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Trae Patton, NBC
Howie Mandel, right, and a contestant on "Deal or No Deal."

PASADENA, Calif. — The man who brought "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" to America has nothing but good things to say about another import — "Deal or No Deal." And he has absolutely nothing to do with that NBC hit.

Michael Davies also rejects criticism that "Deal" contestants don't have to know much of anything to win big. "A lot of critics of that show think that because there is no question and answer, there is no skill involved in that game, other than potentially knowing when to quit. That it somehow reflects a dumbing down of the audience," Davies said. "I'm not so convinced that that's true.

"The success of that show might just reflect it's a beautifully produced format, which has been tried and tested all around the world and has worked pretty much everywhere — unless you want to say that the dumbing down is going on ... everywhere else in the world. It's tough, I think, to sort of settle that argument."

At the same time, Davies said he's seeing a different kind of contestant audition for the syndicated version of "Millionaire" than he was seeing six years ago when it exploded into a short-lived mega-hit on ABC. "I think there is a changing nature of the contestant base and what people know about," which he attributes to the Internet.

"I think people are much more up on current events. I think they are much more worldly in their knowledge," Davies said. "And that might have been at the expense of a lot of trivia-heads who know a lot about mythology and history and science.

"But I don't think we should really be looking at television game shows to get a sense of the nature of intelligence in the country."

Again, he attributes the success of "Deal" to its superior production values. "When I look at the top-rated shows on television on network ... it tends to be the best-produced, best-made shows that do really, really well," Davies said.

That's a lovely sentiment. Would that it were true.

But when you look at the wide range of horrible shows that become hits and the beautifully produced shows that fail to find an audience, about the only possible response to Davies is — huh?

A BIT BITTER: Once the toast and savior of ABC and Disney for "Millionaire," Davies left the studio under, perhaps, less-than-friendly circumstances.

"Earlier this year, I made an overall deal with Sony after years of indentured servitude with the Walt Disney Company," Davies said.

PRODUCTION ON DAVIES' latest game show, "Chain Reaction," was delayed a bit because host Dylan Lane was hit by a car and broke a rib.

"It was a Honda Accord," Lane said. "You should see the Honda Accord."

The fact that Lane was the host held up production — albeit through no fault of his own — and took the president of GSN a bit aback.

"The surprise to us is that everything has gone so smoothly with Danny (Bonaduce, who's hosting "Starface" on GSN), but then Dylan is the one who gets hit by a car," Rich Cronin said.

THERE HAVE BEEN RUMORS that NBC isn't crazy about Meredith Vieira — its new host of "The Today Show" — continuing to host the syndicated game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." But the executive producer of "Millionaire" said no change is in the offing.

"Meredith is the host," Davies said. "So unless something's going on that I have no idea about, Meredith is hosting 'Millionaire."'

"I hear Star Jones is looking for a gig," Danny Bonaduce interjected.


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com