"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," ABC's insanely popular series that drew monster ratings and revived the TV game show craze, returns to prime-time television next month as a regular one-hour show airing three nights a week, the network announced yesterday.
Beginning Jan. 11, "Millionaire," hosted by Regis Philbin, will air Tuesday nights at 8 and Thursday and Sunday evenings at 9.
The game show, which debuted in August, averaged just over 24 million viewers in an 18-night run last month, single-handedly giving ABC its first sweeps victory since 1994.
"This November, 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' moved beyond the realm of hit programming and became a cultural phenomenon," ABC Entertainment Co-Chairman Stu Bloomberg said in a statement. "Tens of millions of viewers sent a very clear message that they wanted more 'Millionaire' and we're going to deliver."
"Millionaire" executive producer Michael Davies, who has opposed making it a regular series because he fears it will lose its freshness, said he has just recently "grown comfortable" with the idea. "There's a massive appetite for this show," he said.
Although he thinks a ratings decline is "inevitable," Davies said, "it's a good enough show that it has a chance of being an institution."
Whether "Millionaire" continues its ratings magic during the regular season will depend on how it holds up against the new game shows the other networks already have begun to roll out.
Fox's "Greed" performed well during the November sweeps. That show's future on the Thursday night lineup seemed brighter yesterday when the network announced that the low-rated "Action" was being canceled.
Also this week, CBS announced its acquisition of the format rights to "Winning Lines," a British quiz show from the creators of "Millionaire," and NBC has said it is reviving "Twenty-One" in the next few months.
"Millionaire's" return to the prime-time landscape means the demise of ABC's Sunday night detective series "Snoops" and leaves the fate of sitcoms "Sports Night," "it's like, you know . . ." and "Oh Grow Up" hanging delicately in the balance.
David E. Kelley's "Snoops," which will discontinue production after filming its 13th episode this month, has been performing poorly and just last week finished fourth in its 9 p.m. time slot.
"Sports Night," which did receive a full-season pickup from ABC, will be pulled from the Tuesday night lineup in January to be replaced by "Spin City," which moves to 9:30 from 8. "Oh Grow Up" and "it's like, you know . . .," which have not received full-season pickups, will also be pulled to make room for "Millionaire."
An ABC spokesman said an announcement on the future of the three sitcoms will be "made in a timely fashion."
As previously announced, "NYPD Blue" will make its long-delayed season premiere on Tuesday, Jan. 11. Tying it in with "Millionaire's" return, ABC is boastfully billing that night as "Super Tuesday."
"Once and Again," now airing Tuesday nights at 10, moves to Mondays at 10 on Jan. 24 after "Monday Night Football's" season.