Money isn't everything

"Where in the world can you sit in the hot seat?" beams the billboard outside Disney's latest pop-culture exercise, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire -- Play It!"

And of the four choices -- a cheeky mother-in-law reference, an obvious job-interview situation, Sheboygan, Wis., and, well, MGM Studios Florida -- I'm struggling to get past the cheese.

At 85 degrees at 8 in the morning, my ass is hot enough.

Although ambitiously sterile (like my ass?), the whole concept of re-creating the satin-tie choke of Regis Philbin's hi-tech Trivial Pursuit for the hip-purse set is nonetheless enough to draw the special-interest end of the world's media together for another spirited Orlando cheese mingle. Only, with this excess exercise, there is no cheese. In fact, there's no food at all, just a coupon promising generalized cuisine and a non-alcoholic libation sometime after the demonstration ... and a souvenir gold medallion weighing in at 35 pounds. We're left to talk amongst ourselves, and with no other oral distractions to stop silly verbalized speculations (and only a medallion to chew on), eventually we're all just like everybody else.

"I've been practicing my fast finger," fingers one scribe. Yeah, me too.

Financial institution

Perhaps just in time, the celebrity motorcade is announced and the press throng is pressed behind white-tape lines. Fast fingers fumble for flashes and steno pads in anticipation of the great Regis, who's being carted, appropriately, in a Brinks truck. But before Regis reigns short-man supreme, we're treated to a collection of clones -- a gaggle of acting hopefuls who are likewise decked in signature satin-under-suit fashions (girls with collars, boys with ties) and forced to stand through their early- (or too-late) career introductions.

"That one looks like Indiana Jones," I chuff to a notepad nearby.

That one is Indiana Jones, I find out. Dennis Marsico, the bleached-teeth charisma machine who appears to be stealing the show, got his notoriety as the namesake star in "The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!" and cuts a fair Regis if you don't count the fact that he's cute. Olgia Campbell, an Army brat/drama teacher, cuts a better Star Jones than a Rege but oozes enough Disney charm to drown any doubts. They all look nervous. They're all dressed the same.

"I'd like you to welcome the man who saved the ABC network!" booms an emcee.

"I'd do it again," modests the Rege."If I had to."

Some hugging and gifting from Philbin to his fill-ins ends with Marsico spewing a "You, sir, are the best!" prior to Philbin's canned "Are you ready? Who wants to be a millionaire?" topped off, lovingly, with the rhetorical "Is that your final answer?" I only wish.

Inside, the game begins its familiar run-through. Some Lilith incident from Tallahassee shys her way up to the front as the first contestant after fast-fingering a Disney query about cartoon chronology. She correctly identifies Bjork's Oscar swan dress but quickly fails on a question involving "The Crucible." Speaking of witches, the media ladies to my right are cheating, fast-fingering in the empty seat next to me and taking this all too seriously. I offer to let them finger mine, too, but quickly realize the implications. I only want the fingering to end.

Final answer

In the press conference that follows, a series of poor questions shower Rege and the Brit importer of the Millionaire phenomenon while I struggle to find a tasteful way to call Kathie Lee into play. Eventually I give up, reconciling myself to the fact that E!'s "Spinning Out of Control" biopic was answer enough. Some blond Capezio from Fodors travel mag is overstaying his welcome with questions about vacation spots and hot dogs, and all I can think about are crying babies in sweatshops. Oh, and cheese.

Things get a little more interesting when a faux rivalry between Philbin and fellow respectable answer-head Alex Trebek is conjured by a Pat Sajak-baiting entertainment reporter, and for some reason we're all supposed to care. There isn't enough underwear starch in all of the world, really.

Nor are there enough ridiculous radio personalities, it seems. 95.3 Party is represented by several heavy-throated (and heavy-waisted) representatives causing buffoonish stirs throughout the press conference. Finally, as the last question is called, we find ourselves in the presence of a 400-pound Party-head with a segment to fill. "When you're in Orlando, what radio station do you like to party with?" he glubs. At which point, his entourage draw out the answer on some lined paper for the monkey Rege to read.

As quickly as I can, I walk away, quietly mouthing the Cole Porter "Who wants to be a millionaire? I don't" mantra on my way to find an appetite ... and more cheese.

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