- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Regis returns

Apparently, ABC never gave its final answer to “Millionaire” host Regis Philbin.

The affable talker returns to prime time Sunday as host of the revamped “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” The hour-long “Super Millionaire” offers a $10 million grand prize, up from a measly $1 million on the show’s initial go-round. The first installment debuts at 9 p.m. Sunday, with four more editions airing through Feb. 27.

The show’s return won’t be permanent. The network is planning the show to be a sweeps-time series of specials only.

ABC obviously learned from its mistakes. The original “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” proved a smash for the network when it first aired in 1999. Network officials quickly expanded the show into a four-times-a-week affair, though, which dampened the audience’s ardor for the quiz show.

Contestants will also go to battle with two additional lifelines. The “three wise men” option lets them tap a trio of brainy backstage specialists, including ex-winners. The “double dip” option allows contestants to choose two of the four potential answers, not just one.

In a phone press conference to promote the show, Mr. Philbin said that he’s been waiting for “Millionaire’s” return to prime time — a syndicated version of “Millionaire” hosted by Meredith Vieira still runs nationwide.

“I had a good feeling that ABC would ask me,” said Mr. Philbin, who, of course, will continue his chat chores as part of the network’s “Live with Regis & Kelly.” He said talk that the original version of the show solved the network’s ratings woes began as a joke he told on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” He does think the show’s success helped other ABC programs, such as “The Practice.” Pairing the David E. Kelley legal drama with “Millionaire” on Sunday nights “made” the program a hit.

“It found its own niche and carried on even without us,” he said.

Sound the ‘Trumpets’

Nelson Mandela, Angela Bassett, Isaac Hayes and Della Reese could all walk away winners during the 2004 Trumpet Awards, premiering tomorrow night on TBS.

The awards show, airing at 7 p.m., honors minority achievers in fields as diverse as law, politics and entertainment.

Hosted for the second consecutive year by comedian D.L. Hughley,the telecast promises musical performances by Mr. Hayes, Yolanda Adams and Ruben Studdard. The event was taped Jan. 26 at the Omni Grand Ballroom in Atlanta.

TBS will follow the program with honoree Miss Bassett’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” at 9 p.m. The actress earned an Oscar nomination for her work as soul legend Tina Turner.

Pilots away

The man who wore Robin’s cape in two “Batman” features is turning his attentions toward an “Amazing” CBS comedy.

Chris O’Donnell is in negotiations to star in “The Amazing Westerbergs,” a pilot about two twentysomething brothers raised to think they could accomplish anything but who now realize that finding success will be harder than they thought, the Reuters News Agency reports.

Mr. O’Donnell will play one of the brothers, a casting decision stemming from the actor’s talent-and-development deal with CBS.

The actor recently wrapped a multi-episode arc on the ABC legal drama “The Practice.” He can be seen next co-starring with Liam Neeson and Laura Linney in “Kinsey.”

Over at ABC, a pair of familiar names landed pilots of their own.

ABC picked up six comedy pilots recently, including untitled shows starring Jessica Simpson and John Stamos.

The other projects were “First Family,” “Thank God It’s Monday,” “The Savages” and an untitled show from Time magazine columnist Joel Stein.

Reality TV queen Miss Simpson will play Jessica Sampson, a fictional version of herself, in an office ensemble comedy.

The Stamos project revolves around a guy on a date, with the show’s entire season taking place over the course of the daylong outing. Sounds like “24” with the potential for a bad hickey on the last episode, instead of a terrorist attack.

“First Family,” centering on a blue-collar family in Queens, N.Y., draws its inspiration from the BBC series “The Royle Family.” The potential new series marks the second time a network tried to adapt the popular BBC show. In 2001, CBS greenlighted a pilot called “The Kennedys,” but the project didn’t get off the ground.

“Thank God It’s Monday” is a family show from the perspective of how guys talk about their home life when they get back to the office.

“The Savages,” with Mel Gibson on board as an executive producer, centers on a blue-collar single father who is raising five teen boys. The show is partly inspired by Mr. Gibson’s life as a father of six boys.

Mr. Stein’s project is based on his experience as the youngest reporter at Time. Mr. Stein, who wrote the script, is co-executive-producing with Marsh McCall.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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