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And the Winner of $1 Million in Taxable Income . . .

By Lisa de Moraes

Monday, November 22, 1999; Page C07

Wouldn't you know it! A collections guy from the IRS would become the nation's first million-dollar game show prize winner.

John Carpenter, 31, of Hamden, Conn., won the largest one-time cash prize in the history of American game show television for correctly answering the following question on ABC's ratings hit "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire": Which of these U.S. presidents appeared on the television series "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In"?: (a) Lyndon Johnson, (b) Richard Nixon, (c) Jimmy Carter, (d) Gerald Ford.

My question is: Is there anyone old enough to be a contestant on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" who does not know the answer to that question?

Carpenter shot from IRS revenue officer to media commodity on Thursday afternoon during a taping of "Millionaire" in Manhattan.

Or would his stardom start date go down in the books as Friday, when his historic appearance actually aired?

Carpenter has been booked to appear on "Good Morning America" this morning, after which he has to appear on "Live With Regis and Kathie Lee" to pick up his $1 million check, and tonight he is slated to show up on CBS's "Late Night With David Letterman."

"I never had any idea there would be this kind of reaction," Carpenter told The Reporters Who Cover Television on a telephone hookup Friday.

"I think it's kind of silly."

Carpenter said he hasn't decided whether he'll quit the IRS.

What's to decide, John? Didn't you hear the "Millionaire" audience boo when Regis told them what you do for a living? Carpenter says he wasn't unsettled by it; he brings conversations to a stop at parties just by showing up, he says.

Well, being an IRS man, he must know exactly what his take-home cut will be.

"I haven't really figured it out. Whatever the taxes are, I'll be happy to pay it," he said.

Carpenter claims he doesn't watch television, except for sports and "The Simpsons."

Oh yeah, then how'd he know the answer to that million-dollar question?

And he claims he was "against game shows," but he did not elaborate. Presumably he's singing a different tune today.

He started watching "Millionaire" at the suggestion of two friends back in August, then phoned in to become a contestant after he discovered that he knew the answers to almost all of the questions. He got the call to come on the show when it returned to ABC's schedule for the November sweeps.

Was he nervous?

No, he says, because he knew all the answers to all the questions before the multiple choices were even put up on the screen.

"So there was no reason to be nervous; I really didn't feel nervous at all."

Carpenter didn't even need to use any of his "lifelines" to get his million-dollar pot. One time only, each "Millionaire" contestant gets to ask the audience, call a friend, or have two of the four multiple choices eliminated to help him or her along.

But Carpenter didn't need them, of course, because he knew all of the answers to all of the questions.

About halfway through his time in the high chair, he got tired of listening to Regis ask his trademark "Is that your final answer?" That seemed to miff Philbin a bit because toward the end he cracked that Carpenter "didn't need those stinking lifelines."

But Carpenter used one anyway.

"It would look so cocky if I used no lifelines, so I said I'd use one anyway, just to fake it," he explained to The Reporters Who Cover Television, who were liking this guy less and less by the minute.

When Philbin gave him that final question, Carpenter asked to call his dad. But when dad picked up, Carpenter told him, "I don't really need your help; I just want to let you know that I'm going to win the million dollars."

Oh no, that's not cocky, not a bit.

"I have a flair for the dramatic," Carpenter explained.

ABC has laid waste to "Wasteland."

The network's attempt at a WB-ish drama series was yanked off the schedule for the November sweeps, after getting killed in just two outings in its Thursday 9 p.m. time slot. But ABC promised it would be back after the sweeps.

They were wrong.

"Wasteland," from Miramax Television--that's a division of Disney, which also owns ABC--averaged 5 million viewers in its limited run. It was created by Kevin Williamson, who did "Dawson's Creek" for WB.

So what'll ABC do with the 10 episodes or so it's shot on the coming-of-angst drama? Maybe a summer burn-off? Or how about a run on ABC's new soap opera network, or Lifetime, in which Disney is also an owner?

Better news for Fox's "King of the Hill": The network has renewed it through next season. Since the show is animated, an early pickup is a good idea; it takes much longer to produce a cartoon comedy than a live-action one.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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