Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? And the next generation of TV quiz shows

After ‘Millionaire’ ending after 15 years, insiders are pondering the format’s future

Arts Correspondent

The dramatic music played out for the last time; the sweeping lights turned off for good. After 15 years, host Chris Tarrant had asked the last question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

The decision to axe Millionaire, after it screenings became more occasional and largely consisting of celebrity charity specials, has left UK television insiders wondering whether another show can ever capture the public imagination to the same extent. At its height, after all, it captured 19 million viewers – and inspired one of the most successful British movies, Slumdog Millionaire.

David Flynn, chief creative officer of Endemol UK, who has worked on creating shows from Deal or No Deal to Pointless, is among those asking: “Can a quiz gain such a mass audience again?”

“It’s all about risk taking,” he says. “The reason why Millionaire got that peak was because it felt like nothing else. It’s been around so long it is easy to forget how revolutionary it was.

“The channel and producers took the risk, and ITV opened up its schedule in a way it never had before. If we take that risk on something else we could absolutely get that audience again.”

As television producers search for the next prime-time game hit, success may well be reliant on how well they harness advances in technology, according to experts.

Mr Flynn, who was a student when Millionaire launched and was inspired by its scope, said: “We’ve seen the game show genre reinvent itself all the time and one trend we’re seeing is the growth in use of digital media.”

Endemol’s show The Million Pound Drop allowed audiences to play along at home, while The Bank Job released a game which would see winners cast on the TV programme. In the first two weeks it was played two million times.

Hinting that further interactive innovation is yet to come, he said: “The next one, which I can’t talk about yet, is all about revolutionising again how we use digital media.”

Media commentator Neil Midgley agreed that big entertainment hits of recent years had all relied on advances in technology. Millionaire had a premium rate phone number for viewers to call to potentially get on the show.

“They didn’t have public voting or participation, but the phone-in to be a contestant made people feel like they had a stake in the show. A lot of people phoned that line, and that paid for the prize money.”

X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing – though not game shows – took advantage of live phone voting to help build huge audiences. “Maybe we need another technology advance in television before we get the next big hit,” Mr Midgley said.

ITV has high hopes for Rising Star – another talent show, this time from an Israeli format – which will allow the audiences at home to vote on performers while they are singing, using an app. The game show developers will be watching closely.

Of Millionaire, which launched in 1998 and went on to air in 118 countries, Mr Midgley said it “was such a perfect format it effectively killed the genre; no one yet has been able to match it. A prime-time game show is now hard to do. There are lots in daytime which are doing well.”

This daytime quiz slot was opened by the success of The Weakest Link. Among subsequent rivals, Endemol’s Pointless has also built a keen audience since its launch in 2007, and is to expand onto Saturday night schedules.

After Millionaire there were a lot of “high jeopardy quizzes,” Mr Flynn said. “It was all about high stakes, serious stuff. It felt like there was time for a change, so with Pointless we tried to create a more parlour game, comedy atmosphere. It was a reaction to the seriousness.” He sees the trend for more comedic game shows continuing.

For Endemol, quizzes are “our bread and butter,” the creative chief said. Creating a new format is a “long involved process” with the firm coming up with up to 15 ideas a month, possibly two of which will be pitched to a broadcaster.

They play the nascent formats in the office to see if they work. “You can see pretty quickly if they work or not,” Mr Flynn said. “They are like mathematical formulae, every element has to fit together, and if one doesn’t work it all falls apart.”

The company devised The Million Dollar Drop in the office using cardboard boxes with trapdoors cut into them and pound coins inside. “If the hairs on your neck don’t stand up as you watch it, even at that stage, it probably isn’t right.”

The success of a show is not only whether it receives high viewing figures in the UK, but whether the format can be sold around the world. “The holy grail is not necessarily 10 million viewers in the UK, but a smaller UK hit that is sold to 150 countries,” Mr Midgley said. “The opportunities are currently in the daytime slots and internationally. There’s life in the old quiz show dog yet.”

World's Most Popular Game Shows

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

The show that became TV’s most popular quiz was sold to 112 countries. Launched in 1998 with host Chris Tarrant, and ran until this week.

Deal or No Deal

The Endemol-produced show, fronted by Noel Edmonds, was sold to 80 countries, with contestants picking boxes in a quest for £250,000.

Wheel of Fortune

The “spin the wheel” classic has been sold to 47 countries. It was first screened in the US in 1975 where two contestants have won $1m.

Total Wipeout

An average 4.5 million UK viewers see contestants jump, bounce and crash their way through obstacles, hoping to win £10,000. It has been sold to 29 countries.

Hole in the Wall

Known in Japan as Brain Wall, it is seen in 22 countries. Entrants contort themselves to fit shapes in a moving polystyrene wall.

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat