by Tracy Johnson
The classic TV game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire captured the world’s imagination while competing game shows failed to achieve the same popularity. Now, game shows have been around for years and there is nothing particularly magical about the mechanics of this one over others. So why did “Millionaire” become the most watched TV show in prime time each night during the Spring Nielsen sweeps? It’s because of Regis Philbin.
If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s worth watching an episode or two online. It’s a great example of building a contest designed for the audience to play along.
You may even want to re-invent the game for your station or show. It’s a terrific game.
But the success of the TV show was greatly influenced by the host. Here’s four ways that Regis made it work.
Regis is one of those lovable personalities that you can’;t dislike. He’s a terrific host type. Regis is so likable. Everybody loves him, from college girls to 70 year-old women.
It’s not because of his big voice. And his accent is annoying! He’s friendly, doesn’t try to be something he is not and doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s down-to-earth and never comes off as being overly cool, or above the audience! He’s communicating what he thinks of his audience every time he speaks.
He never used big words. he spoke like they did. For the most part, Regis stayed with the format, performing as the likable host of the show. But every once in awhile, he stepped outside of the game for a moment. These moments added some unpredictable, surprising and real moments.
But there are four other reasons that this show became a big hit.
Start with the fact that the prize had a lot of appeal. Instant riches. Incredible wealth. One million dollars just for playing a trivia game. It was a big incentive that added to the drama of the show. It got attention.
The producers created an aura around the show that made it seem like anyone and everyone had an equal chance to be on the show. The method of qualification included inviting everyone to play a version of the game on any touch-tone phone.
The set is dark, a black background with a tight shot on the contestant. You see and feel their emotions. And the music builds even more tension as they decide on an answer.
The show is staged extremely well.
The game starts with a big prize. $1 million. That’s awesome. The prize is simple, big and gets attention. But the game is not about the prize. It’s about playing the game.
The game is simple. Answer questions until you get to the grand prize. But the play along factor is key.
All of the questions are multiple choice. Even if you don’t know the answer, you can guess. That adds participation. The game starts with easy questions. This gets the audience hooked and allows the viewer to cheer for the contestant as they build their prize winnings. The viewer can feel themselves in the chair, playing along.
As the stakes are raised, the questions become increasingly difficult.
The rules are simple and straightforward. It’s easy to play. And more importantly, it’s easy to play along at home.
That brings us to the host of the show. Regis Philbin understands the appeal of the game, and realizes his role in making the show a success.
He never upstages the game, but rather adds to it. He knew it wasn’t The Regis Philbin Trivia Show. It was Who Wants to be a Millionaire. As host, Regis explained the rules clearly, simply and logically (and repeatedly). He asked the questions with enthusiasm, drama, clarity and consistency. The audience is never lost.
Further, Regis cheers for the contestants. Watching the show, you get the feeling that Regis really wants the contestant to win $1 million. He never puts them down. He never belittles or talks down to them, no matter how poorly they perform.
Regis has mastered the art of shining the spotlight on his subjects! In doing so, he receives all the credit for being a star!
Watching Millionaire, I always wondered why Regis made so much money as the host. His job is simple. Anyone could do it. But therein lies the secret. It’s his simplicity, his character, his consistency, his delivery and his professionalism. Regis is sincere.
The result is that everybody – absolutely everybody – loves Regis!
Compare the way Regis conducts his game show with the way a typical morning show presents theirs. It’s a stark contrastMost morning shows are obsessed with being stars. They try to put all the emphasis on themselves. They constantly upstage the contestant and the content.
When you conduct a contest on the air, remember the example set by Regis and the producers of the most popular game show since “Let’s Make a Deal” (another show that was wildly successful because the host, Monty Hall, knew how to construct the contest).
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