The Arabic version of the popular game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? returns this week, with a new home on OSN.
The channel might be new, but at least one thing has remained constant – host George Kordahi, who has presented the show since the first edition was broadcast on MBC in 2000.
The show was something of a step into the unknown for Kordahi, who was previously known as a serious news journalist who had worked for newspapers, radio and TV. He admits that he had reservations in the early days.
“It wasn’t a move I’d planned,” he says. “It was something new and a challenge for me. I used to present TV news bulletins in Lebanon, and was a journalist at Radio Monte Carlo – I’d always been about serious news, had a serious way of life, serious presentation.
“I was scared at first but discovered I had something appreciated by viewers. Then it became easy for me.
“When I was given the job, I was working with MBC as head of radio, and all my colleagues said, ‘It will be a failure. George Kordahi is very serious. It needs somebody funny.’ I heard this many times from all my friends – and I was upset, to be honest.”
After 15 years as one of the Arab world’s most popular TV shows, one suspects Kordahi may be over it by now. Perhaps his meticulous research helped him to slot into the role.
“I spent a lot of time with the presenter of the French version of the show,” he says. “I had tapes of the American and Italian versions, and I also spent a lot of time with [the presenter of the show’s original UK version] Chris Tarrant.
“Chris and I had a friend in common, Steve Clark, an English guy, the head of news at MBC. I asked Chris for the recipe to success and he said, ‘George – the drama. Work on the drama’.
“Many presenters don’t do this. They are like a teacher in school asking the question, there’s no drama. I attended many episodes with Chris and was focusing on what he does.
“All the same, it was another friend who perhaps gave me the best advice. He said, ‘Forget everything, just be yourself’ – and that’s what I did in the end.”
In the 15 years the show has been running, Kordahi has witnessed plenty of amusing moments. One unforgettable YouTube clip features a contestant agonising over whether there have been two or four world wars, having already used his 50/50 lifeline to elimante one and three as options, while Kordahi desperately tries to guide him to the correct answer. Kordahi remembers the episode well.
“It was very funny,” he says. “There were tears coming from my eyes, and he’s saying, ‘I know your tactics. You’re trying to trick me.’”
He remembers other funny moments. “We had a girl from the south of Iran, where they speak Arabic,” he says. “I asked, ‘What is your name?’ Her Arabic name, translated in English, meant ‘Storm’. She got to 32,000 and asked to call a friend, her brother. I said, ‘What is his name?’ His name in Arabic meant ‘volcano’.
So I said, ‘You are Storm, your brother is Volcano. What is your father’s name?’ She said, ‘I understand your question, but his name is Sala, a typical, normal name. “Then she added: ‘But my uncle, his name is Earthquake.’”
We can look forward to plenty more drama, comedy and prime time entertainment when the new series launches on OSN tomorrow.
• Who Wants to be a Millionaire? makes its OSN debut with an auditions preview show at 9pm tomorrow, on OSN Yahala. The first episode is at the same time on October 23