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BVT teases big winner

In a battle of suspense over eyeballs, eyeballs won.

Buena Vista Television had its first ever million-dollar winner on the syndicated
version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Tuesday.

Not surprisingly, the show -- taped weeks ago -- was scheduled for the
February sweeps.

But how to get people to watch without killing the suspense?

BVT publicity and promo folks agonized, then decided: Kill some of the
suspense and hope to drive sampling.

Promos stopped just short of "day and dating" it, saying first that there
would be a February winner, then saying it would be "this week."

BVT publicity people went even further, sending out a tape to TV writers of
the winning episode to be on their desks the Wednesday before the Tuesday, Feb.
18, airdate.

The tape was embargoed, but only until the following Monday, and BVT
didn't mind if some of those Tuesday columns revealed that there was a millionaire
winner that night, which several did.

Sal Sardo, executive vice president, marketing for BVT, framed
the conundrum: "We didn't want to give away the ending to a movie, but if you
have a really great movie, you don't want people to miss it."

With the show in its first season in syndication, Sardo felt that it was important
to drive sampling, saying that many of the fans of the prime-time show had yet
to seek out the syndicated version and that nothing catches their attention like
a million-dollar winner.

But once caught, he suggested, "part of the magic is that you could have a
winner any day on any given show," so he doesn't anticipate a repeat of the