Pop quiz: Which of the following genres owes most of its success to the success of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
A) Daytime game shows
B) Primetime game shows
C) Primetime reality competition shows
D) Daytime dramas
While you consider the answer – sorry, we’ve got no lifelines for you – a bit of background: Millionaire debuted on ABC 15 years ago this week. At the time, it was heralded as a major comeback for the primetime game show format. Though syndicated game shows continued to enjoy a great deal of success (think Jeopardy! and The Price is Right), the quiz show scandals of the 1950s had effectively stymied all primetime game programming.
Millionaire, while still a gamble, was a relatively safe bet. It was a big success in the UK, where it began. The only bump on the road to success was in getting U.S. audiences to like it, too. They did, to the tune of almost 30 million average viewers for each episode and a season ruling atop the ratings heap. It was such a phenomenon that ABC would broadcast the show multiple nights per week – and similar shows quickly filled rival networks’ schedules. Game shows were triumphant once again.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last. The form fairly quickly fell out of favor once again, with Millionaire burnt out in three years and other shows not sticking around much longer. Deal or No Deal was a surprise success for NBC in 2005, but it also fizzled. Of these shows, only Millionaire still has a presence on TV today – and in syndication.