The wonderful return of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’

Picture credit: © Stellify Media/ITV

I’ve had a major obsession with ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ since growing up.

It’s the television show that’s truly captured my imagination. It’s still my favourite television programme. The drama, format, lights, music and tension – all combined to create what has been the most successful quiz show phenomenon of all time. The show, first aired in the UK back in 1998, pulled in millions and millions of viewers in it’s early days and created such a buzz that no other game or quiz show has matched before, then or since. Quite simply, it’s the greatest quiz show of all time and nothing will probably truly better it.

It’s return to UK television on ITV/STV/UTV last year was very welcome and the series last week is heavily appreciated. It’s been well received and the show making a return within the last few months has made sense for three key reasons.

Firstly, it’s a format which is so simple and understandable – get all 15 questions correct and you become a millionaire (even £1m is a fortune, two decades on). Secondly, it’s still great light entertainment. And thirdly, given the fact the show started here in the UK, it’s a bit odd it wasn’t on air in the very country it started in whilst it was being broadcast in other countries worldwide.

Last week, Jeremy Clarkson’s second ever series of the hit ITV quiz show broadcast. Almost a year ago, I, like many others, learned he was going to host the revival. I must admit, I was sceptical initially when his name got first mentioned with regard to the revival of Millionaire. Was a quiz show really within Jeremy’s comfort zone as a TV presenter?

But nonetheless, I was excited at the prospect of Millionaire’s return, Stellify Media being the force behind getting this world class quiz show back up and running and welcomed Jeremy with open arms (not literally, of course!). I was aware of Jeremy from the BBC’s Top Gear, but didn’t really get into what he did on previous programmes he’d been involved in until he became the UK’s Millionaire host. It’s a bit like a footballer welcoming the newly appointed manager to the training ground for the first time, despite not having met properly before and knowing much about what they did previously.

His appointment has proven to be an inspiring one. Like him or loathe him, he’s been impressive in the presenter’s chair. Not many people have cried out for Chris Tarrant, the original host of Millionaire and Jeremy’s predecessor, to come back. And that’s a success in itself – don’t get me wrong, Chris was fantastic and will always be the original ‘Mr Millionaire’. However, after last week’s series, Jeremy has never looked more comfortable in charge of the proceedings on the show.

I remember being in the audience for the pilot edition of Millionaire last April at dock10 in Salford, Greater Manchester. When I walked into the studio to take a seat in the audience, my heart almost broke as the set looked and felt a little too unfamiliar to start with, compared to previous times. I initially feared it’d became too different. Before last April, I’d appeared in the Millionaire audience at Elstree five times, including Chris Tarrant’s final ever recording in December 2013 which was a live Christmas edition of the show featuring celebrity contestants like Sir Alex Ferguson and Eamonn Holmes. The set became all too familiar to me.

Meanwhile, around over four years later, it wasn’t until the lights were switched on when the set really came to light up and glow in it’s electrifying form. Today’s Millionaire set is aesthetically beautiful, colourful and funky. The LCD floor is one hell of an innovation that I love and has really brought about a classic feel to this show with the background of the logo dominating it – it’s made it modern, despite having the ability at the same time to make major fans of the show like me feel a bit nostalgic about the original run of the show. I almost feel I’ve been put in a time machine and taken back to 1998, in a strange yet nostalgic way!

The only drawback with the lighting now is in the latter stages of the money tree – the lighting around the set remains blue and the studio remains too bright unlike previous times. In Chris’ day, from £32,000 to £1m, the contestant and host would be in the dark with dark blue lighting left on. And in Chris’ latter years presenting when the money tree was slightly different (£50,000 to £1m), the set would go dark, but with red in the background. Today, it doesn’t really change from £1,000 onwards – I feel a trick is being missed for the final five questions. The studio needs to be less bright in order to amplify the tension for the final questions and therefore add to the atmosphere for those in the studio and for viewers at home.

As far as the music is concerned, the return of the original music beds and theme tune is brilliant, albeit initially personally unexpected. Plenty of TV programmes do ‘modernise’ and Millionaire was no different back in 2007 when the music changed and the money tree was cut to 12 questions. Whilst it was ok, it felt nothing like the original programme. There are only so few changes that can be successfully made to a TV show – for Millionaire, there is little room for manoeuvre. Too many unnecessary changes don’t necessarily make things better.

Which leads me nicely onto the two changes that have been implemented since Mr Clarkson took over. That new fourth lifeline, ‘Ask the Host’, and the second safety net. Jeremy gives himself too much of a hard time with the questions and recently published statistics by Stellify Media on Twitter prove this.

In the 20th anniversary series, the success rate of ‘Ask the Host’ was 46%. However, for last week’s run of shows, that jumped to 64%. This now means, contestants have almost a 2 in 3 chance of Jeremy providing the correct answer should they need to use that lifeline – most definitely not a case of ’embarrass the host’. Interestingly, the success rate of ‘Ask the Audience’ dramatically fell between last May’s series and this month’s run of shows. Last week, it was 69% while 8 months ago it was 100%! There hasn’t been much change between the two series for 50:50 and ‘Phone A Friend’.

As far as the second safety net is concerned, the fact contestants don’t need to set it to £32,000 necessarily (that’s what it was originally at in the first years of the show) has really livened the format up. And there was no better example than Eleanor Ayres who was the first contestant on last week’s run of shows. She became the first contestant in the show’s history to successfully set it at £125,000 – it probably helped in the fact that she bravely took the risk to go for the £500,000 question, but sadly got the question incorrect. However, in the original format, she would have lost £218,000. But because she set the safety net at £125,000 then she won that amount and therefore still left the studio on a successful amount of money. Where to put that safety net is now a test in itself for each contestant appearing on the show.

One sad thing from the last few days was Millionaire missing out on a potential National Television Award for this year. It didn’t become a shortlisted nominee for the award ceremony in under a fortnight’s time. God willing, it has better luck in 2020.

Separately, I’ve bought the board game and quiz book released both within the last few months and they have made great additions to have. But I would love to see either the creation of a fresh new edition of the quiz show for game consoles or for smartphones/tablets, reflecting the game as it’s played on TV and with the current format.

It’s still early days for the revival of Millionaire, but the fact it’s back is just brilliant and only far too welcome. It’s always a great addition to the TV schedule, particularly these days. And congratulations to Stellify Media, Jeremy Clarkson and ITV/STV/UTV for getting this super show back on air. I’m only too grateful!

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