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Last Updated:  Monday, 3 March, 2003, 10:17 GMT
Millionaire: A TV phenomenon
Judith Keppel
Keppel became the show's first millionaire in November 2000
As an army major, his wife and a lecturer are found guilty of cheating to win the top prize in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? BBC News Online looks at the success of the TV show.

The phenomenal worldwide success of ITV1's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? may have eased off since its glory days - yet it has kept a healthy core audience.

In its 13th series, the show still pulls in eight million UK viewers on a Saturday night - a figure many light entertainment shows would give their eye teeth for.

In Millionaire terms, though, that is merely small change.

At its peak four years ago it was getting 19 million - about one in three of the British population.

And its appeal stretched way beyond the island borders as makers Celador Productions suddenly found they had a world-class export on their hands.

At its height the format has been a ratings-topper in more than 50 countries, including the US, Japan, India and Australia.

Sharp-suited

Its sharp-suited hosts have delivered the iconic line "is that your final answer?" in tongues as diverse as Hindi and Arabic.

Carol Vorderman on celebrity edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
Millionaire has been licensed to more than 100 countries
During its peak, half the countries in the world were familiar with the phrases "phone a friend", "50-50" and "ask the audience".

The show's extraordinary success sprang from modest beginnings.

It was based on an idea for a double-your-money radio quiz by David Briggs - Tarrant's former producer at London's Capital Radio - with a starting stake of just 1.

Now Celador has been rewarded with the Queen's Award for Enterprise - and the company's main players are millionaires themselves.

Host Chris Tarrant is said to have made a fortune from the addictive spectacle of everyday people seeking life-altering riches merely by answering general knowledge questions.

Even before its pursuit of global TV domination, Celador was reportedly reaping big profits from premium rate calls made by would-be contestants.

At least four million such calls were made during the first two months of the show alone, between December 1998 and January 1999.

ITV1 and BT took their share of the spoils - with the average cost of an individual phone call put at 77p.

Celador insisted almost all of the cash was ploughed back into the prize fund and the cost of promoting its brand.

First millionaire

As the millions supposedly poured in, it was almost two years before Celador paid out its first 1m prize - to garden designer Judith Keppel, a distant cousin of Camilla Parker Bowles.

Chris Tarrant
Tarrant has presented about 300 editions of the show
In a moment of TV history, almost 14m people saw her give the correct name of the king who married Eleanor of Aquitaine (Henry II).

The audience was more than three million up on the one that tuned into the much-heralded final episode of One Foot In The Grave on BBC One.

Meanwhile, Millionaire was on its way to becoming an unstoppable runaway multi-media phenomenon.

The computer game version became the first to top the PC, PlayStation, Dreamcast and all-formats chart at the same time.

The board game was a Christmas best-seller, and the show's formula went on to become licensed in 106 countries.

Worldwide success

In Egypt and across the Arab world it took viewers by storm, with ratings dwarfing leading soaps and comedy favourites.

In India it was blamed for a slump in cinema box office returns as customers stayed away - and in front of their TVs.

In the US it became a firm favourite, regularly drawing 10 million viewers before its popularity waned.

It was finally cut from American network ABC's regular schedule in June last year.

Tarrant admitted that the show reached saturation point and became over-exposed in the UK when it was aired four nights a week on ITV1.

Despite its inevitable slowdown, Celador is still looking at ways to maintain the format.

Satellite viewers can vote interactively during Saturday night's shows, while further one-offs such as a mothers' day special are planned for the spring.

Tarrant has signed up to be at the helm for the 14th series which starts in May.

In the meantime viewers will be able to re-live their favourite moments from the Millionaire experience in daytime TV "best of" compilations.




SEE ALSO:
UK quiz shows dropped in US
15 May 02  |  Entertainment
Row over 1m quiz show sponsorship
16 Apr 02  |  Politics
TV's Millionaire misses the jackpot
07 Mar 02  |  Business


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