If 1999 will be remembered for anything, it's the return of the quiz show. The enormous success of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" proves the American TV viewer will always look for a free lunch. "Millionaire" is nothing more than a game show in which people compete for up to $1 million (which, as far as Bill Gates is concerned, is chicken liver).

The emcee who gives away the money is Regis Philbin, who earns his living as a sidekick to Kathie Lee Gifford. He is now a superstar.

Why has the quiz show come back so big, after the scandals of the past?

Dr. Helen Longan told me, "Besides the fact that you win money, you can show other people in your living room how smart you are. Greed plays a big part; so much so that there is a copycat quiz show called 'Greed.' The questions asked of the contestants are so simple that even your dog can answer them."

She gave some examples:

"What was the name of the river Henry Hudson swam in?"

"What kind of juice would you get if you squeezed an orange?"

"Identify which one of these persons was not an American president: Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Donald Trump."

"True or false? Thomas Edison did not invent Nintendo, air bags, the Waring blender, the tennis ball, Q-tips and New Year's Eve."

"The appeal of the show," said Dr. Longan, "is that if you don't know the answer to a question, you can ask the audience to answer it for you or appeal to a designated batter."

"How can the quiz program come back so strong when the original shows were known to be fixed?" I asked.

Dr. Longan replied, "Cheating on quiz shows was never considered a high crime. Most Americans were not too upset about fixed TV games as long as they also knew the answer to the question. What we are seeing now is an example of nostalgia. People want the good old days when everyone was put in a glass booth where they could rehearse the answers they had been given in advance."

Dr. Longan believes that part of the appeal of game shows to network big shots is how inexpensive they are. Few people win a million dollars, and the sets are very cheap, costing maybe $50 or $60.

If there is any cost to the show it's finding talent to think up the questions. Experts must be hired to submit the following queries:

"If the big hand is on the 12 and the little hand is on the 4, what time is it in Hong Kong?"

"Beethoven wrote many works. Name one he didn't write." (The answer is "Happy Birthday to You.")

"What did Martha Stewart say when she went to the cupboard and found it was bare?" ("Fire the prop man on my TV show.")

Television is slated to become one big quiz show. "This is Tom Brokaw. For $64,000, guess what major country bombed a little country today and why."

{copy} 1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate