Ken Tucker
November 23, 1999 AT 05:00 AM EST

”Millionaire” helps ABC take the sweeps lead

It looks like it’s in the bag for ABC to win the current sweeps periods, based almost entirely on the mega-ratings for ”Who Wants to Be A Millionaire.” But last Friday’s all-the-way-to-the-top winner, John Carpenter — the first to win the full seven figures, and that includes the original, British version of the show — hasn’t done the series any favors.

I’ll preface my remarks by saying that Carpenter, having agreed to appear not only on ”Millionaire” but, post-win, on NBC’s ”Saturday Night Live,” ABC’s ”Good Morning America,” ”Live With Regis and Kathie Lee,” and CBS’ ”Late Show With David Letterman,” has turned himself voluntarily into a public figure, and as such is open to pop-culture commentary like…

Well, like have you ever seen a more cocky, unlikable contestant on a game show in your life? Even Carpenter, an Internal Revenue Service employee, said of the stunt he pulled during the million-buck question (calling his father, not for ”Life Line” help, but to inform him, ”Dad, I’m about to win the million dollars”) that ”I’m a bit of a smartass that way.” That’s fer sure — and it was kind of refreshing. After decades of game-show contestants weeping and yelping and hugging hosts, Carpenter’s disdain for the questions he was asked (that ”Laugh-In” Richard Nixon clincher was laughably easy to most American adults) was startling.

Initially, I thought he was a cold-blooded character, playing into all the clichés about I.R.S. minions, but after all his other media appearances, I admire Carpenter for maintaining his dignity as all around him, TV personalities are gushing and joshing.

I don’t quite believe that Carpenter’s win was greased by easy, end-of-sweeps-stunting questions by ABC and the ”Millionaire” producers. But I do know that my interest in the show itself has peaked with Carpenter’s victory. With the addition of Fox’s dreadful rip-off show ”Greed” and more avarice-aimed game shows in the offing, I’m ready to start switching back to other networks’ regularly scheduled programming. Better a good episode of ”Felicity” (to the four other viewers who watched this past weekend: Wasn’t that a juicy Thanksgiving episode?) than watching Regis anoint another millionaire.

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