Written By Rana G on Monday, December 20, 2010 | 8:56 PM
On the venerable prime-time game show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, contestants earned their way toward the titular ton o' cash by answering a series of increasingly difficult multiple-choice questions.
Getting to the million was not easy; few contestants actually achieved the feat.
The new Fox series Million Dollar Money Drop (Mondays at 7 p.m.) comes at the acquisition-of-riches thing from the opposite direction -- everyone who walks onto the stage immediately becomes a millionaire by being handed a huge pile of cash (in neatly stacked $20,000 bundles). But that's when the tricky part starts, as each tandem of contestants is challenged to see how much of it they can hang onto during a white-knuckle sprint through seven multiple-choice puzzlers.
Like Millionaire, the genius of this new Brit-import format lies in its simplicity. But its gut-grabbing and addictive appeal is found in the fact that the money -- and its disappearance -- is right there for contestants and viewers to see.
In each game, a pair of contestants is introduced and given a few seconds to fondle and sniff the $1 million that host Kevin Pollak has declared to be all theirs. And then the questions begin -- the players choose between two categories and are then presented with a question with four possible answers (in later rounds, the options are narrowed to three, and then just two).
Questions test general knowledge and pop-culture aptitude -- on a standard touch-tone phone, which combination of numbers spells out the name of U2's lead singer? (The answer is 2666 -- BONO); or which advertising slogan was heard on TV first: "Just Do It," "Where's the beef?" or "Melts in your mouth, not in your hands"? (It's the third option, M&Ms' long-used tagline).
As time ticks away on a big digital clock, the contestants must pile their cash onto the "drop zone" of whichever answer they favour (if they're not sure, they can hedge their bets by distributing the money onto more than one answer, as long as at least one zone is left empty).
After the cash is sorted and the appropriate amount of game-show delays and dramatics are played out, trap doors in the drop zones related to the incorrect answers open up, and the cash piled in those places drops away, gone for good.
At the end of a seven-question ordeal, contestants get to keep the cash that remains.
Based on the preview provided by Fox, it looks like pretty gripping stuff, even taking into account all the foot-dragging, forced tension and "after this commercial" antics that Pollak is required to inject into the proceedings.
Unlike Deal or No Deal, which reduced game-show competition to a random pick-a-number exercise, Money Drop does test its contestants' -- and, by extension, its viewers' -- intelligence at least slightly, and that makes it a much more engaging program.
It's unlikely to replicate the prime-time-altering success of Millionaire, but the betting here is that Fox will make money on this import even faster than its contestants watch their recently acquired riches fall away to oblivion