Archive for Monday, April 23, 2001

Lifeline’ a big responsibility

April 23, 2001


Here's the highlight of my week: I was a Lifeline on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"

I was a Phone-a-Friend for a guy who not only isn't my friend, I don't even know him! His name is Ken Krantz, and he reads my column. He faxed me out of the blue to be a Phone-a-Friend in sports, where he felt weak. (This is how weak: I asked Ken what he thought of a possible Michael Jordan comeback. He said, He's never been the same since leaving Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, Jackie and LaToya. )

Apparently, you're allowed five Phone-a-Friends, whom you designate in advance.

This got me thinking whom I would choose to be my Phone-a-Friend. Obviously, Catherine Zeta-Jones. I don't care if she doesn't know squat. This is my only chance to get her home phone number. Oh, and I'd make sure at least one of my Phone-a-Friends dialed directly into an escort service. Regis: Hello? Phone-a-friend: You've reached Sorority Sluts. Hahaha.

I agreed to be Ken's Phone-a-Friend. In a couple of days, I got a call from a woman who briefed me on the rules: On the day Ken was going on Millionaire, I had to be available by phone from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. There was no guarantee Ken would make it to the hot seat. But if he did, I had to camp near my phone.

What if I need to go to the bathroom? I asked.

Hold it in, she said.

Between 4 and 7, I had to let my phone ring three times, and then pick up.

You'll receive a call that your friend is in the hot seat, she said. The next call will be from Regis. When you answer, say, "Hello."

Can I make small talk with Regis? I asked.


Can I tell him a joke? You know: A rabbi, a priest and Frank Gifford are in a spy plane over China, and ...

No. Don't tell Regis any jokes, she said. Pay attention to the question. If you don't know the answer, or if you're making a guess, tell your friend. If you're certain, let him know. After 30 seconds the call will be automatically terminated. Do you understand?

I'm scared I won't know the answer, I said.

Oh, come on, Mr. Kornheiser, you're a professional sportswriter. Most of our sports stuff is simple. Here's one from last week: 'Who holds the Olympic record for consecutive bullseyes in the women's rapid fire prone rifle event?' Heck, you probably know the answers to all the riflery questions, not just the easy ones.


Well, sure, I'm a professional. But let's say I inexplicably have a brain lapse. Can anyone be in the room with me to help?

Sure. You can have as many people as you want. But you only have 30 seconds. And only you can speak over the phone.

I thanked her for her patience. Then I went to towel off. I had enough water running down my spine to irrigate the Negev.

I went through the sports staff at The Washington Post and lined up eight experts to help. The plan was: I would say the question out loud, recite the possible answers, then look to them for the correct answer.

We could look it up on the Internet, someone said.

We only have 30 seconds, I said. That's not enough time to do a search.

Can't you buy some more time? someone asked.

Buy some time? Like "Wheel Of Fortune"? "Oh, Regis, excuse me, I'd like to buy another 30 seconds." Of course not.

Tony, what are you so worried about? You don't even know the guy. No matter what, just tell him "B". Hey, whaddya say we order some Chinese?

I sat by the phone. Each time it rang, my heart stopped. At 5 p.m. I got the call from Millionaire.

Ken is in the hot seat. The next call could be from Regis. Are you ready?

Am I ready? I said. I was born ready.

Then I threw up.

I gathered everybody in my office. At 5:30, the phone rang. I picked up on the third ring and said, strong and clear, "Hello."

I heard, "Tony?"

And I said, Regis, how are you, buddy? How's that dopey solid color shirt and tie thing working out for you?

Except it wasn't Regis. It was a guy from "Millionaire" calling to tell me, Ken used his lifeline, so you're free to go.

He used his lifeline? On what?

On a music question. That's all I can tell you.

I was crestfallen. I know music! Gerry and the Pacemakers, Ferry Cross The Mersey. Little Millie Small, My Boy Lollipop. I even know the long lost third Righteous Brother, Olaf. Ken could have called me.

The show was taped. It airs Tuesday, April 24. My dear friend Ken was sworn to secrecy, and I have no idea what happened. So I'll be watching. Um, if you know which one Ken is, point him out to me.

Tony Kornheiser is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.

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