Phone-a-Friend (Telephone in Japan or Call-a-Friend in India) is a lifeline in the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? game. It is most commonly used if a contestant gets stuck on a particular question and needs help by calling a friend or relative on telephone. The contestant has to ask the current question and four (or two when 50:50 was used before) possible choices, and the friend is given 30 (25 in Croatia, the Netherlands and Denmark since 2019 or 45 in Ghana and India Hindi 2020) seconds to provide input and give the answer they think is correct to the contestant before the call is cut off.
The Phone-a-Friend lifeline was one of the original three lifelines on the show, when it first aired in the UK on 4 September, 1998. The UK version used it for its entirety; however, the U.S. show has used it only until early 2010, when it was discontinued because of an increasing trend in contestants’ friends using Internet search engines to look up the right answer (while this was not necessarily a rules violation, it was against the original intent of this lifeline). This lifeline was sponsored by AT&T for the U.S. primetime run from 1999-2002, the first season of the syndicated version from 2002-2003, and 2009 primetime revival. Also in the Canadian version, this lifeline was also sponsored by Clearnet PCS. On the other hand, whereas the U.S. version discontinued this lifeline, the UK version continued to use this lifeline, but instead changed how the lifeline worked; instead of leaving the selected friends at home, the contestant selected their friends ahead of time, and the show brought them backstage and places them in isolated soundproof booths, where they would not see or hear anything that goes on in the main studio until they are called for assistance, and they would not have any access to the internet. Since the 2018 revival in the UK version, the friends would be accompanied by a member of the production team to prevent them from cheating.
In all versions of the game that have this lifeline, a contestant must give the show a list of three or five friends before gameplay begins that can be called (they may not choose any other friends during gameplay). These friends will be called just as a contestant begins gameplay in order to remind them to be on stand-by and to keep the line as open as possible. On live shows, the show may bring said friends to a backstage location somewhere else in the studio and keep them away from telephones, TVs, and access to outside parties, in order for them to not know the contents of the questions a contestant is facing beforehand.
In the U.S., UK, other countries' Clock Formats, and several versions which using blue graphic or purple-pink background graphics in India Hindi, or Germany blue graphic, when the contestant chose to use the lifeline, the clock would be stopped. Once the call was finished, the host would give a brief explanation, and then the clock would start again.
A variation of Phone-a-Friend, called Phone-a-Complete Stranger, was used on the former Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – Play It! attraction. Instead of calling someone from the contestant's list of friends, a Disney Cast Member would get called and asked by the host to find a park guest to help the contestant with the question they need help on.
During Star Wars Weekends at Disney's Hollywood Studios, when the attraction had questions asked about Star Wars, the lifeline would be temporarily renamed Phone-a-Stormtrooper. For ESPN The Weekend, it would be replaced with a chance to ask an ESPN expert for assistance.
The video call was first used on Quiz $ Millionaire, then on the 9th and 12th seasons of Kaun Banega Crorepati (called as Video Call-a-Friend), as well as the 2017 season of Ai Là Triệu Phú, since 2021 season of Kto khochet stat' millionerom?, in the 5th season of the Costa Rican version and in 5th season of Marathi version of show. When the contestant was calling, the Phone-a-Friend partner's face on video were shown on the TV screen. After 30 seconds (45 seconds in the 12th season of Kaun Banega Crorepati), the calling is cut off, the video shown Phone-a-Friend partner's face was also cut off altogether.
In September 18, 2021, episode of Russian version in first time phone-a-friend as teleconference held.
Double/Triple Phone-a-Friend rule
On the current UK version, starting from Series 35, due to the inability to Ask the Audience because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the game gives contestants two Phone-a-Friend lifelines, with the condition that they cannot call the same person twice.
Phone at Home
In France, in the temporary at-home version of the show due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in connection with quarantine, a lifeline was introduced, a home version of the "Phone-a-Friend" lifeline called "Phone at Home" (L’appel à la maison). It works like Phone-a-Friend, only difference is the phoned person is an anonymous person.
- Regis Philbin said on the first episode of the U.S. version that Phone-a-Friend was his favorite lifeline.
- Phone-a-Friends are always contacted before the show to be reminded of the rules, and told when recording is. They cannot answer any incoming calls not from the Millionaire hotline during recording times, and must not make any outgoing calls. This often takes a lot of time, as each contact has to be told what to do before the show, and much of the time it's not possible to reach them straight away. Landline phones are also usually preferred.
