‘Millionaire’ may cost Disney Millions

A jury is set to continue deliberations this week over a suit from the game show’s creator seeking $395 million in damages. A decision for Celador International could be a setback for media mergers.

To use a phrase from “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” the game show handed ABC a lifeline.

Now the network could be on the hook.

The Walt Disney Co.-owned network had been trailing in the ratings in the summer of 1999 when “Millionaire” premiered, offering a $1-million prize for the contestant who could answer increasingly challenging questions. “Millionaire” was an overnight sensation — and would become ABC’s first top-rated prime-time show in more than a decade. Former Disney Chief Executive Michael D. Eisner proclaimed it “the most important thing to happen to ABC since I don’t know when.”

As big a hit as “Millionaire” was for ABC — the network at one point slapped it on the air five nights a week — the one thing the British import didn’t do was make a profit for its creator, according to a lawsuit and trial now underway in Riverside County that is seeking up to $395 million in damages.

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