Quiz Show Underground: Quiz $ Millionaire

Looking back at another Japanese game show that doesn’t fit the stereotype of Japanese Game Show

Just like how the American anime boom has declined from its heyday 15 years or so ago to its current point of equilibrium, so too has the American quiz show.  There have certainly been attempts, and there are no shortage of game shows on the tubes, but as far as trivia goes, your choices are kinda slim.  However, one choice you do have is essentially the Pokemon of quizzes–the one program that opened the floodgates and ushered in the Golden Age of Big Money Game Shows.  It’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and of course it had a Japanese version.  Otherwise I wouldn’t be talking about it.

For those who don’t know or have forgotten, Millionaire was a British format debuting in 1998 and taking many of its cues from old timey shows like The $64,000 Question and so on.  Michael Davies, who was actually interested in reviving The $64,000 Question, decided his energy was better spent adapting the UK hit in the States.  When it debuted in the US in August 1999, the ratings exploded and soon everyone and their mum had big money quizzes of their own.  Japan not being one to miss out, and thus Quiz $ Millionaire born in April of 2000. Watching any older Millionaire episode regardless of country seems so different compared to the thing that Terry Crews is about to inherit, but it was a simple game.  15 questions, 3 lifelines, and the Japanese version played it pretty much the same way.  The only difference was that instead of calling someone at their house (usually in front of their computer with Google already pulled up), all of a players’ Phone-A-Friends were sequestered in a room offstage.  When the lifeline was used, all four of your contacts went to work.

So what was the top prize? Well, funny story.  Japan, like the UK (and the US, informally), had limits on how much one could win on a game show primarily because of the American quiz show scandals.  While Millionaire essentially busted the notion of these limits in most of the world, Japan’s limits held firm, so even though Q$M offered a top prize of ¥10,000,000 it would have to be split 5 ways–¥2 million for the contestant and each of the Phone-A-Friends.

Other than those two changes, you got essentially the same game as the West, but possibly better.  For one, the lower level gets abridged for broadcast (while the questions are definitely played out, they aren’t shown, which would likely cause S&P departments here to poop Holsteins) so you get to the important bits much sooner.  Also, instead of Reege or Cedric the Entertainer or Eddie McGuire running all over the proceedings (Chris Tarrant was okay, I guess), my impressions of Q$M host Mino Monta were much more favorable.  Since he’s one of the hardest working men in showbiz, that doesn’t surprise me.  You still have the dopey suspense, but you can’t have Millionaire without it.  Also, their version of Super Millionaire was much more badass.  Here’s why:

-The tree was cut to 10 questions
-Questions 6-10 were 2-choice questions, which meant 50:50 was verboten
-A wrong answer at any time meant you left with nothing.
-After Question 8, you could not walk

Effing hardcore.

Fortunately, we have plenty of youtubes still available of this fine series (and even youkus if you can get around the region-lock). Unfortunately, Q$M went the way of all things in 2007 but it comes back every now and again for specials (of course with celebrities), as recently as last year. In 2009 they started adding a per question time limit starting at 30 seconds for each of the first 9 and going up to 3 minutes for the big money questions. While Millionaire has stuck around in the States, its status also feels diminished among the pantheon of Quizzes and I wouldn’t be surprised if we were in the winter of the show’s life.

While this story doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending (or is that “final answer”?) there is a bit of a postscript ; in 2013, GSN imported The Chase from Britain, made it into a big money show (teams have vied for well over $100,000 at times, which is still pretty big) and it has become one of the most successful shows in the network’s history. A couple of that show’s former contestants are going to be putting on their 3rd annual 24 Hour Game Show Marathon to raise money for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  If you like game shows and insomnia you have probably been to an anime convention and should check it out and maybe even donate.  That way, everyone can win, even if it’s not Big Money.