October 7th, 2009
10:15 AM ET

Phone-a-friend no longer available

My first game show experience came on the Regis Philbin version of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire"... but not as a contestant.


In 1999, I received the call from Regis himself.  I was on Phone-a-Friend (PAF) duty.

The contestant I was helping was a political analyst whose job required him to travel frequently and, at times, out of the country.  As a result, his knowledge of recent U.S. pop culture was a bit spotty.  That's where I came in.

Within a 30-second time frame, the contestant read me the question (What woman sang to Johnny Carson on his next-to-last "Tonight Show" episode?) I quickly replied that it was Bette Midler and that he should go for it.  He got it right and, when all was said and done, left the stage $64,000 richer.

I've been on the PAF lists of six other contestants over the years, but haven't been selected since.  And it appears I'll never be selected again.

During this week's taping of the syndicated version of "Millionaire", it was revealed that the Phone-a-Friend lifeline was no longer available for contestants.  Instead, contestants will have just three lifelines to use - Ask the Audience (which is pretty useless on upper-level questions), Ask the Expert (which can be helpful or problematic depending on the "expert" the show recruits) and Double Dip (which some contestants pass on due to the fact that if you choose to use it, you must play the question out).

"Millionaire" getting rid of PAF is like "Jeopardy!" eliminating a Daily Double, or "The Price is Right" putting Plinko to the pricing game graveyard.  It was an iconic lifeline that gave the contestant the power to determine his/her fate.  The contestant, not the show, decided who to choose as a PAF.

You could ask the PAF to be prepared with reference books, a computer and fast typing fingers (in case you need to Google your answer).  You could practice PAF techniques with your team, such as reducing a question to its root points, giving the PAF a few extra seconds to research the answer.

So why did "Millionaire" get rid of PAF?  Perhaps the show thought the use of Google and other search engines made the lifeline too easy, or it wanted to save a few bucks by not having someone on staff whose role is to prep PAFs before and during the show.

Whatever the reason, "Millionaire" just isn't the same.  I could handle the change in money tree and the time clock, but not the loss of a lifeline that made the show unique. What do you think?

Post by:
Filed under: television

soundoff (49 Responses)
  1. mlawyer

    Thought the clock was great. I they only want three lifelines, ditch the expert. I miss phone-a-friend.

    December 2, 2009 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Kenneth Harris

    Its only a matter of time before they do away with the lifelines all together. The PAF lifeline had to be the best lifeline to use under the 50/50 one. I wish they would just stop taping new episodes of "Millionaire" all together and just show the older ones that had Regis hosting it. Meredith has got to be one of the most boring gameshow hosts in gameshow history! But I seriously doubt it will be on for to much longer.

    October 16, 2009 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
  3. Arima

    I am so SICK of David Letterman!!!! The women he alleges slept w/ him must have been hard up or they were paid. I wouldn't give the creep house room!!! He is unattractive, unappealing and just plain weird!
    If he were a female he would be referred to as a "skank"...that is what he is. Get him off the air.

    October 11, 2009 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Gene

    I wish they just cancel the show instead of tweaking it. Meredith is a boring host the timer and topics menu killed the show. i just stick to the Vietnam version of millionaire at least they are still loyal to the format

    October 8, 2009 at 2:22 am | Report abuse |
  5. Jessie Bykowski

    Nice article, JD. I, too, will miss the PAF idea...makes me less interested in watching the show (although I already had stopppd watching it when there was no longer a high chance of picking a random episode and knowing someone on it).

    October 7, 2009 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. KaterinaWit

    In response to the comments of deenis and JustBNMe, these two are obviously studion plants to fan the flames and promote interest for the show and blogging on the site, and it's not otherwise possible these two highbrow individuals, current in the affairs of the nation and concerned about the erosion of the planet's ozone, the plight of the world's children & the objectification of women, could possible waste their collective valuable time responded to such drivel!

    As for PAF . . . Regee . . . say it isn't so!!

    October 7, 2009 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Facepalm

    Phone a friend was great, why did they have to get rid of it. What's going on with this show. It was amazing, now it's the Simpsons of game shows...not what it used to be.

    October 7, 2009 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Barb

    LOL~"Is this your final answer"?

