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.
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.
- On three occasions, a contestant would use 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. The other two are Ralf Schnoor and Enrique Chicote.
- For the 9th season of Kaun Banega Crorepati, the 2017 season of Ai Là Triệu Phú, the 2021 season of Kto khochet stat' millionerom? and the 5th season of the Costa Rican version of ¿Quién Quiere ser Millonario? and the 5th season of Marathi version, they will be using video calls instead of audio calls.
- When Eddie Timanus used the Phone-a-Friend lifeline during his Millionaire run, since he was blind, host Meredith Vieira would read the question and four possible choices to Eddie's friend instead and also remind him of how much time remained on the 30 second clock.
- In the first episode of the UK version, the Phone-a-Friend lifeline was conducted using a handheld landline telephone. It was only used during Graham Elwell's run. Then, the handheld landline telephone was also used on the first season of ¿Quién quiere ser millonario? in Spain, Quiz $ Millionaire in Japan and second season of Milionár in Slovakia.
- When Tko želi biti milijunaš?, BankGiro Miljonairs and Hvem vil være millionær? returned in 2019, the Phone-a-Friend lifeline shortened from 30 to 25 seconds.
- In 2021 season of Marathi version, contestant has 45 seconds.
- The Phone-a-Friend lifeline only have three incidents (both occured in Vietnam and Kazakhstan) throughout the Millionaire franchise, and both of them were calling wrong phone number or wrong people:
- The first is on July 12th, 2005 (?), a contestant name Lê Thanh Huệ used her Phone-a-Friend lifeline to calling doctor Tùng, who was working on 108 Hospital. But the show accidentally called an unknown woman (the phone number is the hospital's number). After that she have to phone her dad named Thuộc, but the computer didn't have his name in order to call. There's a mistake of the name (the computer flashed Thuật and the contestant's dad was named Thuộc). She ended up not using Phone-a-Friend and answered the question.This is the first error of Phone-a-Friend lifeline history.
- The second is on May 7th, 2019, a contestant name Phạm Quỳnh Như used her Phone-a-Friend lifeline on the 6th question to calling Vũ Văn Khanh. But the show had called a wrong number (the woman on the phone said "Wrong number!"). So the host (Phan Đăng) said that this is the first time an error was happen on 15 years history of Ai Là Triệu Phú, and the show would call him one again, this time they called the right number.
- The third is on one episode of the Kazakhstan version, the error of Phone-a-Friend was happen, when the photo of three Phone-a-Friend partners were not displayed.
- In the episode of November 5, 2007 (special edition), 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.
- 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).