Checked content

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Related subjects: Television

About this schools Wikipedia selection

SOS Children has tried to make Wikipedia content more accessible by this schools selection. Before you decide about sponsoring a child, why not learn about different sponsorship charities first?

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
New Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (UK) Logo
Format Quiz show
Created by Celador
Presented by Chris Tarrant
Country of origin  United Kingdom
Running time 30 minutes (daytime)
(1998 - 2000)
60 minutes (primetime)
(1998 - present)
Original channel ITV
Original run 4 September, 1998 – Present
External links

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is a television game show which offers very large cash prizes for correctly answering successive multiple-choice questions of increasing difficulty. The format is owned and licensed by the British production company Celador. The maximum cash prize (in the original British version) is one million pounds. Most international versions offer a top prize of one million units of the local currency, though the actual value of the prize varies widely, depending on the currency's exchange rate. In at least one country (the United States) the top prizes are no longer cash, but annuities.

The programme originated in the United Kingdom, where it is hosted by Chris Tarrant. It is based on a format devised by David Briggs, who, along with Steve Knight and Mike Whitehill, devised a number of the promotional games for Chris Tarrant's breakfast show on Capital FM radio. The original working title for the show was Cash Mountain. When it first aired in the UK on September 4, 1998, it was a surprising twist on the gameshow genre. Only one contestant plays at a time (similar to some radio quizzes), and the emphasis is on suspense rather than speed. There is no time limit to answer questions, and contestants are given the question before they must decide whether to attempt an answer.

The show is named after Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? , a 1956 song by Cole Porter from the film High Society which emphasised the desirability of love over material possessions: "Who wants to be a millionaire? I don't. / And I don't 'cause all I want is you."

In 2000, a board game based on the hit television series of the same name was released by Pressman Toy Corp.

In March 2006, Celador announced that it was seeking to sell the worldwide rights to the show, together with the UK programme library, as the first phase of a sell-off of the company's format and production divisions. Dutch company 2waytraffic has now acquired Millionaire and the rest of Celador's programme library.


The show is filmed in front of a studio audience who are arranged in circular tiers around a pit in which the action takes place. At the beginning of each show, the host introduces a group of ten contestants (5 in the Taiwanese version, 6 in the Finnish and Icelandic versions and 8 in the Armenian, Macedonian, Latvian and Nigerian versions), giving their names and where they are from. Each contestant brings along a friend, lover or relative (not to be confused with the phone-a-friend explained later), who sits in the audience and, if the contestant progresses, is periodically shown on camera looking pleased, excited, nervous etc.


The contestants first have to undergo a preliminary round, called "Fastest Finger First", where they are all given a question and four answers from the host, and are asked to put those four answers into a particular order. (In the very first series of the British version, and until the end of the 2003 season in the Australian version, "Fastest Finger First" required the contestants to answer one multiple choice question correctly as quickly as possible.) The contestant who does this correctly and in the fastest time goes on to sit in the chair (the "hotseat") and play for the maximum possible prize (often a million in the local currency, though this depends on its value).

In the US version, this round was called "Fastest Fingers", and was eliminated when the show moved to syndicated distribution in 2002. Now contestants are required to pass a standard game show qualifying test at contestant auditions (usually 100 questions), and these contestants have passed a more difficult qualifying test than in the UK format.

Once in the hot seat, the contestant is asked increasingly difficult general knowledge questions by the host. Questions are multiple choice: four possible answers are given and the contestant must choose the correct one. On answering the first question correctly, the contestant wins £500 (in the UK – other countries vary the currency but have the same basic format).

Subsequent questions are played for increasingly large sums (roughly doubling at each turn). On the first few questions, some choices often have joke answers. The complete sequence of prizes for the UK version of the programme is as follows:


  • £100
  • £200
  • £300
  • £500
  • £1,000
  • £2,000
  • £4,000
  • £8,000
  • £16,000
  • £32,000
  • £64,000
  • £125,000
  • £250,000
  • £500,000
  • £1 million


  • £500
  • £1,000
  • £2,000
  • £5,000
  • £10,000
  • £20,000
  • £50,000
  • £75,000
  • £150,000
  • £250,000
  • £500,000
  • £1 million

These prizes are not cumulative; for example, for answering the first three questions correctly the contestant wins £2,000, not £500 + £1,000 + £2,000 = £3,500.

After viewing a question, the contestant can "take the money" (or rather "get the cheque" in some versions) that they have already won, rather than attempting an answer. If the contestant answers a question incorrectly, then they lose all the money they have won, except that the £1,000 and £50,000 prizes are guaranteed: if a player gets a question wrong above these levels, then they drop down only to the previous guaranteed prize. This means that the player can always attempt the £2,000 and £75,000 questions without fear, since they are guaranteed the previous amount even if they get the answer wrong.

