Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is one of the all-time classic game shows, but watching some various editions recently, I realised that there were a lot of changes over the years, so let’s take a look at how this show went from being a super hit to old hat in 15 years.
Scheduling. First series. In a bold move, when the show launched in September 1998, it was scheduled by ITV over nine consecutive nights, at half an hour a time, with uncompleted games going over into the next show. Final series. Each edition was now a hour long and various shows were live or not-live, but the show was now shown only occasionally on weekdays and it was no longer the talk of the town, meaning it came to a quiet end after almost 600 editions in February 2014.
Title sequence. First series. The original titles featured lots of people watching on as the Millionaire symbol formed, and the introduction to that famous music. Final series. The tiles had changed by this point and still looked good. However, a much inferior dance version of the theme was also used.
Set design. First series. The set featured Chris and the contestant facing one another, with a box containing the (seemingly fake) money underneath them. The lighting also seemed to get more intimate with every question and it did impress. Final series. The money had gone, and because of improved technology the monitors that were used were now slimmer. There was also a stripe in the background which changed colour depending on what part of the game it was.
Chris Tarrant. First series. Chris was an excellent choice of host. He had already perfected his presenting style when he hosted the Birthday Bonanza game on his Capital FM breakfast show which gave away huge amounts of money, he cranked up the tension impressively and his catchphrases became classics. Final series. Chris seemed to have become a little bored of the whole thing, and one thing he kept doing was walking over to the contestants and hugging them before revealing the answer. Also, because of the time limit he would garble most of the questions. So when he decided to quit ITV brought the show to an end, and this may be one of the cases where it was probably better not to try and replace the irreplaceable.
Contestants. First series. There were ten contestants who had all phoned in and they played the Fastest Finger First game to qualify for the main game. Chris didn’t even part his arm round them. Final series. By this point there were endless celebrity specials who played in pairs in themed shows. Regular editions became so rare that they were treated as specials called The People Play. Contestants no longer played the Fastest Finger First game, they just walked on stage and they all rather conveniently had a sob story as well as to why they wanted the money.
Questions. First series. There were 15 general knowledge questions of increasing difficulty with four options that had to be answered correctly, and eventually five contestants went all the way. Final series. There were now 12 questions to answer in “the fast track to a million”. The early questions were dropped because people playing for three-figure sums had suddenly become dull and the second savepoint was for £50,000 instead of £32,000. However, at this point, questions became suddenly very tough, with people only fluking the £75,000 question because they had nothing to lose. That’s still a decent amount of money but no-one came anywhere near the final question by this point. In live shows they also inserted topical questions that didn’t work because you couldn’t have any prior knowledge of them, leave that nonsense to The Million Pound Drop.
Graphics/music. First series. The graphics were in the Copperplate and Conduit fonts, and famously when the contestant made their choice the option would go orange. There was also the terrific music which accompanied all this. Final series. The graphics had been updated and the font for questions had changed to Verdana, and the music was also changed, but it was a lot less atmospheric. A clock had now been introduced for questions, with 15 seconds to answer the first two, and then 30 seconds for the next five, and then unlimited time for the final five. This meant that there was a lot of shouting “stop the clock!” and being rushed. Also, on the live shows the camera work was wobblier and incorrect music stings were played which made the overall package seem a lot more shoddy.
Lifelines. First series. There were three lifelines. The 50/50, the Phone A Friend (where Chris and the contestant actually held a phone during this part which I don’t remember lasting long), and Ask The Audience. Final series. The 50/50 remained the same, although in live shows Phone A Friend featured people in a different part of the studio being asked and they would appear on the screen. One good touch in non live-shows was photographs of the three friend options appearing on screen and Chris would say “what an odd-looking bunch”. Every single time. Ask The Audience remained the same, but on the first live show, the graphics failed for the first time, so they had to go to the back-up of everyone holding up a piece of card with the letter of the option they thought was right. A fourth lifeline was introduced called a Switch at the £50,000 stage where if you didn’t like the question, you could change it. Again this could only be used once.