New rules for Millionaire had host Meredith Vieira weighing an exit if she didn't like them
New rules are coming to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. And in answer to a teleconference question from locatetv.com, host Meredith Vieira contends she "would have walked away" had she not wanted to play by them.
"I wasn't involved in the changes at all," she says. "They played around with a lot of different things. Then they came to me . . . If I had not been comfortable with it, I would not have continued to do the game. I didn't sign on to do a game show. I signed on to do Millionaire."
She's been at it a while. Vieira, who also co-hosts NBC's Today, began hosting Millionaire in 2002 when it went into daytime syndication after a hugely popular but relatively short-lived run in prime-time with Regis Philbin at the controls. When new episodes return on Sept. 13th, it will mark the first significant facelift for a game that essentially has amounted to answering progressively more difficult questions for larger amounts of money.
Millionaire had become "way too predictable," Vieira says. "It used to be a very exciting game. It had lost that. For me, the hardest thing has been learning the new rules so I don't have to think about it."
One of the changes requires considerable explaining, which we'll try to do concisely.
In Round One, contestants no longer will be able to win relative pocket change by breezing through questions such as "What color is an orange?" Or "New York is located in what state?"
Instead, 10 dollar amounts from $100 to $25,000 will be randomly shuffled. And the dollar amount for each question won't be revealed until after a contestant has answered it. Questions likewise will be in no particular order of difficulty. So a contestant conceivably could draw a very easy question for an opening sum of $25,000. Or a hard question for a piddling amount of $100. A contestant would have $68,600 in their bank if they answered all 10 questions correctly. Those who choose to stop playing prematurely will pocket half of their winnings.
"I'm enjoying it because the game has been re-energized, and that make makes it more fun," says Vieiera, who already has taped 10 shows under the new format.
But wait, there's more.
In Round Two, just four questions will remain -- for $100,000, $250,000, $500,000 and a million. Contestants also will be given two new "Jump the Question" lifelines, enabling them to skip past a query that stumps them while also forfeiting the dollar amount attached to it.
Furthermore, both Vieira and contestants will stand up throughout, with the show's venerable "Hot Seat" now a part of its past.
The Hot Seat "had become too comfortable, believe it or not," Vieira says. Contestants now can "work the room a little bit."
Her overall goal, then and now, is to put contestants at ease and make it easier for them to go the distance or at least win a six-figure amount. "But I do have to mess with them a little bit," she says.
In the eight seasons she's hosted, just three contestants have taken home the $1 million grand prize. Vieira says she'd love to see that number take a quantum leap, and that the new rules may prompt "greater risk-taking."
Of her Today mates, she thinks weatherman Al Roker would fare the best on Millionaire.
"I think they'd all do well, but I think that Al would do extremely well," she says.
Whatever the case, it's hardly heavy lifting. Vieira tapes five shows per day on two days a week. It's akin to a vacation compared to the early morning grind.
"I find that playing Millionaire energizes me, because I have so much fun doing it," Vieira says. "You never feel bad about what you're doing for a living. You're giving people money . . . How can you not feel good about it?"