Phone all the friends: ABC is rebooting Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, the fin de siècle game-show phenomenon that helped usher in the modern era of unscripted TV and briefly turned the network into a ratings powerhouse. As ABC savors the massive Nielsen numbers for last night’s premiere of the Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time tournament, execs today announced the resurrection of the flashy high-stakes quiz show, with Jimmy Kimmel stepping into the Regis Philbin role as host. And there’s a twist: The new version of Millionaire will have celebrities sharing the show’s famed hot seat with a guest of their choosing, with the celebs playing for charity. The new Millionaire will debut on April 8, the same night as the Modern Family series finale.
ABC’s latest Millionaire revival has been in the works for nearly a year, people familiar with the situation tell Vulture. Indeed, there was speculation that the show would return last year to mark the 20th anniversary of its premiere on ABC in 1999, when it aired as a limited series. (The format had premiered a year earlier on the U.K. television network ITV before being imported to the States.) But for various reasons, ABC decided to put off the show’s return until this spring. As for how the new Millionaire will work, ABC says celebrity players will be able to “invite a guest in the hot seat to help them answer questions. It could be a relative, a beloved teacher, or a famed trivia expert — anyone they want — to help them win as much money as they can for the charity of their choice.” The network is also planning to make the new version of the show interactive, with a play-along app that will let viewers win the same amount of cash as the celebrity contestants. There are no details yet on how that will work or which celebs will appear.
Even though Millionaire came to the States in 1999 and ABC did a 10th-anniversary revival in 2009, the network is calling this a 20th-anniversary tribute, noting that Millionaire became a weekly series in 2000. Kimmel’s involvement as host and producer further cements his role as a leading producer of unscripted content for the network outside of his late-night-show duties. He also produces the highly successful Live in Front of a Studio Audience sitcom salutes, and last year the network ordered another game show from him called Generation Gap. “Regis came to me in a dream, asked me to do this, and promised my own line of neckties if I did,” Kimmel said via press release. “I had little choice but to say yes.”
ABC isn’t confirming details on how long the new Millionaire will play out, calling it only “a special run of episodes.” The network’s 2009 10th-anniversary reboot aired as a multi-night event, allowing drama to build as contestants worked toward the goal of winning $1 million. The wording of ABC’s press release for the show’s new incarnation suggests this Millionaire could air as a once-a-week series for several weeks. In any case, if this burst of episodes does well in the ratings, expect ABC to make Millionaire a once- or twice-a-year event, rather than turning it into a regular series.
Behind the scenes, the rebooted Millionaire will be guided by Michael Davies, who oversaw ABC’s original adaptation of the format. He and Kimmel will be joined as executive producers by Mike Richards, who is set to take over as showrunner of the syndicated games shows Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! later this year. The revival will be produced by Davies’s Sony-based Embassy Row, Kimmelot, and Valleycrest Prods.