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TV STUFF: Everybody Gets to Be a Stupid 'Millionaire'

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Mar 19, 2001 | 11:50am EST

Leave it to the insurance types with their legal babble to ruin everything -- and that's including "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

Reports today say that Buena Vista Entertainment, the ABC/Disney production wing behind the champion game show, has been taken to the British High Court of Justice by its London-based insurers. Why? The smarty-pants types at the insurance firm of Goshawk Syndicate feel that the quiz-show's questions have just gotten too bloody easy. So easy that, the Goshawk folks fear, the show will be minting too many millionaires -- a scenario equivalent to a depthless money pit for an insurer.

Simply put, the Goshawk camp wants out of its contract with ABC -- and nothing short of a ruling by the crown is going to stop the company from getting it.

Here's the breakdown of the financial implications for Goshawk if the ABC game show continues its streak of "less-than-challenging" questions and not-too-dimwitted players. Under the ABC policy, after the network covers the first $1.5 million in big paydays, the insurer is responsible to put up cold cash for anyone who wins more than $500,000, up to a maximum of $5 million.

In short, the more money people win on "Millionaire," the more Goshawk loses.

In the brief history of said show, three contestants have won the $500,000 prize and two have reached all the way to the top for the $1 mil jackpot -- a total of $3.5 mil that Goshawk is contractually bound to answer for. A little arithmetic here tells us that ($3.5 mil minus $1.5 mil deductible) a $2 million tab has already been picked up by the insurer to date. No wonder Goshawk's eager to cut its losses.

Potential "Millionaire" applicants can breath a collective sigh, though. ABC, in response to the lawsuit, is adopting a nonchalant "you-can't-touch-me, we've-got-a-contract" stance, stating clearly that it has no plans to change anything on the show.

"Unquestionably, the integrity of the show is above reproach, and nobody is claiming otherwise," an ABC spokeswoman told the Hollywood trade papers. "This is simply a dispute in which the company providing insurance is trying to get out of coverage on the basis of a conversation it had with a broker."

Leave it to the TV titan types to expose the doings of the insurance types ...

LETTERMAN DEFERRED: Reports of David Letterman's possible Valentine's Day return to CBS' "Late Show" were greatly exaggerated. Looks like the comic's going to be a no-show for yet another week as the network has decided to continue its "Late Show Backstage" run.

Consisting of interviews and reminiscences from past "Late Show" guests and celebs, the "Backstage" segments have injected new life into old shows during the all-important February sweeps.

Next week's "Backstage" will boast new stuff from Drew Barrymore, Ray Romano and possibly Robin Williams, Bill Murray, Kathie Lee Gifford and Alec Baldwin.

RANDOM BITS: Dana Reeve, the actress/wife of Christopher Reeve, is slated to join ABC News anchor Deborah Roberts as co-host of "Lifetime Live," a half-hour newsmagazine debuting March 6 on cable's Lifetime. ...

... Craig Kilborn, the host of CBS's "The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn," is in the doghouse with Kentucky lawmakers for dissing Owensboro -- the Kentucky town recently ravaged by tornadoes. A state house resolution adopted this week asks Kilborn to apologize to the state's residents for calling the commonwealth "Kensucky," and for joking that replacement trailer houses were on their way to displaced Owensboro residents.

So, um, why's that not funny again?

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