Press Release - Regis Philbin Makes Million Dollar Entrance to Open Who Wants To Be A Millionaire-Play It at Disney-MGM Studios

Oct 12, 2001 in "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire-Play It!"

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- (April 6, 2001) Armored trucks loaded with collectible prizes, Mickey Mouse and Regis Philbin himself arrived at Disney-MGM Studios today to launch the opening of the “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire-Play It!” live-show attraction at Walt Disney World Resort.
Philbin handed the “keys to the hot seat” to six new theme park hosts charged with recreating the drama delivered in the ABC-TV game show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.” Theme park guests will enjoy the “Millionaire” experience in exacting detail -- seated in a replica of the famous high-tech set, complete with its dramatic lighting and hot seat. Disney-MGM Studios guests, however, will play for points, not dollars, winning unique prizes along the way. Prizes range from collectible pins and hats to a grand-prize trip to New York City to view a taping of the ABC-TV game show.

“We’re thrilled to combine one of America’s top television shows with the world’s most popular studio theme park,” said Al Weiss, president of Walt Disney World Co. “At Disney-MGM Studios guests will find out for themselves what it’s like to sit in the hot seat.”

The live show will run continuously throughout the day in a 600-seat studio located in Soundstages 2 and 3 at the Disney-MGM Studios.

Like the television show, the fastest finger determines the first contestant to sit in the coveted hot seat. All audience members play along by using individual keypads as their scores are tallied throughout the session. They also get involved when players use the “ask the audience” lifeline. Other guests could be called upon for help with the “phone a complete stranger” lifeline.

“The company that produces ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ worked hand-in-hand with Walt Disney Entertainment to make sure that the ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire - Play It!’ attraction at the Disney-MGM Studios is just as gripping, entertaining and exciting as the real thing,” said television executive producer Michael Davies.

Disney-MGM Studios immerses guests in the glamour of show biz 365 days a year with thrilling attractions, incredible Broadway-style shows, world-class atmosphere entertainment and interactive film, television, radio and animation production facilities. The theme park is part of the 30,500-acre Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla.

Premiering as a regular ABC series in January 2000, “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” soared in popularity to become the most watched television series of the 1999-2000 season. Proving its broad viewer appeal, “Millionaire” also finished the season as a Top 10 television program among adults 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54, as well as among teens and kids. “Millionaire” is truly appointment television, regularly building on its lead-in audience and consistently delivering on each of the nights it airs.

Press Conference with Regis Philbin, Michael Davies and various media representatives.

Moderator: We welcome back to the set Executive Producer Michael Davies and the star of “Who Want’s To Be A Millionaire,” Regis Philbin. Welcome to both of you. This is a bit of a reversal for you, Regis, because rather than asking the questions, you get to answer them now.
Regis: How did the first contestant in the seat do, how much money?

Moderator: She did very well, she walked away with 8,000 points. She got a hat and pins.

Regis: She got a hat and pins. Well that’s good; that’s all right. Can’t beat a good Disney hat and a pin.

Moderator: So anyway…we are ready to fire away…

Question: Is there a chance that you’ll bring the show down here and do the television show from here?

Regis: Well, I think there’s a good chance, but Michael will know more about that.

Michael: Yeah, we’re talking about it, we would like to, we need to figure out some things … try to do a schedule …

Question: I hear you have a big, a couple of big winners next week, ABC’s already announced it. Are you surprised it took so long?

Michael: Well, no, it surprises me that anyone goes to the million anyway. When they’re sitting there with 500,000, unless you like ask them their middle name, … I’m surprised, these always seem to come like busses, you know, when one person wins another person seems to come along immediately and do it again.

Regis: Well, we’ve got two very exciting shows coming up next week and we waited a long, long time, and there were no winners, and then suddenly two won, so it’s going to be terrific.

Question: I love some of the things that you do with the show, with bringing in celebrities and whatnot. We play a game on the radio every day at 5 o’clock, it’s called “I’ve Got Five On It.” If you wouldn’t mind, could you let us know your top five celebrities that you’ve had on the show, in your personal opinion, your top five celebrities.

Regis: Top five celebrities? Well, the guys I love are the fellows who make me laugh, like Martin Short, he was terrific; Jason Alexander was great. I’ll tell you another one, Norm McDonald, Norm McDonald was the last one in the hot seat the last time we played the celebrities and then went on to go up to a million dollars and then, like Michael said, didn’t have, wasn’t sure, didn’t want to lose 400 and whatever it is thousand dollars for Paul Newman’s Kids, so he walked away with 500,000. Norm McDonald, Jason, Alec Baldwin was a great one, Rosie was a lot of fun. Anyone else that you can think of? Yeah, those were some of the best, and very smart people, too.

Question: After the first phenomenal year of the show, you had said that you thought the buzz about this show could probably keep going for another year or two. I mean, the real buzz. Do you think this interactive exhibit, you’ve done things obviously to keep the buzz going like the stars editions, but this exhibit here at Disney World will keep it going now and continue the success of the show?

Regis: Well you know somebody else asked me that, what is the plus and the minus of having an exhibit like this where you entertain maybe 6,000 people a day and that comes to 30,000 in the five-day work week. I think the appeal of this show is so powerful that the online version of it, the board game version of it, the CD-ROM version of it, has only heightened the excitement about the show and has made them want to watch and maybe even participate one day in the real thing. So I don’t see any leveling off of the excitement. Naturally, the ratings when we came out were stratospheric. You can’t keep ratings that high. There has to be a leveling off period. But yet if you look at the top 10 shows every week, the top 10 rated shows, you’ll see four Millionaire shows in there every week and what network could ask for more than that.

Michael: Not more than that. “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” is on four nights a week on a weekly basis. “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” is watched by more people, more adults 18-49, than any other show on television. We don’t have very many people who watch four nights a week. They tend to watch one night. Who can be there to watch all those different nights? They watch one night. A statistic I just got was that Millionaire is watched by more young adults 18-49 than the entire WB and UPN networks put together on a weekly basis. It’s a really huge ridge. Our policy with the show across all those forms has always been to try and extend the experience of playing the game to as many people as possible. And that’s how its been with the CD-ROM with the online process and this is just terrific. Two point two million people a year are going to get to experience playing the game versus only 450 on the TV show and that’s really good.

Question: Regis, just for you last week, we put a poll up on the Web site to ask people which game show host they would most want to chat on a plane with. Last place was Pat Sajak, second place was Alex Trebek, first place was Regis Philbin, with 33 percent of the vote.

Regis: I hope Alex Trebek doesn’t hear that. Lot of problems if he does.

Question: Of course, there was a fourth category, too, called “I Would Rather Chew Hot Glass,” but it didn’t get anything like you did. My question to you is this: if you were going on a plane, who would you like to sit next to, except Joy, of course, and where would you be going for your vacation.

Regis: Who would I like to sit next to on a plane and where would I be going with that person? I’d love to spend an hour or two with Lou Holtz, going back to Notre Dame. How’s that sound?

Question: Where do you like to vacation:

Regis: Notre Dame is my favorite spot, outside of Disney World.

Question: What do you hate about traveling? You must do a lot a traveling.

Regis: Well, I hate the airport dance you have to go through these days to get on the plane to begin with, and hopefully the plane will take off, you know, relatively close to when it’s supposed to. Those things, travel has become really a burden.

Question: What’s your favorite place to eat in New York?

Regis: You’re not going to believe this. Gray’s Papaya Hot Dogs. The absolute best. 72nd and Broadway. The price just went up.

Question: I saw seven hosts on the Orlando show and I wanted to know, according to the last census reports, Hispanics are the largest majority. I don’t see any Hispanic representation among that group. Is it that you’re planning to do a show in Spanish?

Michael: I can address that. You know, I can’t really speak for the selection of the hosts down here. Regis and I had nothing to do with it. I think they’re great, we just didn’t have anything to do with it. The minority representation on Millionaire is something that we are just fixed upon on a daily basis and it’s something which we really got to have, too. Recently on our celebrity shows we put John Leggazamo, who’s going to play on our shows in May, it’s very important for us to put a Hispanic celebrity on the show who could say to people, look you can do well, this show is for you as well. We’re now a nationwide search for contestants. We’re going in all over the country looking for minority contestants. We’re selecting them, they’re getting in the hot seat, there are plans to do a Spanish language version of Millionaire. We also hold the rights for Millionaire in Mexico. That program I think will be launched at some point this year and whether or not that show is broadcast in the U.S. or whether or not there is an individual Spanish program on your network or on a rival network is all being discussed right now.

Question: They’ve tried before to get you with “21” and with“Greed” and I guess in a week or so they’re going to come at you again with another game show on another network, um, can’t even think of the name of it, I guess that’s a good sign.

Answer: “The Weakest Link”

Question: Yes, you’re thoughts about this latest bit of competition?

Regis: You know, I’ve only seen what you’ve probably seen, and that is this woman on TV saying “you’re the weak link, get out!” And I’ve read something about her, how tough she is, but I think Michael is more familiar with that show and with that host.

