John Paul Filo, CBS
Regis Philbin is the host of CBS's new "Million Dollar Password."

Regis Philbin isn't just the new host of "Password," he's a former player.

"I wasn't bad, I wasn't great either," said Philbin, who was a celebrity guest on the daytime version of the show back in 1982. "But there's so much pressure. It's a challenge. Here you are on television, and people think you know everything. And you get on a show like that and all of a sudden you're exposed."

This time around, Philbin has all the answers. He's the host of "Million Dollar Password," which debuts Sunday at 7 p.m. on CBS Ch. 2.

It's the latest incarnation of a game-show format that dates back to 1961, with a variety of daytime and prime-time versions. And "Million Dollar Password" doesn't reinvent the wheel.

Two teams — each consisting of one celebrity and one contestant — compete against each other. (The celebrities in Sunday's debut are Neil Patrick Harris and Rachael Ray.) One team member tries to prompt his/her teammate to say the "Password" by using other words (one per turn).

It's a simple idea that has held up through literally thousands of episodes over the past 47 years. And it's an idea that still holds up, Philbin said in a conference call with TV critics.

"That's what I really love about the show — the fact that everybody can get involved, from kids through people who remember it from the old days. It's just that kind of a show," Philbin said. "You find yourself playing along with the contestants. And then getting angry when they can't connect. It's just so funny. ... It makes it a lot of fun for the whole family."

There have been accommodations for a new generation of viewers, however, to update a show that was "very intimate, small — almost a parlor game," said executive producer Vincent Rubino. "The challenge for us was how to make this worthy of prime-time spectacle."

Step one, of course, was to jack up the payoff.

"These days, a million dollars is expected in game shows," Philbin said.

And to get there, a clock is running while contestants play every round of the game. And they've got to risk everything they've won to go for the really big bucks.

"In this day and age, television is a very fast-paced medium, obviously, and we didn't think that viewers would be patient enough to sit through what we call 'classic Password,"' Rubino said. "It wasn't as frenetic a pace as we needed to have in prime time."

But "Million Dollar Password" is still "Password."

"Here's a simple game that is just true to itself," Philbin said. "And over the years has inspired people to get involved in what they're watching on the screen. And if the kids take a look, they'll get hooked, too."


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