    October 7, 2009 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. beakiddo

    I seriously doubt the show will be around for much longer, so i dont know why they would make such a drastic change, i actually thought the best life line they used to have in the beginning was the 50/50. Where did that go? Anyways, seems like a desparate attempt to place them in the news to increase viewers. I believe the SS Millionaire is sinking.

    October 7, 2009 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Samson

    Does anybody still watch Millionaire? I thought we had moved on!

    October 7, 2009 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jillian

    It is ENTERTAINMENT news......in the ENTERTAINMENT section. Did you expect to read about murders and car jackings in this section? DUH! Think before you criticize...

    October 7, 2009 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jdinan8271

    Coelacanth: I'll leave those stories for a future post. 🙂 Hope you are doing well!

    October 7, 2009 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Rick James

    I agree with Jeff. While this isn't news, it is in the Entertainment section. If you don't want to be entertained, then don't come to this section 🙂

    October 7, 2009 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mike Mc

    Replace phone a friend with a "google it" option-the contentant can
    try to find the answer him/herself on a computer in a specified amount of time.

    October 7, 2009 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Daniel

    I guess I can take that off of my bucket list now.

    October 7, 2009 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  16. JustBNMe


    I'm with you. Yes, this is the entertainment section, but why is entertainment NEWS? We have real problems that are ignored by a large portion of our society because they are too concerned with the "Dancing" results, the update on "Lost", or finding out who is dating who in Hollyweird. Who cares??? This sort of thing should be relegated to the blogs for people who watch the show and therefore care.

    October 7, 2009 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  17. jd

    it looks like between not having PAF, the double dip, and the new time constraints, the show is trying to keep the money in the bank.

    October 7, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Coelacanth

    Surprised not to see a mention of your experiences as a WWTBAM contestant in this post, James

    October 7, 2009 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Susan Lewis

    Deenis: You obviously read it, so what is your point? Someone p'd in your cheerios???

    October 7, 2009 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  20. JJ

    i don't know how i feel, let me call my fr...err...oh snap.

    October 7, 2009 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Wizard

    My PAF was a Google expert but could not find the right answer in time.

    "Millionaire" has finally jumped the shark by doing away with the PAF. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

    I hope they at least replace the fourth lifeline with another. How about getting Google to sponsor a Google lifeline?

    October 7, 2009 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Phil

    I like the idea of changing it with another lifeline at a certain point like the start of the 3rd tier. Make it a switch the question at that point. It was easily the most helpful lifeline in the past.

    October 7, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Jon

    I was a contestant on Super Millionaire, but didn't get past the Fastest Finger round.

    Most of the changes to Millionaire over the years have been disappointing, especially doing away with the phone game for choosing contestants. But I don't miss all the celebrity shows they used to have, or the darned Fastest Finger.

    Maybe they'll have more prime-time shows like they did last August, and bring back some of the features that made the show such a hit.

    October 7, 2009 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Debbie

    Replace it with "twitter" a friend

    October 7, 2009 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  25. RubyJuly

    Well, i have seen plenty of phone a friend calls go bad. I don't think it was an "automatic answer" by any stretch. It will be sad to see this go. It's almost as iconic as "is that your final answer?" Bad move, guys.

    October 7, 2009 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  26. D. Allen

    Deenis – seriously: GET A LIFE. What kind of pathetic troll responds to an article like an infant by stating that the article is "not news?" You do, clearly. Guess what? The internet is big enough for articles you don't care about. It's not filling up anytime soon. It's a good thing you're not in charge of what is "news," because I dread the pathetic swill someone like you would serve up. Lots of us read this article with interest. YOU may keep your mouth shut, loser.

    October 7, 2009 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Steve

    As a viewer, PAF always just slowed things down and I usually FF'd thru it anyway. But I've always thought that they should partner up with Google and allow the contestant to have access to a PC for 30 seconds and see if they can find the answer. That would be sort of entertaining to see people who "hunt and peck" the keyboard (like me) and trying to get the right access. Probably a problem with getting approval to show various sites that might pop up. Well, maybe they can at least bring back the "switch the question" lifeline. And I agree that the experts provided by the show can sometimes be really lacking.

    October 7, 2009 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  28. Tim Aldrich

    Didn't there use to be only three life lines before they added the expert. The problem way back was that the friends really didn't help much, but were clearly a source for potential cheating.