Michael: I honestly think it’s a pretty good show. It’s a proven format, it’s done very well in daytime in Britain as a five-night-a-week strip. It hasn’t succeeded in prime time despite the reports. They say “oh, the first show to beat Millionaire.” This show has never come close to beating Millionaire in Britain. But it’s a pretty interesting show, I think it’s great that a British talent is getting to come out here and actually, you know, host a program, you know, not since the days of Benny Hill have we seen such a high-profile British talent come out and host an American show. I think it’s interesting, you know, that they’ve taken some pot shots at Regis and you know, that it’s so fake for Regis to pretend he likes these people when “you know, I’m just being real, I’m being mean to these people when they come out.” Regis isn’t being fake at all. He genuinely likes the vast majority of our contestants. And frankly, when he doesn’t, you can kind of tell. He likes the vast majority of them and we feel that they’re under a huge amount of pressure and we don’t want to abuse them. This show works on a slightly different point of view and there is a whole strain of television which is going in a slightly meaner direction. And some of that will be fine and some of it will work. It sort of has nothing to do with Millionaire. So whatever that show does on Monday night at 8, it’s not going to effect Millionaire. My policy on this show, “Jeopardy” was created in 1962. It’s been on television for 39 years. We want to be around for a long time. We’re still huge, we’re in prime time, we play all these nights a week and they can throw anything at us, but we’ll keep on beating it.

Regis: I think what Michael said is very true about our business in general, going in a meaner direction. Even the “Survivor,” you know, are pitted against each other, and who can be meaner and voted off and all of that business. That’s not our show and frankly, that’s not me. And I’ve chosen to, as I said in the warm-up to the show today, to relax them, to make them feel more comfortable. I can look in their eyes and tell how nervous they are, how excited they are, how clouded their mind is, and I feel for them. And sometimes, even when you get up to the 2,000 dollar level, to many of the people playing that game, that is an enormous sum of money and they’re thrilled to have that and would like to get more. And I feel for them and I want them to win, I want everybody to win a million dollars. So I’m not pretending that I’m their best friend. I’m trying to be their best friend for the few minutes they’re there and do what I can to help them become a bigger winner. Now, this woman, whatever her name is, is probably going to try to make a little feud out of that but I think everybody knows how I feel about my contestants on the game.

Question: First of all, Regis and Michael, thank you for coming down here and bringing this show to Disney World. We love it. It’s great. My question to you and I’m sure the whole world would love to see this, you’ve gone through so many questions, you sit in that seat, the person sits in the hot seat, are we ever going to see you possibly in the hot seat and maybe one of these great people from Disney World give you the questions to see if you can do it.

Regis: You know, I’ve been meaning to say this to my executive producer, I would dearly love to sit in the hot seat.

Michael: Oh, I would love to see you there.

Regis: You know what might be fun is to get game show hosts, you know how we do specials. We get Sajak and um…

Michael: Well I think we’re willing to make a [public[ this time.

Regis: We’ve tried that, haven’t we.

Michael: If Alex Trebek comes on Millionaire and puts himself in the hot seat where he can’t read the answers to the questions off the cards, Regis will also get in the hot seat. For charity.

Regis: Yeah. We’ll even take the English grandmother who pretends she’s so mean. We’ll put her in there, too.

Question: Just don’t get Ben Stein. Don’t go against Ben Stein.

Regis: No, no. Ben Stein is not invited.

Michael: We don’t let him on the “phone friend” list.

Regis: He’s a smart guy.

Question: Wondering about if you could speak to the authenticity of not only what you see in here as a recreation of your own set in New York, but also the experience for the people who come in and compete.

Regis: Well, I just saw the look on that young lady’s face, the very first one they selected, the first one who won the “fastest finger” question, and, boy, that is representative of the kind of person they’re going to have here. You know, someone who is very eager and anxious to be a part of this whole thing and she couldn’t be more surprised and I was wondering how she did, that’s why I asked. I think the thing is so authentic, it bowled me over. I don’t know if Michael, have you been down here as they were constructing this?

Michael: No, we’ve consulted every step of the way with the people who built this and it’s really built to the footprint of our set. There are a lot more people in the audience, there are some camera changes, you know, they’ve got to bring so many people through here on a daily basis, they had to make some changes. But it’s authentic enough and in talking about coming down here and shooting shows, you know we’re kind of spoiled with the amount of grid height, and the amount of space and the size of the audience. This is really set up that we can come and shoot real television programs here, as well.

Regis: And I wondered how they were going to do some of the more difficult things we do on the show. You know, that “phone a friend” thing is a complicated phone process where we have, what five people, five people around the country waiting for each contestant. And those people are tied up. And how are they going to do that here? Well, they do it very easily. They just changed the name of it to “phone a complete stranger.” Right? So they go out to a host, the host picks the first person walking by him and they become part of the show. So I think that’s a terrific idea.

Michael: There are some minor changes here that probably only me and Carlos sitting up there as the head of production at Buena Vista would know that they’ve actually changed. But there are some other things that they are doing here which frankly are a little bit ahead of what we’re doing. They’re testing out [sorting] the computer software and hardware area, they’re doing some things that are really, really interesting that we’re going to learn off. This is a real place that we might be able to test out things. So it’s really very useful for the television program to have this attraction here.

