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November 20, 1999


The Leaks Are Here

        A lot of booing is being directed at The New York Post. I'm not thrilled with the paper but, if you'll remember, I said the media was awfully generous in protecting the outcomes of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire during the summer. With the show not being done live, a leak of the first millionaire win was almost inevitable.
       Too much media competition exists today for newspapers---and even rival networks---to keep that kind of a finish in suspense. Heavens, Fox all but gave away what would happen on its own network Thursday night.
       In the 1950s----and, believe it or not, I did live through the original quiz show era, the big-money shows were all done live and when someone won (whether prearranged or legit), the entire nation saw it together. With an audience of 150 and possibly an itchy production staffer, someone was bound to have leaked the finish. You couldn't picture the network doing it. After all, with the numbers WWTBAM has been drawing out of proportion to any game/quiz in 41 years, ABC didn't need any more help.
       By 7 a.m. Friday, the news had swept the country. We made a decision not to post the news on TGSCC in advance, same as we did not tell what Daniel Alvila's finish would be on Greed, even though we were told the outcome by an inside source last Sunday.
       For a lifelong journalist, this may appear to be a compromise of my own principles. Candidly, it is. However, I am convinced the bulk of the readership of this site does not want to know advance finishes. Our policy will be not to tell a finish before it airs, unless a network reveals an outcome itself. We did publish what Fox related during its own promos last weekend during NFL football as to one of the three Greed survivors going for the $2.2 million jackpot. We did so with a full SPOILER warning below the headline.
       Do I think the leak negatively impacted Friday night's rating? Not this time. No more so than Fox's cliffhanger for Greed Thursday positively influenced its rating (and if you look at our main page, you'll see the ploy was a failure. Millionaire had its biggest half-hour ever from 9-9:30 Thursday and Greed actually lost audience from the first half-hour of the previous week.
       However, accept this fact. The mainline media is not interested in protecting your or my suspense. If it's a taped show and they learn the outcome in advance and reporters think it's worth a story, they'll go with it. What's flattering to the genre is that a major New York newspaper would feel the outcome of a quiz show merits advance coverage.
       Personally, John Carpenter's run to the top was almost nonchalant and anticlimactic. He was so knowledgeable, he never sweated over even his toughest of questions. A few e-mailers have suggested Carpenter's questions were easier than some other players. I disagree. A different player may have struggled with four or five of them. It all depends on your background. Frankly, I thought the $1 million question was far easier than his $500,000 question on I.M. Pei as the architect of the pyramid courtyard of The Louvre. Yet, I'm 45 years old and remember seeing the episode of Laugh-In when Richard Nixon said, "Sock it to ME," on the night of his first inauguration. Carpenter probably saw the reruns on Nick at Nite. Would Meredith Mansfield, at 23, have had as easy a time with that question?
       Is the bloom now off and will the audience begin to decline now that someone has won the big prize? Not at all. This show isn't close to a crescendo. We may go another six months without a millionaire. As long as that 877 number keeps people believing they have a chance at a million---and this game is compelling, remember---one guy isn't going to dilute the interest.
       What will be interesting is to see what happens when NBC and CBS come out of the box with their answers. Twenty-One appears to be closest to being ready. NBC has a weak hour Monday nights which needs addressing. CBS has the capable Sande Stewart overseeing whatever it tabs its revival of The $64,000 Question. Sande has the only one of those mostly-awful Game Show Network originals which is interesting and treats the genre with respect with Inquizition.
       Another curiosity is how Greed will fare the next two weeks without direct opposition from Millionaire. What is hard to ascertain is whether the drop in ratings Thursday came from the continuing surge of WWTBAM or whether some viewer anger legitimately cost Fox viewers for dragging out the cliffhanger for 11 minutes the previous week.
       Yet, isn't it amazing we are reliving an era many of us who have been around long enough thought would never resurface. As a good friend of mine said after Thursday's ratings were available, "Could you have imagined two guys sitting on bar stools asking and answering questions would be the thing that finally knocked off Friends and Frasier?" No. But I'm enjoying every minute of it!

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