The Weakest Link (BBC2/BBC1, 2000-2012)
I have already reviewed the computer game version of this show, now here’s my verdict on the TV version. When The Weakest Link began it could definitely be described as a general knowledge game show like you’ve never seen before. A team of nine contestants who don’t know one another beforehand have to work together to get the answers right against the clock and bank as much money as they can. But there was more to it than that.
One of the things that made the show stand out when it launched was the hosting style of Anne Robinson. It could be fair to say that Anne didn’t really hide her feelings of how the contestants performed. At the end of every round, the contestants have to vote for who they thought was the weakest link in the round. Who will hold their nerve and what will their strategy be? Would they pick the person who really was getting the questions wrong and costing the team money, or did they just want to stab someone in the back? I always liked the description for the show on the EPG that seemed to insist that contestants had to do well because “round by round the dunce is dumped”. Once a contestant is eliminated, they give some post-match analysis, usually going on about how bitter they are to be knocked out, even if they were indeed useless.
At the start of the next round with one contestant gone and ten seconds fewer on the clock, the process begins again. When there are two contestants remaining, the money on offer is doubled, and then they go into the final, which is played in the style of a football penalty shoot-out. The winner and overall strongest link on the show wins all the money that was banked over the rounds. In the daytime version the maximum that could be won was £10,000, but on average it was more likely to be about £2,500. The runner-up, like the rest of the contestants on the show, left with nothing.
The Weakest Link made the biggest impression in UK game shows since the launch of ITV’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire a couple of years earlier, which was all the more impressive as this was originally a daytime afternoon show in a rather low-profile timeslot compared to Chris Tarrant’s classic. The catchphrases on the show became popular very quickly, such as defeated contestants having to take “the walk of shame” and the show was pioneering in many ways, such as offering no consolation prizes for losers and happily informing them that they were losers too.
The show took off so quickly that primetime celebrity editions launched on BBC1 very soon after The Weakest Link began. These were very popular because apparently viewers like seeing vaguely famous people being humiliated. The format soon sold around the world, with Anne Robinson even briefly hosting the American version, and no-one could really believe her presenting style, with critics describing her as “the queen of mean”, although in the much more intense American TV business it only ran for about a year. It did get an amusing reference in an episode of Family Guy though.
In the UK The Weakest Link ran for about 12 years until Anne decided to finally hang up her cloak. Unfortunately it had stopped being the talk of viewers by this time and ended rather quietly back in its original BBC2 daytime slot. It is one of the few British game shows of which over 1,000 editions have been made though and the BBC were very pleased overall with its success.