You may already hear it swirling around in your head, that distinct, unforgettable sound of Regis Philbin saying, "Is that your final answer?" This is not your subconscious stuck in the year 2000. There is serious talk that ABC will bring back Who Wants to be Millionaire next fall with Reege as the host.
Why would ABC do such a thing? Costs, for one thing. The game show is still in syndication, so the sets are already built and there's still an infrastructure for creating the questions and the scripts. The network could easily ramp up production and put its one-time megahit back on the air. This time, ABC probably will refrain from running the series into the ground with too many airings, like it did the last time, and will instead stick to using the show as a stunt event with a limited run, like American Idol.
One TV critic speculates that the show could do great in a weak economy, with people interested in the quick money pantings of the contestants and their heartbreaking decisions over whether or not to take the cash in hand or go for the big prize. But the move could also backfire, just like some of the heart-wrenching stories on ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" went from tales of resurrection to tales of foreclosure woes. When people are in real need, do we want to sit there and watch contestants as they gamble away a chance to set their lives right?
In this new era of responsibility, the cultural trend should be toward encouraging people to work for what they earn and hold onto it. And besides, CBS is struggling with Survivor and Fox is retooling Idol, so maybe there's not such a great market for aging game show concepts after all.
As a little bit of disclosure, during a little blip in my career, I worked for Who Wants to be a Millionaire as a fact checker. It was right at the height of the show's popularity, and millions of people watched each week as contestants tried and failed to grab the big money. Time after time, they were felled in the final steps. I don't know what directives went around at the corporate level, but at my pay grade there was a bit of panic as we scrambled to create new questions and rephrase others into an easier difficulty level.
For ABC to try to contribute a little feel-good, happy ending mood to the nation, I cringe at the thought of how the show would have to be manipulated in order to guarantee that somebody wins at a regular interval. If they don't do this, however, we'll be faced with another string of losers, and do we really need to have that kind of dreariness in prime time again?
Other TV comebacks aren't trying to cash in on the recession, but rather our collective sense of nostalgia for all things of the Generation X childhood. So welcome back Electric Company! The PBS learning show, which launched the career of Morgan Freeman, only lasted six seasons in the original, but made a lasting impression on anyone who watched it in the 1970s. The new version launched on January 19, and will air 26 episodes a season.
Another bit of 80s nostalgia that might make a comeback this year: Moonlighting. This year is the show's 20th anniversary, and there's talk of a reunion movie starring none other than Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd themselves.
2009 comebacks: Who Wants To Be a Millionaire and other TV legends