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Note to Regis, Davies: Don't Play the Giveaway Game!

       I'll never forget weekend afternoons in the winter of the 1960s. I loved watching the CBS Match Play Golf Classic. Two-man teams played against each other in a 16-week elimination tournament.
       One Saturday, I walked into my barber shop with my father a week before the classic was to begin in January. I picked up an issue of Golf Digest. Turning to an article by the legendary Sam Snead, the first paragraph read: "Gardner Dickinson and I recently teamed to win the CBS Golf Classic." I was steamed! Slammin' Sam had already spoiled the entire tournament for me. I didn't even watch it that year.
       Last Wednesday, Michael Davies and Regis Philbin held a news conference on the set of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and told America Kim Hunt would win $1 million the next night and a sixth player would duplicate the feat next Thursday. Fortunately, with my post-Fourth activities, I didn't know about the news conference until Friday and I didn't know Hunt was going to win the big prize as I was watching his dramatic struggle Thursday night. I was like a stupid kid, screaming at the set, telling him to go ahead and say Marni Nixon, imploring him to quit at a half-million because he didn't seem sure. Look, I'm a teacher, too, and I'd have stopped in a heartbeat on that last question with no more assurance.
       That's my point. The last thing Davies, Philbin, ABC, anybody connected with that show needs to do is to start playing giveaway with the finishes. I don't care if Survivor is having a hot summer. That show is far more of a fad than Millionaire will ever be because it's contrived, depends on conflict of the cast and does not have nearly the drama of WWTBAM.
       Just talk to the former champions on Twenty-One, as I have. They'll tell you in a New York second one of the worst things, among many mishandlings, NBC did with that show is blast those promos "someone will win the biggest prize in the history of television next week...." Hey, why watch, at that point? You already know the finish. That's what makes sports so engaging. The final score is a mystery until the end. To some degree, viewers are actually irritated when they're told in advance.
       Millionaire will stand on its own nicely this summer. Just look at the performance of the encores. Not a solitary one finished out of the top ten in the Nielsens and more than half scored higher ratings than in their original run..
       One reason I do this page is I am, first and foremost, a fan of this genre. One of the real dangers, I feared, of the big-money prime time revivals was an aggressive media attempting to ferret out the finishes in advance of air dates. You haven't begun to see how active reporters are going to become the closer we get to the end of Survivor and I can't believe one of those 16---as wonderful and engagingly pleasant as most of them are---isn't going to spill the beans, particularly for the right money from a tabloid.
       The media was cooperative during the August run of Millionaire, when the shows were taped one night in advance. However, when The New York Post and ABC's own Good Morning America leaked the story of John Carpenter becoming the first millionaire the morning of his victory, a ton of people were mad. I know from my e-mails. Note that the ratings for Carpenter's victory were not the highest of the 18 shows last November.
       Greed tried that same ploy in November when Dan Avila went for that $2.2 million question. The ratings actually went down after a week of massive promos, including spot after spot during the Sunday NFL games when viewers were told someone was going after the big question.
       The magic of the 1950s quiz shows (okay, they were scripted) was they were live. No one could spoil the finishes for viewers. NBC seriously considered doing the updated Twenty-One live. Thankfully, that didn't happen because Maury wouldn't have known what day to catch a plane, since NBC moved it around so much.
       I'm told ABC won't even think of doing Who Wants to Be a Millionaire live because of so much computerization and the no-limit think time for the contestants (many of the long deliberations are edited). Plus, with four a week, the schedule would probably send Regis back to the cardiologist.
       Yet, we all watched Fox produce 12 editions of Paranoia, which was a far more complex, computerized and virtual set game than Millionaire, and produce them live. As many as nine satellite feeds were being imported per episode. The shows had very, very few glitches and proved you can do something this complicated live. That's the only way to defend against media leaks of game show finishes. I wish ABC could determine a way to do at least some of its Millionaire episodes live just to enhance the suspense.
       However, don't compound the problem yourself. Don't call news conferences and tell the media yourself who's going to win your big jackpot. Remember, this is a game with high stakes. American viewers don't want to and can't know who wins the Super Bowl before it's played. That's part of the mystique. There's no allure to watch if we can't enjoy the same suspense on a quiz show as the people who were in the audience when it happened. Remember, we're the audience, too. Don't insult our intelligence or spoil our suspense!

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