Disney World opens 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' attraction

Saturday, April 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ Disney-MGM Studios is asking its visitors: Who wants to be a millionaire?

Well, maybe not a millionaire. How about the owner of a baseball cap with the game show's logo?

The Disney theme park is opening an interactive version of ``Who Wants to Be a Millionaire'' on Saturday with 10 shows a day on a set that looks like the real one in New York.

The game show, on Disney-owned ABC, has been a ratings juggernaut at the network. Although it has seen its audience decline by almost a third during the past year, it still holds three of the top 10 slots in prime-time this season, said Marc Berman, an analyst for Media Week online.

Despite the show's popularity, Berman says Disney is taking a chance by putting it in a theme park.

``To take something that wasn't launched that long ago and put it in a theme park is kind of a risk,'' Berman said.

In addition, the show's audience has gotten older since it debuted almost two years ago, not necessarily a good thing when advertisers put a premium on youth. But older viewers tend to be more loyal, which may help both the show and the attraction, Berman said.

``The weird thing about 'Millionaire' is their audience is aging, kids don't watch it anymore,'' Berman said. ``That's kind of bizarre that they would put it in a theme park.''

But Tim O'Brien, senior editor at Amusement Business, an industry trade publication in Nashville, Tenn., sees the attraction as ``a brilliant piece of cross-marketing from the same ownership.''

``I think they have a hot property there. It's going to be well worth it. And if it doesn't succeed, it's not like a major roller coaster; they can pull this attraction out in a week,'' O'Brien said. ``Right now, the success of the TV show will drive the park show.''

Disney officials are confident it will be a success.

``It continues to be a popular show,'' said Mike West, a senior producer at Walt Disney Imagineering, the company's creative arm. ``Even if the TV show goes away, we feel we have a great attraction for our guests.''

Adding to the authenticity, the show's host, Regis Philbin, was on hand Friday for a media preview.

``Here I am, the guy who saved the ABC television network,'' Philbin joked with a Disney visitor.

Each seat in the studio has its own key pad from which participants can answer the Regis stand-in's questions. A computer tabulates which audience member answers the question the quickest and that person gets to go to the ``hot seat,'' where the host poses another set of questions. An audience member with the quickest response can replace a person in the ``hot seat'' who misses an answer.

Unlike the show, there's no chance for winning big bucks here. The prizes are ``Millionaire'' baseball caps, CD-ROMs, pins and leather jackets. A person who reaches 1 million points wins a trip to New York to watch a taping of the TV show.

Instead of calling a friend or celebrity ``lifeline'' to get advice on a question, like contestants do on the show, participants at the attraction can call a randomly chosen person in the theme park. Phones are set up in two locations in the park and Disney workers will stop guests to ask them if they want to participate.

``It's a little tough to find five of your closest friends when you're a tourist at a theme park,'' West said. ``Lifeline is going to be a stranger.''