In the early run of ABC's surprise hit limited series game show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, a contestant named John Carpenter became the first millionaire winner and, with his wit and intelligence, kept the country talking about Regis Philbin's new show for weeks to come. The week of Carpenter's million dollar win, Millionaire took the top 8 slots of the Top Ten shows in the nation.
The basic set-up for the game show was to correctly answer 12 consecutive questions of increasing difficulty. A wrong answer meant walking away with a much smaller win, if anything. And, along the way, each contestant received 3 lifelines to help them out with tough questions. To the audiences surprise, John Carpenter got all the way to the final question without using any lifelines. The question was, "Who was the only U.S. President to appear on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in?" When Regis Philbin asked him the question, John decided to call his father for the "phone-a-friend" lifeline. Instead of asking his father for help, he told him "Um...I don't really need your help. I just wanted to let you know that I'm going to win the million dollars."
This was a brilliant, humorous move by Carpenter, and Regis handed out his first million dollar check. The national excitement brought Who Wants to Be A Millionaire back for another limited run, then a slot on the regular schedule. ABC found the show to be the perfect vehicle to precede new and faltering shows to jump start their ratings, and before long the network saturated their schedule with Millionaire. This over-exposure led to a premature demise of the show, and it was cancelled from network primetime in less than 3 years (June, 2002)