Bruce Fretts
November 10, 1999 AT 05:00 AM EST

”Millionaire” trounced NBC and CBS last weekend

All over Hollywood, people are scratching their heads over the success of ABC’s prime-time game show, ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Skeptics who predicted the summer smash would fade against tough fall competition had to eat their words last Sunday when the series defeated the season premiere of Fox’s ”The X-Files” as well as the first parts of two high-profile miniseries, NBC’s ”The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns” and CBS’s ”Shake, Rattle, and Roll.”

Other networks are now scrambling to get their own nighttime quiz shows on the air. Fox debuted ”Greed,” its shockingly obvious knock-off of ”Millionaire” last week. While it finished only 50th overall, it still boosted the network’s sagging Thursday fortunes. NBC even went so far as to revive the scandal-tainted ”Twenty-One.” But none of these wannabes will ever be as successful as ”Millionaire,” because they don’t have the show’s secret weapon: Regis Philbin.

Think about it. With any other host, ”Millionaire” just wouldn’t be the same. (Compare how clumsy Chuck Woolery sounded trying to explain the convoluted rules for ”Greed.”) The 65-year-old Philbin is a born TV star. People love this guy — and with good reason.

First of all, he looks like a million bucks. The expert lighting on ”Millionaire” shaves decades off his face; it’s no wonder he’s always moaning about the harsh glare on his daily syndicated chat show, ”Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee.” In contrast to some of the loud sports jackets he wears on ”Live,” ”Millionaire” cloaks him in impeccably tailored dark suits with monochromatic shirt-and-tie combinations straight out of the pages of GQ.

More important, without the constant distraction of Kathie Lee Gifford’s ever-growing ego, Philbin’s endearingly cranky personality shines through. He’s not hesitant to blow off a little steam — he gets geniunely irked when contestants refuse to use their ”lifelines” — yet he never seems mean-spirited. He’s like your favorite grumpy uncle.

What delicious irony that in a season dominated by teen-angst dramas, the hottest TV star would be a senior citizen. Can the Gene Rayburn renaissance be far behind?

You May Like