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Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (sometimes informally known as Millionaire) is an international television game show franchise of British origin, created by David Briggs, Mike Whitehill, and Steven Knight. In its format, currently owned and licensed by Sony Pictures Television, large cash prizes are offered for correctly answering a series of multiple-choice questions of increasing (or, in some cases, random) difficulty. The maximum cash prize in the original British version was one million pounds. Most international versions offer a top prize of one million units of the local currency; the actual value of the prize varies widely, depending on the value of the currency.
The original British version of the show debuted on 4 September 1998, and aired on ITV with Chris Tarrant as its host until 11 February 2014. The show's format is a twist on the game show genre—only one contestant plays at a time (similar to some radio quizzes), and the emphasis is on suspense rather than speed. In most versions there are no time limits to answer the questions, and contestants are given the question before they must decide whether to attempt an answer. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is the most internationally popular television franchise of all time, having aired in more than 100 countries worldwide.
The contestants must first play a preliminary round, called "Fastest Finger First" (or, in the U.S. version, simply "Fastest Finger"), where they are all given a question and four answers from the host and are asked to put those four answers into a particular order; in the first series of the British version and in pre-2003 episodes of the Australian version, the round instead required the contestants to answer one multiple-choice question correctly as quickly as possible. The contestant who does so correctly and in the fastest time goes on to play the main game for the maximum possible prize (often a million units of the local currency). In the event that two or more contestants are tied for the fastest time, those contestants play another question to break the tie. If no one gets the question right, that question is discarded and another question is played in the same manner. If any contestants are visually impaired, the host reads the question and four choices all at once, then repeats the choices after the music begins.
Main game contestants are asked increasingly difficult general knowledge questions by the host. Questions are multiple choice: four possible answers are given (labelled A, B, C, and D), and the contestant must choose the correct one. Upon answering a question correctly, the contestant wins a certain amount of money. In most versions, there is no time limit to answer a question; a contestant may (and often does) take as long as they need to ponder an answer. After the first few questions, the host will ask the contestant if that is their "final answer". When a contestant says "final" in conjunction with one of the answers, it is official, and cannot be changed. The first five questions usually omit this rule, because the questions are generally so easy that requiring a final answer would significantly slow the game down; thus, there are five chances for the contestant to leave with no money if they were to provide a wrong answer before obtaining the first guaranteed amount; going for 1,000 units of currency after winning 500 units is the last point in the game at which a contestant can still leave empty-handed.
Subsequent questions are played for increasingly large sums, roughly doubling at each turn. The first few questions often have some joke answers. On episodes of the UK version aired between 1998 and 2007, the payout structure was as follows: first going from £100 to £300 in increments of £100, then from £500 to £64,000 with the pound value doubling for each new question, and finally from £125,000 to £1,000,000 with the pound value doubling for each new question.
In most versions, contestants are given a series of lifelines, usually three, which they can use whenever they get stuck on a question, but each lifeline can only be used once. The most popular lifelines include 50:50, which takes away two incorrect answers, leaving the right answer and one wrong answer, Phone-A-Friend, which allows the contestant to call someone and ask them what they think the answer is, and Ask the Audience, in which the contestant can poll the studio audience to see what they think the answer is. Some other lifelines include Switch the Question, Double Dip, Three Wise Men, Ask the Expert, Jump the Question and Plus One.
After viewing a question, the contestant can leave the game with the money already won rather than attempting an answer. If the contestant answers a question incorrectly, then all of their winnings are lost, except that the £1,000 and £32,000 prizes are guaranteed: if a player gets a question wrong above these levels, then the prize drops to the previous guaranteed prize. Answering the £2,000 and £64,000 questions wrong does not reduce the prize money. The prizes are generally non-cumulative; for example, answering the £500 question gives the contestant £500, not the previous £300 plus £500 (i.e. £800). The game ends when the contestant answers a question incorrectly, decides not to answer a question, or answers all questions correctly.