Question: What has been your most memorable experience in doing the show and, in the past, you’ve done celebrity-themed shows, do you have plans on doing shows which involve younger contestants?

Regis: Let me answer the first question and I think Michael should take the second question because I don’t know what his latest plans are. Every now and then we talk about doing a game for kids and we have actually tried it with their parents and it was a lot of fun. But, the most memorable thing for me was the first million dollars we gave away. It’s a thrill to give somebody a million dollars and the first time you do it, you just don’t forget it. And the guy was such a brainiac, you know, he was really into it, he didn’t stop once to go for a lifeline. He went right through the stack of 15 questions. The final question was: which president was involved in the old “Laugh-In?” Which president? Was it President Johnson, was it Nixon, was it Carter. In any event, I remember it well because I was out working in Hollywood at that time and it was Nixon of course, and it got an enormous amount of publicity. But that was 31 years ago and this young fellow was 31 years old and so maybe he knew it and maybe he didn’t. He stopped, he said “I want to use a lifeline” and I was thrilled that this guy, an IRS agent, cold as ice, wanted to use a lifeline. Who do you want to call? I want to call my father. And he had a certain amount of arrogance, you know what I mean? A little swagger. A couple of times I wanted to reach across the computer and slap him. But I was afraid he would audit me. So he wanted to call his father, and I said thank God this guy’s got a heart, he’s going to call his father. He gets his father on the line and he says “dad, I don’t need any help here. I just want you to know I’m going to win a million dollars.” And he said Nixon’s the answer and he won a million bucks. Well you don’t forget something like that pretty easily. So that’s my fondest memory of the show. What about a show for kids, Mike.

Michael: On having younger contestants, we’re planning a high school version of the show which is going to be for graduating high school seniors, playing for real money to help them sort of hopefully use that money to good use and help them pay for their college education. We’ve done some family shows which were parents playing with their children and we’re looking to bring that back next year. We’re sort of waiting to hear right now how many nights a week are we on next year and what nights are we on. And we’ve always talked about doing that on Friday nights where TGIF used to be, having a parents and kids show. I’m very nervous about just having kids on the show without their parents because I think there’s an element to this show, when you say to a kid, ok, you’ve won 250,000 dollars, but if you get the next question wrong, you’re going to lose, you know, 218,000 dollars. I don’t really want to put a kid in that situation. But with their parents there, I sort of feel ok about it. And we’re doing a kid’s version of the CD-ROM, you’re going to see on the online game, we’re going to put the kid’s versions on there. Our younger viewers are very important to us now.

Regis: Oh, I must tell you, the kid audience that we have on this show is phenomenal. If I go on a cruise, for example, all of a sudden, I’m like the Pied Piper. I’ve got a thousand kids following me, you know, calling me Mr. Millionaire, which I like a lot.

Question: With your daytime talk show and with doing the Millionaire show at night, you honestly have my grandmother worried and she want’s to know, when do you sleep? She’s worried about you.

Regis: Well, I appreciate that. It is quite a schedule, you know. We do the live show and it’s over at 10 o’clock, but then people think you just walk away. There’s always a million things you’ve got to do around that office. And then, deep in the afternoon, around 3 o’clock, I go over to the studios which are right down the street. You know, I live across the street at the most convenient location in New York City. If you want to work in New York City, the trick is to get as close, to live as close to your place of work as possible. And for me, it means walking across the street in the morning, walking across the street again in the afternoon and going in and we play the Millionaire. I get there around 3, we start the show at 4, it’s over around 6, 6:15, something like that, get out of there around 6:30, 6:45. And then on Thursday, we play two games, we do five a week and that’s to cover my vacation time. I’ll be going on vacation for a couple of weeks, that means eight shows that we have to have ready, and we do it that way. It’s a rigorous schedule, but nothing lasts forever in this business and I love both shows very, very much. I’m not getting eight hours. I can’t sleep at night, no.

I’d just like to say one other thing. You know, this is a historic studio and Disney has put many shows in this studio and it’s a great studio, I mean, Michael, can you believe the height we have here, the space we have is just tremendous. But years ago, Monty Hall used to do a show here, “Let’s Make a Deal.” And here was young Michael Davies, who was working on the show in some production capacity and then one day Monty Hall came and said “you’re all fired, we’re going off the air” and that was the end of Michael Davies career here in this studio. But, as you can see, he has fought his way back, he’s the brightest, most dynamic young producer we have at ABC, I really mean that, I love this guy, and he’s the one who brought this show from England to here and made it into such a hit and is on top of every show and is the final voice on the show and we owe all of our success to Michael Davies.
Article Posted: Oct 12, 2001 /