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COLUMN: Steve's vow for the triumphant return of the game show

By Steve Schwartzman
On February 20, 2014

Ladies and gentlebeards, it’s time for a hearty installment of “Did You Know … ?” Our DYK of the day is …


Did you know “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” is still a thing?

No fooling. It’s still kicking in its 17th year. You read that correctly.


Remember when “Millionaire” was the biggest primetime explosion to hit network television since the Apollo 11 landing or the time Dan Rather ate a bagel? I still recall one of the most intense experiences I ever had in my long tenure as an avid television devotee.


The date was Nov. 19, 1999, and daytime IRS agent John Carpenter was about to do something no bystander had ever accomplished before: If he could correctly guess which U.S. president was once a guest on the TV show “Laugh-In,” he would be the first “Millionaire” contestant to actually win the top prize.


So far, Carpenter had gone 14 consecutive questions without so much as blinking, let alone using a lifeline, but on this last inquiry, he opted for a phone a friend; a quick dial-up to his dad. The moment was so pulse-pounding and pandemonius, the only proper way to to even speak on it is his direct quote to his father.


“Um … I don't really need your help. I just wanted to let you know that I'm going to win the million dollars … because the U.S. president that appeared on 'Laugh-In' is Richard Nixon. That's my final answer.”

I’ve never heard a crowd so loud in my screen-gazing life — and I’ve watched both Mark McGwire’s record-breaking 62nd home run and a very strong amount of Nickelodeon’s “Kids Choice Awards” — as Carpenter officially won the grand prize in a hailstorm of confetti. No suspenseful “24” season finale would ever top that moment in my 11-year old heart.


After all that — the music, the pageantry, the final answers, the Regis Philbin doing Regis things — just more than 14 years later, it stands as a lackluster, faded memory, dragging down with it the legacy and prowess of what is now game show’s past, relegated to a daytime slot on CBS just after what has to be a courtroom show that you only notice in the break room during lunch hour at work.



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