As Betty White said years ago, the Password game show is like a phoenix, it just keeps returning. The most recent version, Million Dollar Password, has been attracting lots of viewers but has now been pulled by CBS. Will it be back?
Million Dollar Password (MDP) is the latest in a long line of shows based on the word guessing game. The original first aired in 1961 and was hosted by White’s late husband and game show legend, Allen Ludden. MDP is the latest version Password and is hosted by modern-day broadcasting legend, Regis Philbin. To date, celebrities that have helped players win big money have included Rachael Ray, Neil Patrick Harris, Tony Hawk, Rosie O’Donnell, Julie Chen, William Shatner, Phil Keoghan, Steve Schirripa, Serena Williams, and Craig Ferguson. White has appeared on two episodes, making her the only person to ever appear on every version Password and the only person to be invited back to MDP.
The primetime game show premiered on June 1, 2008 to 10.69 million viewers, a solid debut. The numbers dipped for the following five episodes of MDP but that’s to be expected since they were airing in the summer months when viewership is typically lower. CBS ordered an additional season of six episodes for the 2008-09 season.
Season two kicked off on December 18, 2008 with 8.27 million viewers. That’s not a great number but it’s still respectable, especially for the holiday season. Viewership for subsequent MDP episodes improved.
The most recent episode attracted 10.43 million people but CBS has now announced that they are pulling the game show from the schedule, effective immediately. There are two episodes left to air featuring Jamie Kennedy and Norm MacDonald, and Jeff Garlin and Chelsea Handler as the celebrity players.
If the game show is attracting lots of people, why pull it? Well, though MDP is watched by 10 million, the audience is predominantly an older demographic. In the network business, you ideally want younger viewers and the Philbin game show doesn’t attract many. CBS is the strongest network right now so they can afford to be picky.
The network hasn’t announced that the game show is cancelled and it seems likely that they’ll eventually get around to airing the extra episodes at some point, probably during the Summer months. However, a third season renewal seems unlikely.
In November, Philbin renewed the contract for his “day job,” co-hosting Live with Regis and Kelly. That contract is a very lucrative one for the 77-year old broadcaster but it significantly restricts his ability to work on other shows that are not produced by Disney (which owns ABC). In recent years, Philbin has hosted primetime programs on three networks and the house of mouse understandably wants to keep him for their own projects.
Philbin’s new contract will likely keep him from returning to do new episodes of MDP. Since he’s a big part of the show, that will almost certainly be reason enough for CBS to pass on renewing the game show for a third season.
Still, if the network wants to attract younger viewers, they could potentially replace Philbin with a younger (likely cheaper) host. Would that work? Considering their current dominance, is it a gamble CBS would be willing to take? Or, is the Password game just not that attractive to younger viewers?.
Image courtesy CBS.