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''Millionaire'' has run its course

Ken Tucker thinks three airings a week is overkill and will sound the death knell for the game-show phenom

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”Millionaire” has run its course

No TV show is hotter than ABC’s ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”; even the CD-ROM game version of the show has sold out its initial 250,000-copy shipment. So it was no surprise when, last week, ABC announced that it was bringing the limited-run show back. But the way they’ve chosen to do so is a boneheaded mistake.

As of Jan. 11, you’ll be able to watch ”Millionaire” three times a week: Tuesdays 8-9 p.m., Thursdays and Sundays 9-10 p.m. In other words, the original concept of this show, as it was imported from Britain — a limited-run series that ran on consecutive nights for a week or two at a time — has been discarded. In its place is American network anti-thinking as usual: Duh, show get big ratings. Ratings make $$$. Keep show on air. Keep making more $$$.

Well, it ain’t going to work out that way, ABC. Here’s what’s going to happen: The ”special event” quality of ”Millionaire” — the essence of it as a popular phenomenon — vanishes when it’s on three times a week. It will become the game-show version of NBC’s ”Dateline”; that is, a cheap-to-produce time filler that’s on way too frequently and takes up air time that could be used more creatively with better dramas.

Given the increase in airings, the show will inevitably produce more million-dollar-winning contestants, yet these lucky ducks will no longer make headlines — the novelty will be gone. So will ”Millionaire,” within a full TV season, I predict. The other networks will shove their game-show rip-offs and revivals onto prime time over the coming months, and this old-fashioned genre revival will have run its course.

But our children can look forward to a new craze, in approximately the year 2050: ”Who Wants to Be a Quintillionaire.” Hosted by Homer Simpson, I’m hoping.