauch[?]. It is produced in Cologne. After introduction of the Euro, the prize sequence was changed to start at €50 while the 250,000 step was dropped, thus there is a quadrupling from the 13th (€125,000) to 14th, second-last step (€500,000).
  • Italy: The show originally started as "Chi vuol esser miliardario" (Who wants to be a billionaire), due to the high dollar-lira conversion rate (about 1:2000). With the Euro taking over, the show has been renamed "Chi vuol esser milionario" (an exact translation of the English one). Rules are virtually identical to the original format. The show is aired on Canale 5[?], a commercial TV station, and soon after a very similar show, with slightly changed rules, started on the state-run Rai 1[?] TV station.
  • India: In India, the show is called Kaun Banega Crorepati, which literally means "Who wants to be a multi-millionaire?". It is produced by Star TV and is hosted by Indian movie superstar Amitabh Bachchan. It is considered to be one of the most successful shows on Indian TV and is watched around the world by Indian diaspora as well as by people from Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, Mauritius, Fiji, East Africa, etc. After the first episode had been broadcast, Star TV received 20 million phone calls from fans across the world.
  • Ireland: Originally, the top prize was one million Irish Pounds (1.27 million euro). However, with the change of currency at the start of 2002, it was reduced to 1 million euro.
  • Poland - here the show is called Milionerzy (Millionaires) and is aired on the TVN TV station. The host of the show is Hubert Urbański.
  • Japan: Produced by Fuji TV, this version of the show is commonly known simply as Millionaire, not overly distorted by Japanese phonetics. The rules are the same as the original. Prize levels are denominated in Yen as follows: ¥10,000, ¥20,000, ¥30,000, ¥50,000, ¥100,000, ¥150,000, ¥250,000, ¥500,000, ¥750,000, ¥1,000,000, ¥1,500,000, ¥2,500,000, ¥5,000,000, ¥10,000,000.
  • Slovenia: Here the show is called Lepo je biti milijonar (It is good to be a Millionaire). It is broadcasted by the commercial TV station POP TV and hosted by Boštjan Romih. Prizes are in tolars (SIT): 10,000 SIT, 20,000 SIT, 30,000 SIT, 40,000 SIT, 50,000 SIT, 100,000 SIT, 175,000 SIT, 250,000 SIT, 500,000 SIT, 1,000,000 SIT, 1,500,000 SIT, 2,000,000 SIT, 2,500,000 SIT, 5,000,000 SIT, 10,000,000 SIT.
  • The Netherlands: Here the game is called Weekend Millionairs, and is hosted by Robert ten Brink[?].
  • The United States: Here the show is hosted by Regis Philbin. It aired in prime time four nights a week on ABC. Since the fall of 2002, the show has gone into syndication, with Meredith Vieira[?] as the host.

It is interesting to note that because of the relative value of the pound compared to other currencies, the British show offers the largest prize money.

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