Jimmy Kimmel steers ABC’s ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ return

Game show’s latest ABC version is fronted by Jimmy Kimmel

Jimmy Kimmel hosts a revival of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” starting Wednesday on ABC.

If you’ve been missing a certain game show, fear not: It’s time to use a lifeline, or several of them, again.

“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” returns to its roots while also updating itself as it begins a new ABC run Wednesday, April 8. It has a notable new host: Jimmy Kimmel, who was a guest contestant earlier and now welcomes other celebrities to play for charity by giving a “final answer” to multiple-choice questions … and viewers also can play, via a newly added app that will let them try for the same amount of money won by the stars.

For the premiere, Eric Stonestreet will be in the “hot seat” on the same night his ABC series “Modern Family” ends, as will Will Forte. Future episodes will see Jane Fonda, Anthony Anderson (“black-ish”) and Nikki Glaser strive to give the right answers.

“We’ve changed many people’s lives with the various amounts of money they’ve won,” reflects returning executive producer Michael Davies, who was an ABC executive when he thought of developing “Millionaire” for America from its British version. “I’m constantly assailed by people who say they were able to make down payments on homes or send their kids to college or take care of loved ones’ medical bills through the show. It’s a very good feeling. I think ‘Millionaire’ has been such a positive force since it first came on the air.”

Over the two weeks of its 1999 debut with host Regis Philbin, “Millionaire” proved potent enough for ABC to order it as a regular series that ran from 2000 to 2002, then returned as a special several times. It also fueled a syndicated weekday version that was hosted first by Meredith Vieira, who was followed by Cedric the Entertainer, Terry Crews and Chris Harrison. That edition has been off the air since last spring, but Davies doesn’t believe the show “has ever gone away.

“I wouldn’t quite think of ‘Millionaire’ as a reality show, but if you think about the big franchises — ‘Survivor,’ ‘The Amazing Race,’ ‘Big Brother,’ ‘American Idol,’ ‘Dancing With the Stars’ — once they came on the air, they never really went away. With ‘Millionaire,’ they ran many episodes very fast, and it went into daytime so it could live in another part of the schedule; those other shows couldn’t because of their cost. I’ve been wanting this to come back for a long time, and I think we’ve got the right host in Jimmy Kimmel, and we can do new things with the format in the digital and social age.”

One new “Millionaire” element is “Ask the Host,” which will give ABC late-night staple Kimmel a direct line into the game play. “This is a show that has been a hit in more than 100 countries,” Davies notes. “It is a true global phenomenon, and it even spawned an Academy Award-winning movie (‘Slumdog Millionaire’). It’s just something that’s felt around the world.”

Jimmy Kimmel hosts a revival of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” starting Wednesday on ABC.
Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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