Like the classic versions of the game, celebrities will be paired with civilian contestants and will have to think alike to pocket prize money. Unlike the classic versions, viewers will have to hold onto their hats to keep up with spiraling tension.
"We put a clock on the rounds to speed up the game," said executive producer Vincent Rubino. "Instantly there's tension building and there's a horse race that builds between the two teams." The celeb/contestant duos compete to guess "passwords" based on one-word clues at a frenetic pace. At various points, the team must decide whether to risk the winnings to keep climbing a money "ladder" — all the way up to a potential $1 million.
CBS has six episodes in the can to run during June and July. Neil Patrick Harris and Rachael Ray are slated to appear in Sunday's premiere. Other celebs on tap to test their voracious vocabularies include Rosie O'Donnell, Steve Schirippa and Steven Weber (whom Rubino describes as "funny as hell and a very good player").
Game show purists will also welcome Betty White back to the Password panel. Not only has she been a celebrity player on each incarnation of the game, she met her late husband, original host Allen Ludden, while appearing on the show in the early 1960s.
When asked if there is a celebrity on their wish list to play the game on future shows, Philbin and Rubino quickly agreed on one name — George Clooney.
Rubino said there was instant chemistry on the set when the shows were taped. "Some people freeze up on television, but we got lucky with our contestants. They just took the ball and ran. That's a function of Regis's hosting ability and the celebrity their partnered with."
Million Dollar Password premieres following 60 Minutes — that's about as sweet a lead-in as you can get. Yet, summertime can mean unpredictable viewership levels. Philbin is unfazed. "I think summertime has been underrated," he said. "Millionaire started on a Sunday night [in the summer of 1999] and paved the way for Sunday night viewing. I think there is a tremendous audience out there. And especially for a family audience for a show like this. Everybody can get involved in this game, from kids to people who remember it from the old days."
Use our Online Video Guide to watch clips of Million Dollar Password
Sign up now for our free Daily Scoop e-mail newsletter to get the inside scoop.
Send your comments on this feature to firstname.lastname@example.org.