The return of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire – and why it could be even tougher this time around

Vanessa Jackson, degree leader in Television at Birmingham City University’s School of Media, on the appeal of a TV comeback

Jeremy Clarkson in Who Wants To Be a Millionaire

By Vanessa Jackson

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Who Wants To Be A Millionaire first hit our screens twenty years ago, and now, after coming off air in 2014, it’s back with a rebrand.

The original show was phenomenally successful, with close to 20 million viewers at its height – something that terrestrial broadcasters can now only dream, with overnight viewing figures diminished by on-demand and subscription services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. And of course it also spawned an Oscar-winning feature film– Slumdog Millionaire – a book and even a board game.

The beauty of Millionaire is its format: it hooks the audience in, and keeps them watching in real time as the questions become increasingly harder and the stakes higher as contestants gamble and use their various lifelines. The strength of the format saw it sold to over 160 countries, with territories making their own versions, under strict supervision on everything from casting to the level of prize money.

So, why are ITV joining the reboot bandwagon now? Reinventing the golden goose has worked well for numerous shows – Doctor Who and Strictly are notable successes – but revamping a much loved original doesn’t always go well, and therefore ITV is treading cautiously, only scheduling a week of nightly shows starting on Saturday 5th May.

This time an acerbic Jeremy Clarkson will be in the driving seat, taking over from a rather friendlier Chris Tarrant. It’s a choice that may or may not work. If it does, then ITV will no doubt extend the run, and if it doesn’t the show will be quietly shelved.

Another challenge for the remake will be how to recoup the prize money. In its heyday Millionaire was highly profitable because of the premium rate phone lines for would-be contestants, but after scandals back in 2007, these are no longer acceptable, meaning the prize money now will be coming out of the programme budget – so perhaps the questions will be even more challenging!

Luckily, quiz shows are attractive propositions in being relatively cost effective to produce. You can shoot several episodes a day, and there is no limit on the number of episodes per series, which is why they are so beloved by broadcasters.

The reboot culture is part of a nostalgic wave, which aims to entice back terrestrial viewers – those who watched shows like Millionaire in their youth, and look back at those times with a rosy hue. But it begs the question are there only so many good ideas, if we keep reinventing those we’ve already used? The response, is a qualified ‘yes’ – and that’s my final answer.

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Who Wants To Be a Millionaire is on ITV at 9:15pm on Saturday and 9pm Sunday to Friday