Regis Preps for 'Millionaire' Comeback

02/11/2004 AT 12:04 PM EST

A million dollars just doesn't go as far as it used to. But $10 million might be nice.

So says Regis Philbin, the former ringmaster of ABC's smash-hit "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," who is now preparing for his big comeback as the game show makes its return for February sweeps with some changes -- most notably, more money.

"Super Millionaire" debuts on Feb. 22 and with contestants now playing for $10 million. "It's going to be a lot of fun -- and quite expensive to ABC: $10 million is just what we need to energize the audience," Philbin tells USA Today.

Network execs also are hoping "Millionaire's" new format will energize ABC, too. When "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" debuted in 1999, it took the network to the top of the ratings. At its height, 35 million viewers tuned in to watch the show, which ABC started to air almost nonstop.

Around-the-clock airings and various celebrity-edition mutations eventually caused ABC's audience disappear. Nowadays, the network is struggling in fourth place, with viewership off 13 percent from last season, according to USA Today.

In addition to the new super-size prize, the show is upping the pay scale across the board. A correct answer for the first question will be worth $1,000, and five questions must be correctly answered for the contestant to lock in the $5,000 prize. Players then compete for $10,000 and up.

Contestants also will have two new "lifelines" in addition to the original Phone-a-Friend, Ask-the-Audience and 50-50 (where two of the four possible answers are eliminated). "Super Millionaire" will offer Three Wise Men, in which players can call a trio of male and female experts that will consult one another before answering, and Double Dip, in which a player can take a second chance at answering a missed question but must forfeit his or her winnings in order to do so.

Whatever twists the new game may offer, ABC is also banking on Philbin himself to fuel the ratings. The original version of the show pushed the network to No. 1, the 72-year-old host told reporters Tuesday, and "I hope to do it again."

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