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How Google Killed "Phone A Friend" From "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"


Google gets blamed for everything these days. Even game show format changes.

This past Wednesday, with our SMX East conference winding down in New York City, I walked up to ABC studios to watch a couple tapings of Who Wants To Be A Millionare. I also stayed after the tapings to take the audition test, hoping to qualify to be a contestant on the show.

Who wants to be a millionaire? Duh. Me.

Now, watching TV shows being taped can be a very dull experience. There are takes, re-takes, breaks, stops, starts, edits, interruptions, and so forth. (It took more than two hours to tape two 30-minute episodes of Millionaire.) That can make even the most enthusiastic crowd of 200 people restless. So, producers often plan distractions to keep the audience entertained. In our case, comedian Paul Mecurio served as our distraction host — telling jokes, talking to the audience, taking questions and generally trying to keep a sense of pace to the proceedings.

There were several audience questions about the drastic changes to this season’s version of Millionaire. (Pretty much the entire format of the show has changed.) But one person asked why, before the 2009 season, the show dropped the “Phone A Friend” lifeline. This was a way for contestants to call a friend or family member to get help with a tough question.

“Because of Google,” Mecurio said. “Everyone would call their friend and the friend would start Googling to get the answer. The contestant would be like, ‘Hey Joe, aspirin. A-S-P-I-R-I-N.’ We could hear them typing on their keyboard!”

Mecurio went to say that they want the show to have a human touch — that humans should answer the questions, not computers. So that was the end of Phone A Friend.

And now you know.

Oh, if you’re curious, about 100-150 of the audience members stayed for the ridiculously difficult audition test. Only eight people passed. I wasn’t one of them.

I’m blaming Google, too.

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