Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? America does

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The Independent Online
MILLIONAIRE FEVER has swept America. And we are not talking about the booming economy or the tide of winnings from stock trading on Wall Street. This is all about a TV game show that started in Britain and is now commanding the airwaves on this side of the water - Who Wants to be a Millionaire

Since the ABC network began airing its own version of the ITV quiz programme in the summer, it has seen its ratings explode. Last week, it started a run of 15 hour-long Millionaire shows - one a day, every day for more than two weeks.

It has trampled everything in its way, with minimum effort.The American Millionaire is identical to the original ITV model - the same melodramatic techno music, the same swivelling lights, even the same space-ship set. True, there is no Chris Tarrant. The quiz-master is Regis Philbin, a stalwart of US day-time talk shows.

Not that anyone in the US seems aware of the show's ancestry. Philbin is credited with inventing the catchphrase: "Is that your final answer?" Anyone who has watched Tarrant's teasing of competitors will know that this is his catchphrase, not Philbin's.

On Monday this week, Millionare drew in 26.8 million viewers. It is estimated that after the end of this current run, more than half of the American population will have watched it. No other show on this autumn's American television schedule has come near it in popularity.

And a surprising number of people are making money from the show, from Jasper Carrott to Rupert Murdoch, because it is financed by a premium rate phone line for contestants keen to get on the show. This meant that Celador Productions, the company that makes it, was allowed to keep the rights to sell the format internationally.

Celador, one of whose shareholders is Carrott, the Birmingham comedian, has sold the format to more than 52 countries, including Australia, South Africa, Spain, Holland, Germany, Russia and Greece. In each territory it is dominating its peak-time slot. The rights are shared between Celador, whose managing director, Paul Smith, is probably already a millionaire, and the show's creators.

Also making money is Rupert Murdoch's News International, whose Broadsystems call centre handles the phone line and takes a cut. And Tarrant will make a cool pounds 2.5m for presenting the first 90 episodes in Britain.