    I don't think chances the dynamics too much. It's still got that all-or-nothing vibe. It's just change...and change is good.

    October 7, 2009 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  29. jdinan8271

    Yael: On the show's Web site, an updated rules and regulations form deletes all references to PAF. Also, several contestants who participated in this week's tapings have acknowledged PAF being dropped.

    October 7, 2009 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Thomas

    How about getting rid of all the lifelines and making the player's earn their prize money on their own?

    October 7, 2009 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  31. BG

    Anyone who's whining about it not being real news, maybe you should learn to read which section this is. When's the last time you've seen a hard news story in the ENTERTAINMENT section?

    As for the lifeline, it is kind of a bummer, in a weird purist way. If I'm not mistaken, you have to have a landline to be a PAF, and well, how many people have landline phones as opposed to 1999? Not saying they're completely extinct, but I wonder if that might have had something to do with it. But as an alternative, how about the contestant still gets to bring a trusted relative or friend, and have them as the in-studio Lifeline? Of course, having only one, it might suck to not have a variety of friends (I think you got 3 PAFs) to choose from to help you remember some obscure fact from Greek literature.

    A few years ago, "Millionaire" had a Lifeline where you could "switch" the question without guessing and without penalty. Would love to see them bring that back.

    October 7, 2009 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  32. Monica

    Oh Regis!

    October 7, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  33. Julie Suchard

    I think that the show is "jumping the shark." It's just not the samy any more.

    October 7, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  34. Geoff

    I will lose sleep over this tidbit of news.

    October 7, 2009 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  35. Amy Kathleen

    Sometimes it was so blatant that the PAF was googling the answer that the lifeline might as well have been: Ask Google instead of Phone a Friend. Maybe they can come up with a new option, but I think it's better that it's gone.

    October 7, 2009 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  36. landshark

    I think I agree, for the same reason....... All though I must admit I never watched the show that much....

    October 7, 2009 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  37. MarleysGh0st

    I think eliminating the PAF is terrible. Selection of good PAFs and practicing with them has always been an important aspect of the show. The so-called "experts" selected by the show have been far too inconsistent in value and the contestants have no control over which expert they get. Why is WWTBAM making this radical change mid-season?

    October 7, 2009 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  38. Yael

    I was at a taping this past Friday and they still had the PAF lifeline and didn't say anything about giving it up. I wonder if this is true then.

    October 7, 2009 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  39. Mark

    I had the good fortune of being on the syndicated version of the show, and when I used my PAF, he dutifully Googled for an answer, but got none. Turned out the question regarding the Chinese calendar returned plenty of hits – just all in Chinese. Which, sadly, my PAF does not read.

    So the PAF isn't exactly foolproof, says the fool. But if it is seen as a problem, why not make it available up to a certain point, and then have it turn into another lifeline if it goes unused (for example, it's a PAF up to the second lock-in point, after that it's the Double Dip)? It's too iconic to discard completely.

    October 7, 2009 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
  40. Leeroy Jenkins

    this show is still on?

    October 7, 2009 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
  41. Jroc

    Deenis: It's called "entertainment news".

    October 7, 2009 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  42. rebecca

    deenis, do you not know what a blog is?

    October 7, 2009 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  43. lindsi


    October 7, 2009 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
  44. Jeff

    I'm getting sick of people whining about things like this not being news. This is the entertainment section, for goodness' sake. If you want news, go to the NEWS section. Do you also rip on all the society/entertainment pages in all the newspapers that have been around since your parents were in diapers?

    October 7, 2009 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
  45. Kevin

    I think it's the right thing to do. Maybe they replace it with another lifeline, if they can figure one out, but in this day and age, internet access means that Phone-A-Friend easily becomes an instant answer to almost any question–that shouldn't be what it is. It should help, not be an 'I-Win' button.

    October 7, 2009 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
  46. Ebony

    Without Phone-A-Friend Slumdog Millionaire would have had a very different ending! Keep it!

    October 7, 2009 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
  47. Liz1388

    I always wanted a chance to be one of those PAFs. Tsk, yet another life ambition down the tubes. There's still hope for that Nobel, though.

    October 7, 2009 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
  48. Chris

    Dammit, Regis!

    October 7, 2009 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
  49. deenis

    Who cares? This is not news. CNN disappoints.

    October 7, 2009 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |

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