http://www.msnbc.com/news/871110.asp?0na=x225H4I2-So do you want to be a billionaire? Michael Davies, producer of the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and the WB network are collaborating with Pepsi-Cola on a TV game in September that could net someone a billion dollars. The plans, reported in Mondays Variety, were confirmed by two executives close to the deal who spoke on condition of anonymity.
ONE THOUSAND CONTESTANTS will qualify for the game by purchasing marked Pepsi products this summer. They will be whittled down to one winner through what is described as a game of nerve. The winner, as part of a two-hour live special, will have the chance at the largest prize in television history.
Davies, who brought Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to the U.S. and turned it into a megahit for ABC, plans to partner with Pepsi for the special event, which insiders likened to a real-life Willy Wonka.
In this case, contestants will land a spot on the show if they happen to purchase one of a few specially marked Pepsi products. (In Willy Wonka, a handful of kids won the right to visit the Wonka chocolate factory when they found a golden ticket packaged with their candy bars.)
Given the random nature of who might end up with a winning Pepsi, the producers expect to find people from all walks of life to participate. Pepsi will promote the contest all summer, leading up to the special in September.
Given the summerlong hype and the potential $1 billion prize, WB insiders believe the special could attract the networks largest-ever audience.
Details of the game were still sketchy over the weekend, although insiders said contestants will face off in a game of nerve and chicken.
Theres no guarantee that anyone will win $1 billion. But just in case, Pepsi which is apparently putting up the money hopes to secure some hefty insurance. The soft drink company is talking to a number of companies, including Lloyds of London, about insuring the show against a possible winner.
The network and producers are still working out details, including whether there will be a celebrity component or a watch-and-win-at-home aspect. The special, to be produced in New York City, will likely be fronted by multiple hosts.
GOING FOR THE BIG BUCKS
The billionaire special comes as the game show mania of 1999 and 2000 upped the prize ante. According to game show scholar and Union University professor Steve Beverly, environmental engineer Kevin Olmstead still holds the all-time game show record, having won $2.18 million on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in April 2001.
IRS employee John Carpenter became TVs first game show millionaire in 1999, when he became the first contestant to make it all the way to the top of Millionaire.
Most recently, The Price Is Right returned to primetime with a million-dollar gimmick. Beverly said the larger jackpots have actually declined in the game show world now that theyve disappeared from primetime again.
Does kicking up the dollars usually result in a ratings increase? he asked. Unless you are introducing a format and structure totally new that catches the viewers blindsided and knocks their socks off as Millionaire did in 1999, the answer is no.
All told, according to Beverly, more than 150 players have won at least $200,000 from various game shows.
Davies is also working with the WB on a six-episode variety show this summer that will include participation by commercial sponsors instead of actual advertisements.