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Final Answer

Website crafts game show to quash the man from 'Millionaire'

By Dara Colwell

'REGIS IS an alien. Don't be fooled by the flashing lights and horrible music of the show," writes one viewer on the SmashRegis.com website. For the folks at Act Now Productions, such a candid, if batty, response is the kind of typical fodder the group welcomes to its site.

"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is the harbinger of a society out of whack," says the site's creator, Adam Werbach, a 27-year-old former president of the Sierra Club. Werbach's current San Francisco-based venture created the SmashRegis game with a healthy dose of cynicism in mind. "We grovel for the opportunity to watch people become embarrassed for relatively small amounts of money," Werbach says of the show. So, he figured, what better way to stir up a meaningful debate on the state of the media than with an easily exploited tool--Regis himself.

The game at SmashRegis.com, a parody of ABC's hit game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, which is hosted by Kathie Lee's spirited sidekick, Regis Philbin, allows Web surfers to drop five objects--Hello Kitty, Kathie Lee, Andre the Giant, Better Cheddars or a bag of cash--onto Philbin as he jerks across the screen. What's more, players are aided by God's helping hand, which nonchalantly tosses the chosen object onto the host.

One of the reasons Philbin is on the receiving end of virtual violence was Werbach's experience at a high-level pitch meeting with ABC. The network approached Werbach and Act Now co-founder Todd Gold to discuss a series of "reality programming" shows. The studio exec didn't exactly take to the duo's spin on environmental battles. Instead, she left the room only to return with a tape of Millionaire in tow. Werbach was baffled.

To Werbach, Regis perfectly represents the lowest common denominator in American television.

"Thirty million people a week worship at the altar of seeing a million dollars being given away. As an organizer, getting 30 million people together to do absolutely nothing is a crime," Werbach says, shaking his head. "You just have to think, 'What a waste.' "

And if that seems like a waste, consider Philbin's extravagant salary--the colossal $20 million he reportedly snagged from ABC's corporate owner, Disney, in February.

The SmashRegis website has garnered a rush of media attention, and feedback has fallen on both sides of the fence. Marketing director Kelly Braucht, who keeps the 6,000 email responses in a folder, pulls up a few on her screen: "Television with mindless content? Oh my goodness! Not in America?" "[Millionaire] is about as realistic as Baywatch." And my favorite: "Regis is at least a decent show ... it has no reference to gay, lesbians or alternative lifestyles." Well, the website has got at least some of its viewers thinking.

According to Braucht, SmashRegis attracted such an overwhelming volume of web traffic that Act Now recently had to switch servers. "At our peak, we were receiving an average of 200,000 hits per day--over a million per week," she says. And some of those hits were from users with government and military domain names.

Emil Friedlander, the web designer who fashioned the site's visuals, feels SmashRegis counters the corporate domination of America's media. "People react very strongly when you start attacking TV shows," he says. "It doesn't speak well for the state of our country [that so many people are] up in arms about a television show."

The group maintains that the website wasn't meant to trash television completely. Werbach readily admits he's a television fan (like many in our generation, he was raised by the electronic babysitter) and watches up to four hours a day. But he believes television can be meaningful. "The problem is," he says, "the people who have things of meaning to say are not engaged in the medium."

But those who are, it seems, are cashing in on the brouhaha over Millionaire. Paul Barbour, a former contestant, will soon release his book Who Wants to Be a Contestant? Unfortunately, according to an Associated Press article of May 17, Barbour also faces embezzlement charges and a possible prison sentence for defrauding an insurance company out of 190,000 smackers. It's a pity, because that's easy money on Millionaire. All Barbour would have to do is recite a line from TV Guide and say, "That's my final answer."

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From the June 8-14, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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