The game ends when the contestant answers a question incorrectly, decides not to answer a question, or answers all twelve questions correctly, thus winning the top prize of £1,000,000.

In the United States, since the autumn of 2004, the $32,000 level has been reduced to $25,000, the $64,000 to $50,000 and the $125,000 to $100,000; in addition, the $500,000 level is now paid off annually, with an initial payment of $125,000 followed by 10 equal yearly payments. The $1 million is now $125,000 plus 20 equal payments.

New format of the show

On August 13 2007, it was announced that the UK version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is changing its format, cutting the number of questions it takes to reach the £1 million jackpot. The prize money will start at £500 rather than £100 and there will be only 12 questions to replace the former 15. After reaching £1,000, the prize fund will increase to £2,000, £5,000, £10,000, £20,000 and £50,000, which is the second "safe haven", previously £32,000. The first set of contestants to face the new rules were comedians Jon Culshaw and John Thomson in a charity special, shown on ITV on 18 August 2007.


If at any point the contestant is unsure of the answer to a question, he or she can use one or more "lifelines". After using lifelines, contestants can either answer the question, use another lifeline, or walk away and keep the money (except for the Double Dip lifeline).

  • Fifty-Fifty (50/50): The contestant asks the host to have the computer randomly eliminate two of the incorrect answer choices, leaving the contestant with a choice between the correct answer and one incorrect one from which to select.
    • Originally, in both the UK and U.S. versions, the answers eliminated were not random but were pre-selected as the ones the contestant was least likely to pick. This was not mentioned on the air (for example, U.S. host Regis Philbin would just say "computer, take away two of the wrong answers") but was revealed in interviews. Today the selection is random (and U.S. host Meredith Vieira always says so).
  • Ask the Audience: The contestant asks the studio audience which answer they believe is correct. Members of the studio audience indicate their choices using an audience response system. The results are immediately displayed on the contestant's and host's screens. This is a popular lifeline, known for its near-perfect accuracy.
    • For some time on the syndicated U.S. version, the question was also asked through AOL Instant Messenger to those who had signed up to answer questions for this lifeline. The contestant saw the studio-audience and AOL responses displayed separately. The AOL tie-in was discontinued beginning with the 2006-2007 season.
  • Phone-A-Friend: Contestants may call one of up to five pre-arranged friends. The contestant must provide the five friends' names and phone numbers in advance. In countries where the show is broadcasted live, the friends are alerted when their contestant reaches the hotseat, and are told to keep the phone free and to wait for three rings before answering. The contestant has thirty seconds to read the four choices to the friend, who must select an answer before the time runs out. Phone-a-friends often express their certainty as a percentage (I am 80% sure it's C.) In the event that a contestant has a disability which affects his or her ability to use this lifeline without assistance, the contestant will have the option of having the host read the question and answer choices to the friend, and obtain an answer from them. Phone-a-friends may not be called on cellular phones, and individuals participating as phone-a-friends may do so only twice during any given broadcast season of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

During the show's primetime run on ABC, the Phone-A-Friend lifeline was sponsored by the old AT&T, who supposedly connected the phone calls.

In February 2004, the U.S. launched a short-lived spinoff known as Who Wants to Be a Super Millionaire. On this particular version, two new lifelines were introduced, but they were only available after a contestant cleared the $100,000 question (the tenth question in this version):

  • Three Wise Men: The contestant asks a sequestered panel chosen by the sponsor which answer they believe is correct. The panel, consisting of three people, one being a former million-dollar-winner of the show, has thirty seconds to select an answer but does not need to reach a consensus—each member of the panel may provide a different answer. This lifeline is also used in the Russian version of the show, though it can be used on any of the 15 questions.
  • Double Dip: The contestant can give two answers for a question. However, once a contestant elects to use the Double Dip lifeline, the contestant cannot walk away from the question. The contestant must indicate and confirm that he or she intends to use this lifeline before giving a first answer. If the first answer is incorrect, the contestant gives another answer—but if the second answer is also wrong, then the contestant will leave with only $100,000. If the first answer given is correct, the lifeline is still considered to have been used. Using a Double Dip after a 50/50 essentially gives the contestant a free shot at the question. The 50/50 eliminates all but two of the choices, and the Double Dip gives two chances to select the correct answer, ensuring a correct answer. The combination of 50/50 and Double Dip was never used on the show, though.

