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What's the Final Answer?

by Neena Louise

I'm intrigued by the wild popularity of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The host is nothing special (I've always thought Regis Philbin a bit of a dufus); the questions, for the most part, are an idiot's delight; the contestants are generally nondescript... So what is it that had millions tuning in?

I heard a piece on the nightly news that explored just this question. A psychiatrist theorized that it's so popular because everyone watching is convinced that THEY could win the million and are vicariously living out some kind of fantasy through the contestants. Well, perhaps. But could it be that we just don't have the number and/or quality of quiz and game shows on television that we used to get? Given the stupidification of Jeopardy (ie: all the teen/child/college/celebrity tournaments where the questions are "dumbed down" to give the contestants a fighting chance) and lack of daytime game shows, perhaps the viewing public is simply starved for something they can play along with that needs a modicum of intelligence to play.

There's very little to choose from in the game show genre today: there's The Price is Right (if you can stand that arrogant Bob Barker); newcomer Win Ben Stein's Money (which I think is a hoot); Wheel of Fortune (which I've always hated) and Jeopardy (and between Alex Trebek's snooty attitude and the constant Dumb Tournaments it's often painful to watch). What kind of choices are these? Perhaps Millionaire heralds a return of the game show. Fox seems to have tried to cash in on Millionaire's success by rushing Greed to the airwaves. I tried to watch the first episode, but Chuck Woollery kept stumbling over his words, there were too many rules and too many choices and, well, it's just MEAN that contestants can oust each another out of the game.

It would be nice if daytime television steered away from the incessant home improvement and talk shows and replaced at least some of them with quiz shows. Even idiotic game shows would be a welcome diversion, though I really hope to see a return of the intelligent game show. One may argue that Who Wants to be a Millionaire? isn't terribly intelligent, but how many of us have secretly gloated over an answer we knew when the contestant didn't? Or rolled our eyes when Mensa Man got a doltishly simply question wrong, then whined at length about it afterwards and threatened to sue? Or are waiting for the producers to trip up again and get an answer wrong? Or simply love to hate Regis Philbin???

There's something terribly appealing about Who Wants to be a Millionnaire?, but I'll be damned if I know what it is.

I guess I don't have a final answer... 
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