Million Dollar Password



Airdate: 8-9 p.m. Sunday, June 1 (CBS).

The argument that less is more is successfully made in the latest version of “Password,” which returned to CBS on Sunday after incarnations on ABC and NBC.

Apart from the requisite laser light show studio design, this is mostly the same game that Allen Ludden hosted from its birth on daytime CBS in October 1961. Although it would be hard to duplicate Ludden’s wit and warmth, Regis Philbin is a worthy successor. Good-natured and well-liked, Philbin puts the emphasis on the game and the contestants, making the job look a lot easier than it is.

“Password” is a simple game of synonyms and suggestions created by Bob Stewart for Goodson-Todman Prods. It features two celebrities and two civilians, who alternate giving and receiving clues. After four rounds, the winner gets to play for the money.

While things are vastly improved from the initial grand prize of $250, they are not nearly as grand as the title suggests. “Let’s play for $1 million,” Philbin says. Theoretically, that’s possible. In reality, the million dollar prize is as elusive here as it is on “Deal or No Deal” and other big-promise shows. These days, however, “$25,000 Password” doesn’t have nearly the cache.

Still, the beauty of the show is the game itself and, in this regard, production company FremantleMedia N.A. is not at all stingy. Almost exactly half of the program time is spent actually playing the game, which might be a record among primetime game shows.

Celebs in the premiere were bubbly Rachael Ray and thoughtful Neil Patrick Harris. They played well but the highlight of the six-episode run may well be June 12, when Betty White, a veteran player and Ludden’s widow, is one of the celebrity players.

It’s doubtful that even this new version -- and even with Philbin -- the show will generate stratospheric ratings. It hadn’t done so in any of its previous incarnations. However, it could well be a steady performer during the summer, which would more than justify production costs and licensing.

Executive producer: Vincent Rubino. Supervising producer: Rich Sirop. Coordinating producer: Michele Wasserman. Line producers: Amanda Zucker, Dominique Bruballa. Producers: Chris Ahearn, Graham Shaw. Director: Mark Gentile. Host: Regis Philbin.

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