Yesterland

Who Wants to Be a
Millionaire – Play It!


Grab the “hot seat” at the attraction
based on the popular ABC Game Show

 
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! at Disney's California Adventure

Disney-MGM Studios publicity image © 2001 Disney

California Adventure is the theme park that celebrates the Golden State of California.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – Play It! is based on a TV quiz show that’s taped in New York City, starring New York-born Regis Philbin, and broadcast by the New York-based American Broadcasting Company (ABC). But there is a California connection: ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Company, which has its corporate headquarters in Burbank, California.

See? This attraction celebrates California!

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! at Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2002

Conveniently located next door to Superstar Limo

Actually, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is a worldwide TV phenomenon. After being launched in the United Kingdom in 1998, the production company licensed versions of the show to every continent except Antarctica.

Don’t just watch the Millionaire show on TV. Here at California Adventure, experience Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! live, with all the “sights, sounds and drama of the TV show.” Better yet, get into the famous “hot seat” and win prizes.

Now, before you get too excited, you need to know that you won’t be leaving the park with a check for a million dollars, even if you get every answer right. You don’t play for dollars here. You play for points.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! at Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

Sound Stage 17 awaits you.

The attraction is in Sound Stage 17, just past Rizzo’s Prop & Pawn Shop. The show building isn’t much to look at. It’s a big box. That means it’s highly authentic because real Hollywood sound stages tend to be nothing more than big boxes.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! at Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

FASTPASS machines

This is a genuine FASTPASS attraction. It’s worth getting a FASTPASS because you can return slightly more than ten minutes before Play It! begins and enter before the stand-by guests.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! at Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

Stand-by wait time: 60 minutes

If there’s a hour-long wait for the stand-by line, it doesn’t mean that Play It! is so popular that it will take an hour to inch your way to the front of the line. It means that the 25-minute shows are usually one hour apart, and the doors just closed on the current show.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! at Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2003

The rules

Read and obey the rules at the entrance to the queue. Here’s a short version of them:

  1. No money prizes.
  2. Cast Members can’t play.
  3. You aren’t allowed to photograph or record Play It!...
  4. ...but Play It! is allowed to record you.
  5. There are more rules, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! at Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

A basic queue

Some attractions have fun and engaging queues. This isn’t one of them.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! at Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

Photos in the queue build anticipation.

The doors open and you enter the Play It! sound stage. It looks just like the set of the TV show, except that this studio seats more than 600 park guests. Pick a seat.

The seat you really want is the “hot seat.” But you’ll have to earn that by competing with everyone else in the audience during the “fastest finger” round. Using your individual keypad, be the fastest to put a series of answers in the correct order. Now watch for the tally...

You did it!

You won the “fastest finger” round!

Head down to the coveted “hot seat.” It’s just like being on the TV show—except the part about winning points instead of money. The personable host will ask 15 multiple-choice questions, each with four possible answers.

Unlike the TV show, there’s no hemming and hawing here. Play It! has a strict 30-second rule.

“Is that your final answer?”

It had better be, because you don’t want to run out of time.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! at Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

A lifeline that’s different than its TV counterpart

If you don’t know all the answers, don’t worry. Just as the TV version gives “hot seat” contestants three lifelines, so does Play It!

There’s “Ask the Audience,” where every member of the audience can select the answer and you see the results of this “vote.” And there’s “Fifty-Fifty,” which eliminates two of the four answers—giving you a 50% chance even if you just guess.

But there’s no “Phone a Friend” option. Instead, you can “Phone a Complete Stranger,” which goes to a phone on the outside of building. You have no idea if it will be picked up by a college professor who reads eight newspapers and ten journals each day or a middle schooler who never pays attention in class.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! at Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Guy Selga (Guy from AngryAP.com), 2010

Valuable Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! pins

The questions keep getting harder as you progress through the 15 levels, but you answer every question correctly!

Now let’s see what you won:

  • For each of the 15 levels, you earned a pin indicating the point level.
  • At the 1,000-point level, you earned a 1,000-point baseball cap.
  • At the 32,000-point level, you earned a 32,000-point polo shirt.
  • At the 1,000,000-point level, you earned an “I’m a Million Point Winner” black leather jacket and a trip to New York City to see a taping of the real Who Wants to Be a Millionaire television show. Or perhaps, instead of the New York trip, you earned a three-night Disney Cruise from Port Canaveral to The Bahamas, including Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.

The million-point prize isn’t as good as a million dollars—but it’s worth a lot more than what you spent to get into the park.


The U.S. television version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, hosted by Regis Philbin, first appeared on ABC Television on August 16, 1999 for a two-week run. It scored high in the ratings, so it returned for a second two-week run in November 1999. It seemed that viewers couldn’t get enough of the quiz show. In 2000, ABC dominated prime time by running the show three, four, and even five nights a week. Up to 28 million viewers would tune in to each show. Disney-owned ABC, which had been the number three network a year earlier, was now way ahead of CBS, NBC, and Fox.

The next step would be to take the successful show to Disney’s theme parks. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! opened in an existing building at Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) on April 7, 2001.

Meanwhile, across the country, Disney’s California Adventure park was floundering. The new park failed to generate the expected attendance when it opened in February 2001. Management made quick changes to the park’s entertainment offerings, but the park really needed new, compelling attractions to make the turnstiles click.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! at Disney's California Adventure

Top photo by Werner Weiss, 2002; bottom photo by Allen Huffman, 2004

Sign in 2002 with Regis Philbin; sign in 2004 with Meredith Vieira and Regis Philbin

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! opened on September 14, 2001 in a newly constructed building in the park’s Hollywood Studios Backlot section. A Disneyland Resort press release explained how the attraction was appropriate for its setting:

“We’re thrilled to now be able to offer our guests the ability to experience the excitement of one of America’s most popular game shows,” noted Cynthia Harriss, president of the Disneyland Resort. “This live attraction version of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire - Play It!’ fits in beautifully with the theme of Hollywood Pictures Backlot, where our guests become the stars. Guests will find out for themselves what it’s like to sit in their own hot seat.”

The timing was not good. The attraction opened just three days after the World Trade Center attacks. On top of that, audiences were losing interest in the television show. For the new season, ABC cut Millionaire to two nights a week. A New York Times article about the business woes of The Walt Disney Company (“Suddenly, the Magic Is in Short Supply,” Sept. 23, 2001) put it this way:

Disney’s problems are worsened by the fact that ratings at ABC have tailed off badly as “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” has become more routine. The wild early success of that program may have even distracted ABC from developing new hits, according to analysts.

The final night of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire on ABC’s regular prime-time schedule was June 27, 2002.

A daytime, syndicated version of the show, hosted by Meredith Vieira, launched on September 16, 2002.

Disney’s California Adventure wound up with an attraction based on a daytime show, not on a national phenomenon.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! at Disney's California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

Stage 17, former home of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It!, in 2010

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! closed August 20, 2004—a run of not quite three years. The attraction had a longer run at the Studios park in Florida, where it ran more then five years until August 19, 2006.


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Updated May 25, 2012.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! © Valleycrest Productions and Disney Enterprises, Inc.