Thursday, August 17, 2000

It gets hot in 'Millionaire' lifeline seat

        At 5:35 p.m. the phone rang while I was cooking brats and hot dogs on the grill.

        Melissa from ABC's Who Wants to be a Millionaire was calling on July 26 to tell me that Jim Baldwin of Deerfield Township had made it into Regis Philbin's hot seat for a show that airs Sunday (9 p.m., Channels 9, 2).

        The Lebanon municipal cable administrator, someone I had known for 15 years on the TV beat, had asked me to be one of his five “phone a friend” lifelines.

        “You're on standby as a lifeline,” she explained. “Please let the phone ring three times and answer "Hello.' Regis will be on the line.”

        I finished cooking dinner. The phone didn't ring. We sat down to eat. The phone didn't ring.

        As we were clearing off the table, about 35 minutes after Melissa's call, the phone finally rang.

        I let it ring three times. I picked up the receiver. Hello?

        “This is C.J. Can David play?” said a boy's voice.

        I answered his question (correctly!), quickly hung up the phone, and waited for it to ring again. And waited. And waited. It didn't ring again all night.

        So went my first experience being a Millionaire lifeline.

        Several days later, I finally learned what happened: Stumped on a question about a William Faulkner novel, Mr. Baldwin turned to the Tristate's smartest man, Jeopardy! national champ Dave Abbott.

        You'll have to watch Sunday to find out what happened after that.

        Getting on: Mr. Baldwin, 43, had qualified by telephone on June 29. On July 13, he made it past the second round by phone and was invited to a New York taping on July 26.

        He flew to New York with his wife, Molly. Children Jimmy, 12, and Catie, 6, stayed home with a baby sitter.

        “ABC told us no kids were allowed in the studio, and we didn't want to leave them in a hotel room all day,” says Mr. Baldwin, a local attorney who has negotiated many suburban cable TV franchise renewals with Time Warner.

        On the show, he won the “fastest-finger” round by putting four movies in chronological order: Goodbye Girl, Who's That Girl? Tank Girl and Girl Interrupted. That's not something most lawyers would know.

        “I guess I channel surf through Cinemax and Showtime at lot at home and at work,” he said.

        The Baldwin family will watch his 15 minutes (or more) of fame on Sunday. He has invited all of his potential “lifelines” to join them: Lebanon co-worker Walt Biggs; longtime friend Jay Costa; Mr. Abbott; myself; and his father, Brad Baldwin, from Kalamazoo, Mich.

        ABC won't let Mr. Baldwin say what he won, if anything. All he said was: “I was in the hot seat through two commercial breaks.”

        Sitting with Regis, he said, could only be compared to taking the three-day Ohio Bar exam, “having to be under pressure and having to think of the correct answer. But being in the hot seat was fun.”

        More Millionaire: Mr. Philbin really does give contestants all the time they need in the hot seat. For tonight's game (9 p.m., Channels 9, 2), Mr. Baldwin watched a California man take 54 minutes to answer one question. “It will be interesting to see what they cut that down to,” he said.


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