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“Who Wants to Be a Defendant?” No one, of course. But that could be the name of a new television game show, judging by a suit filed by a former contestant on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Robert Gelbman wanted to be a millionaire — and now he wants to be a multimillionaire, according to a complaint filed in May in New York against ABC, Disney and the show’s producers. Right now, Gelbman claims, he’s anything but wealthy. The Florida computer programmer, 34, was eliminated on the show at the $32,000 level by a question about astrology. He left with a $1,000 check and a case of the jitters so bad, says the complaint, that he hasn’t been able to work since the Aug. 17 taping (the show aired the next day). And for that, Gelbman claims he is entitled to $2 million. Initially he just wanted another chance on the show, but when ABC told his lawyers to take a hike, he sued. The dispute is over the answer to this question, which Gelbman says was ambiguous: “Beginning in January, which of the following signs of the zodiac comes last?: (a) Aquarius, (b) Aries, (c) Leo, or (d) Scorpio?” After using his “50-50 lifeline,” which narrowed his choices to Scorpio and Aquarias, Gelbman chose the latter. Wrong, said host Regis Philbin. Aquarius runs from Jan. 21 to Feb. 19 and Scorpio from Oct. 24 to Nov. 22. What’s so ambiguous about that? Gelbman claims he answered the question based on the zodiac cycle, which begins with Aries and ends with Pisces — and in which Aquarius follows Scorpio. The complaint says the question would have been clearer had it said “according to the calendar year” or “beginning from” instead of “beginning in” January. Except for linguists (and the laws of whatever planet some game show contestants come from), who knows? In the court of common sense, anyway, most of us dwell in the calendar year. “It’s hard to imagine Regis Philbin being responsible for anyone’s unemployment,” says Vincent Waldman, an entertainment partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips in West Los Angeles, whose firm represents several top TV game show producers and hosts, including “Wheel of Fortune” stars Pat Sajak and Vanna White. The larger issue, suggests Waldman, is: “Do we really need to start dragging game shows into court?” Good question. Game shows, like any competition, have rules of play. Contestants, required to sign extensive liability releases, agree to abide by the rules and by the judges’ decisions. “If you win, great. If you lose, you lose. That’s the breaks,” says Waldman, who sees game show suits as a dangerous front edge. “What’s next, the Miami Heat taking the NBA to court because they didn’t like the officiating in game seven of the playoffs?” Todd Zywicki, a professor at George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Va. and a television legal commentator, concurs. What the Millionaire case “really comes down to is, what are these shows all about? Is it for contestants to win money or to provide entertainment for the public?” he says. Probably the latter, which is why Gelbman may be “barking up the wrong tree,” Zywicki says. “On the merits, this case seems unusually weak” and some of the allegations “kind of goofy,” such as Gelbman’s contention that he hasn’t been able to take technical tests required to get work as a computer programmer because his “confidence is shaky.” How, then, did a dispute like this end up in court? “Lawyers will take these cases because even if there’s not much of a case, the threat they hold over Regis is embarrassment. They trump it up to get publicity and extort a settlement out of ABC,” says Zywicki. Both, of course, are perennial sports in Hollywood. Gelbman, meanwhile, is taking all this quite seriously. In interviews, he was quoted as saying the game show producers “robbed” him of $31,000 and a chance to be a millionaire. His court papers say the show “unreasonably” prevented him from moving up to the next level of competition and that the producers intentionally inflicted him with severe emotional distress that prevented him from working or even sleeping. “It’s become my life. I want vindication,” Gelbman reportedly told the New York Post. “All I think about is that question. I just think about it over and over.” Maybe it’s time to start thinking about a new game show: Who Wants to Get a Life?

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