NBC thinks `Link' has its strengths

Television: The in-your-face host of the British game show may be more than a match for Regis.

April 16, 2001|By Sarah Kickler Kelber | Sarah Kickler Kelber,SUN STAFF

Ever wonder what would happen if they crossed "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebeck and "McLaughlin Group" leader John McLaughlin? Anne Robinson, host of British game show import "The Weakest Link," could be the answer.

The quiz show, which makes its debut tonight at 8 on NBC (Channel 11), at first seems to bear a resemblance to "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (also a British import), with its flashy set and questions worth more and more as each round progresses.

But there are definitely some differences. You wouldn't expect to see Regis Philbin mocking the contestants. But that's just the kind of treatment Robinson, a London journalist turned TV star, exacts.

Robinson, 56, argues that her approach is just more honest than usual.

"Quiz show contestants are really very feisty and very sure of themselves, and it just would have been inappropriate and patronizing to treat them any other way," she says.

And her show certainly has more pep than "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," Robinson adds. "Mind you, it wouldn't be difficult to have more energy than what's-his-face," she jokingly says of Philbin.

"Weakest Link" is structured differently from "Millionaire," too.

Eight contestants work together to build up the final prize, up to $125,000 each round. After each round, the team votes out its "weakest link." This poor soul is soundly dismissed by Robinson, with a line the NBC marketing department has already made a catchphrase: "You ARE the weakest link. Goodbye!"

Things progress more quickly than in "Millionaire," and the questions are more difficult, making for a more interesting game.

NBC has lagged in matching competitors ABC ("Millionaire") and CBS ("Survivor") in the development of alternative shows, but it's betting big on "Weakest Link."

It needs to. While returning series like "The West Wing" and "Law & Order" have performed strongly for NBC, newcomers such as "Titans" and "First Years" wobbled and crashed. NBC is promoting the show as "more intense than `Survivor,' " but "Weakest Link" is much more game show than reality show. You get snarky commentary from the contestants as they're voted off, but maybe they deserve to have their say after what Robinson puts them through.

"Weakest Link" also is getting a splashy, triple-pump launch after weeks of heavy promotion. Its debut tonight will be followed by additional episodes at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and 10 p.m. Wednesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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