‘Millionaire’ takes on ratings giants in May

ABC pits quizzer against 'ER,' '60 Minutes'

The ratings warriors at ABC have decided to drop the “Millionaire” bomb on two new targets: “ER” and “60 Minutes.”

As part of its overall May sweeps strategy, Alphabet has skedded a special 7 p.m. edition of the Regis Philbin-fronted quizzer “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” opposite this Sunday’s seg of the veteran CBS newsmag. In addition, an hourlong behind-the-scenes at “Millionaire” spec will air at 10 p.m. Thursday, May 18, taking on the sixth season finale of NBC’s powerhouse medical drama.

Two broadcasts rep the first time ABC has run “Millionaire” outside of the 8-10 p.m. block. They’re also part of a big May “Millionaire” push that will see the gameshow air 17 nights during the 28-night ratings frame.

In addition to the show’s usual thrice-weekly broadcasts (on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays), ABC will push Regis every Wednesday at 8 and Monday, May 1.

A “Tournament of Champions,” in which past winners will compete to get even richer, is slated to end the sweeps for ABC May 21, 23 and 24. A multinight celebrity version of “Millionaire” will air next week.

As for the skedding of “Millionaire” vs. “60” and “ER,” ABC isn’t trying to knock off either show, execs at the Alphabet net say.

In the case of this Sunday’s 7 p.m. broadcast, an early “Millionaire” allows ABC to fit in three big events on one night: the quizzer, part one of the mega-mini “Arabian Nights” and a firstrun seg of the hit drama “The Practice.” It also gives ABC an hour headstart on the Sunday movie competish on NBC (“The ’70s”) and CBS (“The John Denver Story.”)

“The thought was to try to maximize our assets,” said ABC scheduling czar Jeff Bader.

The May 18 broadcast also seemed to make sense since ABC already airs a regular seg of “Millionaire” Thursdays at 9. “The best possible lead-in for the special is ‘Millionaire,’” said Bader.

In addition, while the chances of a “Millionaire” spec beating “ER” aren’t great, ABC execs couldn’t thing of any other show which “would do better against the season finale of ‘ER,’” Bader added.

An added bonus of the 10 p.m. spec is that it appeases affils who’ve been clamoring for ABC to find a way to make “Millionaire” work in the later timeslot, thus supplying a boffo lead-in to their local newscasts. The family appeal of “Millionaire” makes it unlikely ABC will ever air the show at 10 p.m. on a regular basis, however.

ABC will almost certainly repeat the behind-the-scenes at “Millionaire” spec in a kid-friendly 7 or 8 p.m. timeslot sometime this summer, sources said.

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