The Weakest Link is one of the most iconic, memorable quiz programmes I can remember from my childhood. Hosted by Anne Robinson, it pitted members of the public against one another in a horseshoe fashion answering questions that (at home at least) didn’t appear too impossible. What made the quiz intense was the contestants relying on one another to create a chain of correct answers. Get just one wrong and the chain would be broken, with a large amount of money potentially lost.
Interspersed with the quizzes, following which the weakest link of each round would be eliminated, Anne Robinson would interrogate the contestants about their lives and employment. Her remarks would usually be sardonic, caustic, and, occasionally, vile. It completely went against the norm of quiz time TV which was based around positivity and encouragement of the contestants.
Audiences were hooked nonetheless. In the end, she hosted more than 1,690 editions between 2000 and 2012. For a quiz show, that is undoubtedly a brilliant run of shows, demonstrating it was able to gain enough viewers for the BBC to see it a series worth repeatedly recommissioning. After leaving The Weakest Link, Robinson became known as a champion of the people on Watchdog, holding different companies that operated in damaging ways to account.
This has the potential to be a brilliant programme: Ranganathan is a hilarious, deeply intelligent comic that manages to use wit in an engaging manner to win his audience over
The Weakest Link was therefore retired as soon as Anne Robinson left. She had been a bedrock of the programme, its sole host and as important as the chain of correct answers. Carrying on the show without her had been seen as impossible and unrealistic. Though Robinson returns for a special charity episode in 2017 for Children in Need, its return had never been on the cards. Until now. The fantastic comedian Romesh Ranganathan has recently been announced as the host of a celebrity version of The Weakest Link.
This has the potential to be a brilliant programme: Ranganathan is a hilarious, deeply intelligent comic that manages to use wit in an engaging manner to win his audience over. I had the privilege of stewarding a Warwick Arts Centre event before the pandemic where he performed. Needless to say, myself and the audience were completely won over. His charm, dead pan humour and funny way of telling stories ensured the audience were hooked on his every word.
I’ll be intrigued to see whether he has the ability and flexibility to do this on The Weakest Link. Naturally, the presenter – even Anne Robinson – can only deviate from the quiz questions for so long. A large part of the focus will be on the celebrities and how far their intellect extends off what they are best known for. It will be interesting to see how Ranganathan also interacts with the celebrities. Though Robinson was trying to create a recognisable brand by going beyond the tired cliches of fake positivity between presenter and guest, her put-down remarks were often insulting and went beyond the pale.
The key is in trying to keep the best parts of the old programmes while also bringing something new as a presenter
Indeed, Robinson herself argued that her style of presenting wouldn’t be made or seen as acceptable today. She claimed she was simply trying to represent what viewers at home were thinking. Yet that is the key point: to think and to speak are two very different things. It’s a statement as old as time that individuals should think before they speak. But that remains true today, whether you are on or off the screen.
Robinson’s hosting abilities now look set to be tested on Countdown, where she replaced long standing host Nick Hewer. The host of Countdown mainly acts as the intermediary as contestants select their numbers and letters, allowing far less opportunity to make their points known and themselves engage in the discussion. In the Weakest Link, Robinson was the sole host. By contrast, Countdown allows for a dynamic with Susie Dent, Rachel Riley, and the guest in Dictionary Corner. It has a far more gentle atmosphere as a daytime show, where the opportunity for conflict is reduced.
Both shows have the ability to succeed or fall on their face. That is the case for all ventures reliant on a project which has been done before. The key is in trying to keep the best parts of the old programmes while also bringing something new as a presenter. It is harder than it looks; American remakes of programmes are often notorious for finishing after one season. Both Romesh Ranganathan and Anne Robinson have a difficult job on their hands to avoid being the weakest links and face the countdown to their programmes being taken off air.