The man who made "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (search) a sensation is betting that he can get young people interested in game shows.
Producer Michael Davies' new program "Studio 7" (search) is a quiz with some "Real World" antics thrown in. It debuts on the WB network at 9 p.m. EDT Thursday.
"This represents a possible next step in the evolution of game shows," said Davies, the executive producer of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and its successor, "Super Millionaire."
If Davies is being a little cautious, it's because the "Studio 7" target of young viewers generally aren't big game show fans and this summer hasn't been kind to many, if any, new programs.
But he's taking heart in the refreshing success of "Jeopardy" wonk Ken Jennings (search), this summer's breakout TV star, as a sign that viewers may prize intelligence over the bad behavior of many reality show participants.
"Studio 7" has been marketed as a hybrid game-reality show, but it's really a game show with some real-life twists. Each week's seven participants live together in a luxury Manhattan loft for four days before the game is taped.
That gives them time to get to know each other, form alliances and develop a strategy.
The game is primarily a current events quiz — not an easy one, either. A player who's stumped has one lifeline to ask for help from a fellow player. But can that competitor be trusted?
"It's not only about what you know, it's about your social skills," Davies said. "In the real world, you get ahead not just by being smart. You get ahead by sometimes knowing how to hide your smarts and knowing how to get along with people."
In approaching Davies, the WB asked only that he create a show about young people under phenomenal pressure.
So while the set's dark blue hues will be familiar to "Millionaire" fans, every little nuance is designed to make the players feel as uncomfortable as possible. They have to bend down to speak into a microphone. Everything is dark. When their name is called on the set, a player must step around a pool of water; one misstep and they can really embarrass themselves.
Questioner Pat Kiernan is in the dark, save for one light underneath that makes him look evil.
"It's designed not to feel like a game show," Davies said. "It's designed to feel dark, like a comic book."
With the notion that trivia contests usually skew old, most of the questions are up-to-date. In one round, players are tested on news events of the past week.
"The kids who are in this show have to be plugged in," Davies said. "They have to know what's going on in the world."
As the game gets down to a final few players, they're tested on memorization under pressure. The last round is sudden death, one wrong answer and they're out.
"That's why someone cries in every single episode," he said. "There is a great sense of achievement when someone wins and it's a real heartbreak when they lose."
All of the players are in their early 20s or even late teens, so the money really means something. At the end of seven weeks, the seven weekly winners are brought together for a final game with a $770,000 prize.
Davies hopes the show does well enough to continue in the fall for the WB, or perhaps establish a format that could be sold internationally or in syndication.