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

By Steve Schwartzman
On February 21, 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.

Sure, a few Ken Jennings highlights and visual snippets of something called a “banker” did their best to keep the dream alive, but alas, the world of “Real Housewives” and what appears to be a duck-wielding ZZ Top put the hallowed game show era to sleep — cue muted “The Price is Right” failure tune.

If you ask me — and we all know a college humor columnist’s opinion is paramount above most — I say enough is enough. We’ve ridden this silenced game show phase for far too long, and if we have to weld ourselves to the shills that are the current source of popularity in television today, then so be it; and I’ll willingly be your flagbearer.

While we’re all rapt with the wind-flowing energy of change and resurrecting something that once was beyond great, let’s brainstorm how we can bring the “Wheel of Fortune” spirit to a “Honey Boo Boo” generation.

“Bring em Back”: This is simple. Contestants are split into teams. Teams must construct a plan to convince as many celebrities as possible to return to a current television program they once starred in. Celebrities are given point totals based on popularity, quality of show and frequency — scaling anywhere from “anyone who died in the ‘Game of Thrones’ red wedding scene” to the coup de grace “Troy from ‘Community’” — and the team with the highest point value at sweeps week wins.

“Doctor Where”: This is a compressed conglomerate of popular shows “Doctor Who” and “The Amazing Race.” Essentially, contestants search culturally and aesthetically diverse parts of the world, completing challenges in an effort to find Doctor Who’s long lost sibling Doctor Where. This is also a prime spinoff for any implementation of Doctors “How,” “What,” “When,” “Why” and fan-favorite “Can I Eat This Entire Burrito In One Sitting?”

Note: I understand this show has a grave similarity in tone to “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” You’re probably correct, but where I already wrote a column on that show, let’s just pretend we never came to that notion. It’ll be our secret.

“Legends of the Hidden Podcast”: It’s just the truth, everyone. The world is crazy-bonkers-ballyhoo for podcasting. It’s the new love-notes-with-milky-pens craze. This program brings to life the once iconic, children-fueled “Legends of the Hidden Temple,” but instead of clues hidden inside a temple based on facts of historical hysteria, contestants listen to cryptic clues found on any possible podcast program on Stitcher, iTunes or my old roommate Mike’s computer. Grand prizes are awarded when contestants successfully avert censorship tribal guards and seek out lost transcripts that they tweet or Instagram to the proper account. The catch? They never have to leave their couch. Foolproof.

Jimmy Fallon: Just use him. It doesn’t matter how. The dude’s on fire right now.

That’s what I have for now, but believe me when I say however we enact this plan of redemption, it will change how we view earth in its current state. Send me your ideas; like, now. Together we can make history in a way on a “Daily Double” could, and I’ll even accept suggestions in the form of a questions. I’m just that interesting.12

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