A change is afoot for "Millionaire"

With added competition from new freshman game show strips Trivial Pursuit: America Plays and the new weekday version of Deal or No Deal, Disney/ABC’s long running game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is getting a facelift for its seventh season in syndication, which begins on September 8. Among the changes:

Time’s Up. In order to speed up the game, the producers are now requiring contestants to give host Meredith Vierra a “final answer ” to a question in an allotted amount of time. If the contestant doesn’t answer the question in time, the game’s over and the contestant goes home with the amount of cash he/she has won so far. Any time not used on the first fourteen questions are bankrolled to the million dollar question.

Goodbye 50/50. The lifelines a contestant can use are also changing, with the “50/50” and “Switch the Question” options being dropped. Being added instead are “Ask the Expert” (only available past the $1,000 level) which utilizes video teleconferencing (via Skype) with well-known experts, and “Double Dip”, in which a contestant can take two guesses at a question.

I can now see ya (but don’t want to be ya!) The “Phone A Friend” lifeline is also getting a makeover, with the contestants’ phone-a-friends friend now visible.

Contestants now can also see the topics of the questions they will be asked, titled “The Millionaire Menu”.

All the changes are being made to freshen up the look of the show, according to Millionaire’s executive producer, Michael Davies.

Millionaire of course, began in August 1999 on ABC with Regis Phillbin. The program became a weekly series in 2000, but ABC ran it too much in prime-time (up to four nights to week at one point) and ratings cratered. Millionaire moved to syndication in 2002 with a new host (Meredith Vierra) and has been a sleeper hit.

Millionaire airs locally on WGN-TV at 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., but the second half-hour (which is usually a repeat) is being dropped to make way for an expanded midday newscast next month.