In 2004, the syndicated U.S. version introduced another new lifeline:

  • Switch the Question: This lifeline becomes available only after the contestant has correctly answered the $25,000 question. If the contestant has not chosen a final answer on the revealed question, this lifeline entitles the contestant to switch out the original question for another question of the same value. Once the contestant elects to use this lifeline, he or she cannot return to the original question, and thus the correct answer is revealed for the record. In addition, any lifelines used by the contestant while attempting to answer the original revealed question prior to the question switch will not be reinstated. This lifeline has also been used in occasional specials of the UK show, but referred to as Flip. It is now used in the American, Spanish, Australian, Arabic, Bulgarian, French, Greek, Israeli, Indonesian, Indian, Italian, Norwegian, and Serbian versions of the show.


The game has similarities with the 1950s show The 64,000 Dollar Question. In that show the money won would also double with each question, and if the wrong answer was given all the money was lost. Contestants would win a new car as a consolation prize if they had reached the $8,000 question.

In the 1990s, future Who Wants to be a Millionaire? executive producer Michael Davies attempted to revive Question as The $640,000 Question for ABC, before abandoning that effort in favour of the British hit.

Disputed claims of creation

Since the show launched, several individuals have claimed that they originated the format and that Celador have appropriated their intellectual property.

Sponsored by the Daily Mail, Mike Bull, a Southampton-based journalist, took Celador to the High Court in March 2002 claiming authorship of the Lifelines. Celador settled out of court with a confidentiality clause.

In 2003 Sydney resident John J Leonard also claimed to have originated a format substantially similar to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (although it had no LifeLines). He has to date been unable to raise the minimum quarter of a million pounds a non-UK resident needs to finance legal action against Celador in the High Court. In an effort to finance his case he published a detailed account of how he created the show.

In 2004, Alan Melville and John Baccini sued Celador over a similar claim. On that occasion Celador reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with both men.

Is that your final answer?

The series also used the catchphrase with "Is that your final answer?" This question derived from a rule requirement that the player must clearly indicate his or her choice before it would be made official (since the nature of the game allowed the player to think aloud about the options before committing to an answer). Many parodies of the game show capitalised on this phrase. (In the game, players could preempt the question by themselves stating "final answer" or some variant, and this is common during the early questions of each round; sometimes it is not even enforced during the early questions, although after realizing that some contestants could manage to answer even the first few questions incorrectly, the "final answer" rule is employed throughout the entire show). Another hallmark of the show is the use of dramatic pauses before the host acknowledged whether or not the answer was correct. The pauses tended to become more tense the higher the amount of money on the line. Occasionally, if it is time to go for an advert break, the host will take the final answer but not announce if it is right until after the break.


  • The Big Breakfast had a competition called "Who Wants to Win a Mini on Air" which spoofed the quiz.
  • Peter Serafinowicz performed a Sketch on his BBC2 show The Peter Serafinowicz Show entitled "Who Would Like to Win £100?"
  • The Amanda Show had a parody known as "So You Want to Win Five Dollars."
  • Hip hop group The X-Ecutioners featured a skit on their 2002 album Built from Scratch called "Who Wants to Be a M*****f**kin' Millionaire", which humorously ends with a successful contestant choosing to quit the game after winning a mere $250.
  • In The Simpsons episode Day of the Jackanapes, Moe Szyslak participates in a TV show called Me Wantee! that spoofs the quiz.
  • In a The Simpsons comic, Lisa reaches the final question in a game called 'Who Wants to Win a Pocketful of Pennies!'
  • In The Lion King 1 1/2, Merideth, the second host of Millionaire, plays with Timon the Meerkat. Instead, it is called "Who Wants To Be the King of the Jungle"
  • Ali G hosted a quiz called "Who Wants to Win an Ounce" as part of an episode of Da Ali G Show.
  • Musicians Rage Against the Machine did a spoof in their video for their song " Sleep Now in the Fire"
  • Saturday Night Live did a sketch entitled "Who Wants to Eat?" where a disheveled woman tries to win items of food, including the grand prize of a tasty goat.
  • The improv show Whose Line is it Anyway? had a game called "The Millionaire Show" in which the 4 performers had to act out a game show similar to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, often with a certain twist to the game (i.e. the German version of "The Millionaire Show" or the hillbilly version of "The Millionaire Show".)
  • On the television station Cartoon Network, one of the animations they put in between cartoon episodes showed cartoon character Mojo JoJo was asked "Is that your final answer?" by a body of a man (apparently representing Regis Fillman), and he talked about why he should or shouldn't use a lifeline.

National variants

Top prize winners

Retrieved from ""