Originally created 05/13/02

'Millionaire' producer wants his show off ABC's schedule



NEW YORK -- With television networks poised to announce their fall plans next week, Michael Davies finds himself in a rare position: a producer begging ABC to keep his show OFF the schedule.

Davies, executive producer of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," said Tuesday he's lobbying ABC to return the show to its roots as a periodic special aired several nights in a row.

The game show with Regis Philbin as host currently airs twice a week, a mere shadow of the ratings juggernaut it once was.

Davies said he wanted to focus viewers' attention on the half-hour syndicated "Millionaire" that will start in September. Meredith Vieira was named as that show's host on Tuesday.

"We're just going to confuse the audience if you have a regular prime-time show and a syndicated show," he said.

A spokesman for ABC's entertainment division, Kevin Brockman, said executives are in the midst of screening potential new series and wouldn't comment on its scheduling choices. ABC announces its schedule on May 14.

ABC's prime-time struggles may make it hard to grant Davies' wishes. The network has lost about a quarter of its prime-time audience this season and is likely to have a schedule full of holes. "Millionaire" represents an easy, inexpensive alternative.

At the same time, the network will have to strongly consider the opinion of a show's creative force.

"Millionaire" averages 10.4 million viewers this season on Monday nights, ranking 42nd among prime-time shows. The Thursday edition averages 9.7 million viewers and is ranked 58th, according to Nielsen Media Research.

That's a stunning drop from the previous season, when the show aired four times a week, each episode averaging 17 million to 20.1 million.

During the 1999-2000 season, three editions of "Millionaire" were the three highest-rated shows of the year. Each averaged between 27.1 million and 28.5 million viewers a week.

The question, "Is that your final answer?" was a national catchphrase, Philbin seemingly was on the cover of every magazine, and ABC was the prime-time ratings champ. It's now a distant third to NBC and CBS.

Most critics believe "Millionaire" sank from overuse, and the tendency to air too many celebrity editions instead of using real people with the chance to make a big score.

"They ran out of ideas and ways to promote the show," Davies said. "That was one of the real problems."

Bringing the show back as a special event will enable producers to try different ideas, including increasing the prize money, Davies said.

All six broadcast networks announce their fall schedules next week, starting with NBC on Monday. Hollywood is filled with anxious producers awaiting the verdicts of network executives.

A handful of once popular shows are on the fence to return next year, including "Providence" on NBC and "Dharma & Greg" on ABC.