Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Freestyle 2/22/11 - Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Netflix

The new season of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" is past the halfway point. Over the holidays, I took the chance to catch up. Things really changed this year, with randomization aplenty. The first part of the game consists of ten questions. After seeing the categories (and ranking of difficulty), the order gets mixed up. Cash amounts ranging from $100 to $25,000 are randomly assigned to the new order. This means contestants could be answering the hardest question for $100, or the easiest one of the bunch for 25-grand.

Unlike the past, the money won is cumulative. Players can still ask the audience for help, but the other lifelines have been excised for two "jumps." If they don't know the answer, a player can choose to "jump" the question and move on to the next one. However, they forfeit the chance at whatever money was assigned to it - which could mean a five-figure payday floating to the ether. If the contestant answers incorrectly in this portion, they walk with $1,000. If they choose to leave the game, their accumulated money is cut in half. The final five questions of the game work exactly like the old days, culminating in a final challenge for $1,000,000.

I was skeptical of the changes going in, but frankly, Millionaire was boring the crap out of me. The show ran out of gas in the overexposed days of Regis. Somehow, Millionaire hung on for eight syndicated seasons after that with the same basic format. Sure they would change the lifelines, and even added a clock at one point, but it wasn't grabbing me. Because of the potential budget woes with doing Millionaire five days a week in syndication, they did a lot to keep contestants from the six-figures. In those rare moments each year where I'd check in, I saw people struggle to win $8,000. After playing a version of the new random format on their website, my eyes were going to be peeled.

Considering the above-mentioned money concerns, I was shocked at how fast things were moving. Either through editing or producer encouragement, players were super quick to make decisions. They got through at least twice as many questions as before, and the money sent out the door was tremendous.

Normally I would applaud this sort of pacing. The trivia was top-notch, and there's a lot of it each half hour. But a lot of times, I was wondering why an answer was correct. When you ask a "which of these..." question, where you pick the biggest/smallest/most-selling whatever, you want to know how the choices compare. No time for that here. Gotta keep pushin' forward. I wondered how this format would look to somebody coming in blind. Likely confusing. What I DO know is that the random elements brought me to a show I wouldn't normally watch, and made each episode different and exciting. Some may cry it's not their mother's Millionaire, but in my opinion, that ship sailed.

The Netflix instant streaming feature has been a good investment for me. The key thing I've enjoyed are TV seasons not yet (or never-going-to-be) on DVD, like King of the Hill, which stopped going to disc at season six. The entire run is up for grabs! The interface keeps track of what you watch, what you like, and even holds your partial views so you can rejoin an episode at the exact moment you left it. They have EVERY season of Saturday Night Live streaming! You too can finally relive the years after the original cast, and see just why they're so maligned. I've also been able to catch up on The Office. As much as I bum out at things going digital vs. tangible, this is a great medium for TV seasons. At less than $10 a month, it has a good chance of being worth it in your home.

No comments: