It seemed like TV quiz shows had all but disappeared from primetime when "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" burst on the scene in 1999. In its first season, approximately 30 million people viewed each episode, sitting on The Edge
of their seats as contestants struggled through increasingly challenging questions in hopes of winning $1,000,000. While hosts and time slots have changed, the dramatic set and game rules have largely remained the same.
The game starts with the “Fastest Finger question,” requiring ten competitors to place four items in order. Whoever correctly answers the question first wins a spot in the “hot seat,” sitting face-to-face with the host. The host asks the contestant 15 multiple-choice questions, each harder than the last. Topics range from classic literature to pop culture, and each question is worth a certain amount of money. After passing the fifth question, contestants are guaranteed $5,000 and they are guaranteed $25,000 after the tenth, but if they miss a question before the first milestone, they leave with nothing. The odds of winning are improved by chances to ask for help, or “lifelines.” On the real head-scratchers, contestants can Ask the Audience, Phone-a-Friend, or guess twice using Double Dip.
The original host of "Millionaire" was the famed television personality Regis Philbin
. In 2002, Meredith Vieira
began hosting the daytime version, but Regis and the primetime slot returned in August 2009 to celebrate the show’s 10th anniversary. For over a decade, this popular program has revitalized American game shows and turned regular people into millionaires.