The 2020 revival title card of the Weakest Link
|Theme music composer||Paul Farrer|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons|
|No. of episodes|
Laurelwood Entertainment (NBC season 1)
The Gurin Company (NBC season 2)
Weakest Link Productions Ltd.
BBC Studios Los Angeles
Universal Television Alternative Studio
NBCUniversal Television Distribution
|Original release||16 April 2001 -|
|Related shows||The Weakest Link|
Weakest Link is an American television game show that made its debut in 2001. It is an adaptation of the British television series of the same name.
The series made its debut on NBC on April 16, 2001, and with the exception of the first 3 episodes which all aired the same week, the series aired once a week for an hour as part of the network's primetime schedule. The network cancelled Weakest Link in 2002 and its final episode aired on July 14, 2002, with ten episodes left unaired. These were eventually shown on PAX and GSN years later.
While the primetime series was still being produced, NBC began developing a daily half-hour edition that would be syndicated to local stations. This version premiered on January 7, 2002, and aired for a season and a half with the last new episode airing on May 20, 2003.
As was the case with the British version, Anne Robinson served as host for the NBC Weakest Link. George Gray, whose most notable hosting experience to that point was on Extreme Gong, hosted the syndicated version. Jane Lynch currently hosts the revival and also serves as its executive producer.
For the original American run and the 2020 reboot, the game was conducted in the same way as the British version, with a team of contestants trying to reach and bank a set target within the time limit by completing a chain of correct answers that would be broken with an incorrect answer or if a contestant decided to bank the money that was already in the chain by either saying the word "Bank" before the question was asked to them or (in the reboot version) saying "bank" and pressing a button on their podium. On NBC, the team was composed of eight people (six on a special half hour episode featuring contestants from the first season of Survivor aired on May 10, 2001, and five on a special celebrity edition aired during the 2001 NBA Finals) looking to win up to $1,000,000 ($500,000 for the NBA special). In the syndicated series, the team size was reduced to six contestants and the potential top prize was significantly reduced. The first season offered a potential top prize of $75,000, and the second season saw that figure increased to $100,000.
The game starts with the winner of a backstage draw before the show began (unlike other versions where they start with the player whose name comes first alphabetically). The first round is played for 2 minutes 30 seconds on the NBC series and 1 minute 45 seconds on the syndicated series, and any money banked during the round is added to the team's overall prize total. If the team banked enough money to reach or exceed the target, the round ended immediately and any excess was forfeited. When time ran out, any un-banked money was lost. Any question in progress when time ran out was discarded, with the host revealing the correct answer only if it had been fully read.
Regardless of the outcome, at the conclusion of the round each contestant secretly voted in favor of the person they most wanted to eliminate from the game. Once all the votes were in, they were revealed one at a time; the contestant who received the most votes was eliminated from the game and walked off the stage with a curt dismissal from the host: "You are the weakest link. Goodbye." In the event of a tie, the contestant who had turned in the best performance of the round was named as its "strongest link" and called upon to cast the tiebreaking vote. Contestants were not permitted to vote for themselves at any time.
The time limit decreased in each round after the first (10 seconds per round on the NBC series, 15 seconds for the syndicated one). Play would begin with the strongest link from the previous round, or the second-strongest if that contestant had been eliminated.
After six rounds of play on the NBC series and four on the syndicated series, the team had been reduced to two members. For the 2001-02 run of the NBC series, a seventh round was played for 90 seconds (1:30) with the two remaining team members. Any money banked in this round was doubled and added to the bank from previous rounds to determine the final prize total.
The abbreviated first season of the syndicated series also used the double stakes round, which was conducted for 45 seconds with the last two contestants. The change in the potential top prize for the second season resulted in this round being cut from the show. Instead, the game ended after the fourth round and the two surviving contestants after the last vote advanced to the final round to play for the accumulated money in their bank.
Six timed rounds are played in the 2020 revival, with question values and target totals increasing from one to the next, no rounds are played for double value. The target begins at $25,000 in the first round and increases to $500,000 in the sixth, allowing for a potential maximum bank of $1,000,000.
Question and target values during the NBC and syndicated runs of the series are displayed in the table below.
|Question Number||2001-02 (primetime)||2002-03 (syndicated)||2020|
|Standard episodes||Survivor special||NBA halftime specials||Season 1||Season 2||Season 1|
The final round was a head-to-head showdown between the two surviving team members. The NBC series allowed five turns per contestant, while the syndicated series allowed three (which was previously used during one half-hour celebrity episode and one 15-minute celebrity episode). Before the round, the strongest link from the previous round was given the choice of whether to play first or second. In the second syndicated season and 2020 NBC reboot, the choice went to the second-strongest link if the two had eliminated the strongest link in the final vote.
The host would then ask one question at a time to each contestant, alternating back and forth. If one contestant missed a question, the opponent was not permitted to answer. The round ended when all questions had been asked or when one contestant attained an insurmountable lead over the other, whichever came first. The winner of this round was named the day's strongest link and won all the money in the bank, while the runner-up received nothing.
In the event of a tie, the host continued asking pairs of questions until only one contestant answered correctly, winning the bank.
The NBC version of Weakest Link started off well in the ratings, but quickly began to slip. The producers attempted to boost the ratings with large numbers of episodes featuring celebrities as the contestants, as well as others in which the team played on behalf of a selected charity. However, these changes caused the ratings to fall even further and accelerated the show's cancellation.
The syndicated Weakest Link performed well in its abbreviated first season and earned a renewal for a full second season in 2002, but it also experienced a sharp drop in ratings that led to its cancellation at the end of the season. Many stations opted to replace it with other programming, such as a daily syndicated edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, resulting in its being moved to an undesirable time slot or dropped altogether.
In May 2001, the BBC began to show episodes of the American NBC primetime version. These were billed as 'Weakest Link USA' in programming guides, although the title sequence was not altered to reflect this fact. Break bumpers and references to commercial breaks were removed and alternative credits were used (these credits were used when GSN began reairing the series). Notably, despite the show being produced by the BBC, the famous 'BBC Blocks' were not included (as was a requirement at that time for all BBC produced or funded programming) in the title sequence. The BBC did not air the 30-minute syndicated version.
Various special episodes aired on both the NBC and syndicated versions. Occasionally the contestants on these episodes all had something in common, such as an episode featuring celebrities, members of the same family, contestants with the same occupation or Halloween and Christmas episodes in which all the contestants wore holiday-themed costumes. Other episodes invited back previously-losing contestants, either those who had lost in the final round or those who were eliminated in the first round of voting on their original episode.
Celebrity episodes were seen frequently on the NBC version. On these episodes, all participants played for charity (as is traditionally the case with most celebrity editions of game shows), and losing celebrities still received $10,000-$25,000 for their respective charities; for this reason, the portion of John Cramer's opening spiel that went "the rest will leave with nothing" had the last two of those words omitted, while Anne's farewell to the final round loser was changed from "you leave with nothing" to "you will just go away".
On July 8, 2020, it was announced that actress Jane Lynch would host a revival of the show on NBC, featuring a few modern twists, such as picture clues on the contestants' podium screens. The revival premiered on September 29, 2020.