- On at least three occasions, a contestant used the Phone-a-Friend lifeline on the last question not for help, but to inform their friend that they were about to win the top prize, then eventually do so. The most common example is John Carpenter, however Enrique Chicote in Spain and Ralf Schnoor in Germany also repeated Carpenter's trick.
- From the ninth series of Kaun Banega Crorepati, the 2017 series of Ai Là Triệu Phú, the 2021 series of Kto khochet stat' millionerom? and the revival of ¿Quién quiere ser millonario in Costa Rica, and the fifth series of Kon Hoeel Marathi Crorepati, they have used video calling instead of phone calls.
- When Eddie Timanus used the Phone-a-Friend lifeline during his Millionaire run, since he was blind, host Meredith Vieira read the question and four possible choices to Eddie's friend instead of Eddie himself, and also reminded them of how much time remained on the 30-second clock.
- In the first episode of the British version, the Phone-a-Friend lifeline was conducted using a handheld landline telephone. It was only used during Graham Elwell's run - it was dropped afterwards since the producers and Chris Tarrant felt it didn't fit. Then, the handheld landline telephone was also used on the first season of 50x15 in Spain, Quiz $ Millionaire in Japan and the second series of Milionár in Slovakia.
- When Tko želi biti milijunaš?, BankGiro Miljonairs and Hvem vil være millionær? returned in 2019, the time allowed was shortened from 30 to 25 seconds.
- In the 2021 series of Kon Hoeel Marathi Crorepati, the contestant has 45 seconds, possibly to accommodate for the possible delay on video calls.
- Phone-a-Friend has had many incidents where the desired contact is either not at home or producers have dialled or been given the wrong phone number. This regularly happens during recording (although Phone-a-Friends are reminded of when times during which they might be called before the show), and though these are usually edited out in post-production, at least three have made it onto the show: in Vietnam (twice) and Kazakhstan (once).
- The first was on July 12th, 2005 (?), Lê Thanh Huệ used her Phone-a-Friend lifeline to call doctor Tùng, who was working on 108 Hospital. But the show accidentally called an unknown woman, as the phone number given was the number of the hospital itself. Due to this, she phoned her dad, Thuộc, but the wrong name had been inputted into the computer (the computer recorded Thuật and the contestant's dad was named Thuộc). She ended up not using Phone-a-Friend and answered the question. This was the first recorded broadcast Phone-a-Friend error.
- The second was on May 7th, 2019, when Phạm Quỳnh Như used her Phone-a-Friend lifeline on the sixth question to call Vũ Văn Khanh, however producers dialled the wrong number (the woman on the phone said "Wrong number!"). Host Phan Đăng said that this is the first time an error had occurred regarding Phone-a-Friend in the short history of Ai Là Triệu Phú (not realising the 2005 incident). Producers tried to call Vũ Văn Khanh again - this time the right number was called.
- The other occurred on one episode of the Kazakh version, on which the pictures of the Phone-a-Friend contestants was not displayed.
- On the celebrity special of the 2007-2008 series of Kto khochet stat' millionerom? on 5 November 2007, in which celebrities Tatyana Vedeneyeva and Tatyana Arno appeared, as an exception, the host Maxim Galkin allowed them to use the "Phone-a-Friend" prompt twice. Each of the participants called their telephone helper. In the March 31, 2012 episode (Dmitry Dibrov's era), celebrity couple Alexander Revva and Andrey Rozhkov also two times phoned.
- During the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK (Series 35 and Series 36), contestants were given two opportunities to use Phone-a-Friend as a replacement for the absence of Ask the Audience, however they could not phone the same contact twice. Since 2018, the UK version has also required a representative of Stellify Media (referred to as "someone from our office" by Jeremy Clarkson) to be at each of the contacts' homes, to prevent them from searching for the answer online,.
- On Vem vill bli miljonär?, the music for the 30 second clock was pitched slightly lower than the usual music. The circle around the clock also disappeared in an anti-clockwise direction, rather than clockwise as per usual.
- On the first series of Cincuenta por quince, the original graphics had no orange circle on the outside, and the number was in the Arial font, as opposed to the usual Copperplate Gothic. The clock also ended slightly later than the music. After the mid-series graphics revamp, the clock was a slightly 3D circle with a small red circle going clockwise around the outside for the duration of 30 seconds. It wasn't until late 2000 that 50x15 used the usual clock design.
- In Vietnam, host Phan Đăng made a mistake, when he "fixed" Phone-a-Friend's lifeline name (Gọi điên thoại cho người thân) as Ask A Friend (Hỏi ý kiến người thân).