Big money problems

'Millionaire' shut out of primetime Emmys

It’s the TV phenomenon of the year — yet “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and its gameshow spawn won’t be eligible for any Primetime Emmy awards this September.

Adding to the confusion: “Millionaire,” which has never aired outside of primetime, might walk away with this year’s Daytime Emmy for gameshow.

It’s all because of a little-known rule that had gone forgotten until now. According to the award regulations of the Academy of Television Arts and Science’s East Coast counterparts, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, gameshows are only eligible to compete in the daytime contest.

The same goes for gameshow hosts, which means “Millionaire’s” Regis Philbin and “Greed’s” Chuck Woolery will probably end up competing for the trophy with perennial winners Bob Barker, Pat Sajak and Alex Trebek.

“Greed” has been submitted in every gameshow category for this year’s Daytime Emmy awards, Fox confirmed. Sources said “Millionaire’s” producers are expected to follow suit.

New gamers “Winning Lines” and “Twenty-One” missed the daytime cutoff, which means those two shows won’t have a shot at any Emmy recognition this year.

Rules are rules

A spokeswoman from “Millionaire” producer Buena Vista Television said ABC had raised the question to the academy as to whether the show can be considered for the Primetime Emmy contest, “given the fact that this show has changed the face of primetime TV.”

But that ship has already sailed for 2000. The Daytime Emmys rule book is already out, and the Primetime Emmys rule book is set to be printed soon. The earliest any gameshow could grab a Primetime Emmy is in September 2001.

Blame it on a primetime gameshow trend that caught just about everyone by surprise. NATAS rulemakers probably didn’t foresee the genre’s stunning rebirth when drafting the daytime-only rule.

It wasn’t always that way. In the 1950s, gameshows were honored in the category of audience participation, quiz or panel Program (although the award’s title slightly varied year-to-year). Honorees included “Truth or Consequences” in 1950, “The $64,000 Question” in 1955 and “What’s My Line” in 1958. But once the quizshow scandals erased the genre from primetime, the category disappeared as well.

Move to daytime

A gameshow category eventually made its way to the daytime awards, which has handed out gameshow and gameshow host trophies since 1973.

Comedy Central’s “Win Ben Stein’s Money” and host Ben Stein both won in 1999.

Sources said it’s unlikely the gameshow category would return to the Primetime Emmys. A recently passed ATAS rule stipulates that there must be 14 eligible programs before a category can be created.

Even with the gameshow currently in vogue, it’s unlikely the networks will ever program that many series (unless syndicated series like “Wheel of Fortune,” which have competed in the daytime awards for years, are allowed to graduate to primetime).

ATAS insiders said it’s more likely that gameshows would fall under the Music, Variety or Comedy category.

But that means “Millionaire” and its ilk would compete with series such as “Dennis Miller Live” and “Late Show with David Letterman,” and potentially trigger a whole new controversy.

But first, ATAS and NATAS must hammer out new rules that would allow gameshows to compete in prime time. Under a long-standing agreement, ATAS handles the Primetime Emmy awards, while NATAS organizes daytime, sports and news and documentary prizes.

If the two sides do come to an agreement, ATAS’ awards committee would then have to vote on where to place gameshow nominations.

“If we continue to see the trend grow, I’m sure the awards committee will take a serious look at this arena,” ATAS chairman and CEO Meryl Marshall said.

For now, “Millionaire” and “Greed” (the only two primetime gamers that aired within the eligibility period) will have to settle for Daytime Emmy competition.

Ballots out soon

Ballots for the Daytime Emmys will be mailed out between Feb. 7 and 11, and will be due on Feb. 25. Nominations will be announced March 15, and winners revealed at a New York ceremony, telecast on ABC, on May 19.

For comparison’s sake, the U.K. version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” won the light entertainment series trophy from the British Academy of Film & Television Awards in 1999.

TV Guide Awards adjust

Meanwhile, the gameshow resurrection has already persuaded the producers of the upcoming TV Guide Awards to add “Favorite Game Show” to its roster of categories.

The ballot — found in the Jan. 8 and Jan. 15 issues of TV Guide — gives voters a choice between “Greed,” “Hollywood Squares,” “Jeopardy,” “The Price is Right,” “Wheel of Fortune,” “Win Ben Stein’s Money,” “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and interestingly, “Whose Line is It Anyway?” even though there are no prizes awarded on that show and the “contestants” are actually salaried comedians.

“Gameshows is obviously a category we would not have dreamed of doing last year,” said TV Guide Awards executive producer Janice Kaplan. “But we’d be remiss not to mention that a lot of people are watching gameshows.”

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