<EM>Deal or No Deal</EM> host Howie Mandel Deal or No Deal host Howie Mandel

Who still wants to be a millionaire? The contestants on NBC's Deal or No Deal, a new game show airing every night this week at 8 pm/ET, apparently do. Why else would they put themselves through the nerve-frazzling agony of deciding whether to keep one unopened case — which could contain anywhere from a penny to a cool mil — or "deal" it to the mysterious Bank for what could be a higher (or, natch, lower) payout. Sound a touch confusing here on "paper"? Let host Howie Mandel try to sum up the series, which is already a massive hit internationally.

Each contestant, confronted with a stage full of fab femmes, each holding a numbered case, "picks a number, and one of 26 different increments of money is in each box," Mandel says. But instead of simply popping open the chosen case to assess your bounty and whether you should walk away with it, "the way to find out what's in your box is to open up the other boxes, because obviously what's not in those boxes could be in yours."

But here is the added twist: Along the way, the Bank (a shadowy figure) will try to make a deal for the contestant's unopened box, creating the inevitable dilemma of "Is what I'm holding worth more or less than what they're offering?" (Ah, nostalgic shades of Let's Make a Deal's "Do you want to trade for what's behind door No. 2?") "The Bank will make you an offer of, say, $50,000 to give me the case you chose and go home," Mandel explains, "or you can say 'no deal,' but then you have to open another five cases before I make another offer. There are times when you get down to two cases, one with $5 and one with a million, and I'll offer you a half million. Do you take the 50-50 chance?" Amazingly, says the host, "Some people go for it!"

Due to its bare-bones play element (and the absence of trivia questions), one which anyone can relate to, Deal or No Deal ranks as "the most dramatic show I have ever seen," Mandel raves. "You have people who have never owned a home or are in great debt, so these moments could be life-changing."

Mandel, as host, can only stand by as each player makes what may or may not be a questionable decision. (He himself has no idea what amount is within each numbered case.) "If they take a deal because I swayed them, it wouldn't be a good thing," he notes. "I'm simply there to tell you the benefits of each choice."

And then, of course, he asks the dreaded question: "Deal or no deal?" Hey, do we finally have a winning successor to "Is that your final answer?" Is "Deal or no deal?" all Mandel will be hearing from myriad passersby in the times to come? "I hope we do have the next catchphrase," he says. "That would only mean that [our show] was incredibly successful."

But until the tribe, I mean public, has spoken, Mandel will have to content himself with trying to learn the names of the 26 leggy ladies who brandish each case each night. "One guy couldn't even get his [selection] out, he was just staring at this wall of beauty," he reports with a laugh. "It's a very, very, very powerful image. There is definitely something in this game for everyone."