How the Weakest Link Came to Be; making millionaires of two regular people with a good ideaNov 01, 2021
The television show Weakest Link was created by Fintan Coyle, a Doctor working in general practice and Cathy Dunning. Developed at the BBC and hosted by Anne Robinson, it initially aired in 2000 on BBC2 and was a hit on BBC2. I was the Executive Producer for several years once it had been established, supporting the excellent production team under Ruth Davies. Transitioning to BBC1 and made it to the United States in 2002, lasting for 10 seasons. It became the second most famous quiz show globally and has been seen by millions of people around the globe. Let's take a look at how this fantastic show came to be!
1) What is the Weakest Link?
The original format features nine contestants who take turns answering general knowledge questions. The objective of every round is to create a chain of nine correct answers in a row and earn an increasing amount of money within a time limit. One wrong answer breaks the chain and loses any money earned within that particular chain.
At the end of every round, contestants must vote one player out of the game. While the contestants work as a team when answering questions, they are encouraged to be ruthless with one another. Players often decide to vote off weaker rivals but occasionally decide to eliminate stronger players, hoping that it then improves their chances of winning the game.
This format encourages the ruthless nature of the show, amped up by Anne Robinson's acerbic nature and comments. The line "xxx you are the weakest link, goodbye" is short and sharp, and unlike The Chase, there is no buddy-buddy banter of, "have you had a good day?" On the Weakest link, the contestants immediately endure the "Walk Of Shame." leaving the studio passing camera. Only to be seen in an often bitter BOH wrap up to the camera.
2) Who Are Its Creators?
Fintan Coyle, a doctor, working in general practice, and his friend Cathy Dunning were actively trying to create shows for TV but had little or no knowledge of TV from the inside. Fintan had a back issue, and he had dabbled in comedy writing whilst in medical school. Cathy is a comedy writer and actor but is credited chiefly as Weakest co-creator. They came up with the idea over a meeting in Fintan's Chiswick kitchen.
"After my back went in the middle of surgery, I knew I had to do something to earn some money," explains Fintan, who had dabbled in comedy writing as a medical student. "So Cathy and I decided to come up with several ideas for TV game shows to pitch to TV executives."
Fintan went on, "We devised The Weakest Link [initially titled Money Chain, then The Strongest Link] and thought that Jeremy Paxman would make the ideal host. But BBC suggested Anne Robinson even though it was out of her comfort zone, having never done a quiz show before, but we went with her, and it paid off."
After a junior on the BBC development team was tasked with clearing some external submissions to the BBC, he noticed and quite liked the title. "Weakest Link" he took it to David Young, the then head of Light Entertainment at the BBC. It was put into the department 12-week cycle of pilots. Many claim to have suggested Anne Robinson as the host, but I believe it was the Team at BBC2 of Jane Lush and Fennia Vardanis. Anne's appointment is considered the prime reason for the success of the show, I'd agree.
3) The second most successful quiz show in the world?
Quiz shows haven't been a significant player in American pop culture for decades, but The Weakest Link has maintained a strong following throughout its seventeen-year run. And it's no surprise it's been recommissioned in the USA with the fabulous Jane Lynch hosting, she of Glee fame. There has been a degree of controversy over the UK reboot with host Romesh Ranganathan; we can see the result soon. Of course, "Who wants to be a Millionaire" is credited as the most successful quiz show of all time. Many claim that title; there was a rivalry between The BBC and ITV over WL and WWTBAM. Personally, with Weakest Link being seen in some 100 counties worldwide and over many series, making around $100m for the BBC. And with Cathy and Fintan unlikely to ever go back to their day jobs at some £4,500 and episode (guardian media) second place in history is probably OK. All this goes to show; if you think you have a TV format in you, it could be an idea to actually get it out there!