Weakest Link Shows Its Strength

Sumi Connock, creative director of formats for BBC Studios, talks about the game-show format The Weakest Link, which has been on air in some iteration or another for two decades and for which BBC Studios continues to notch up new deals in a variety of markets.

The series began on BBC Two back in 2000, airing as an access-prime daily show, stripped Monday to Friday. Its popularity got it moved to a weekly prime-time slot on BBC One, with a version that saw celebrities, rather than regular contestants, take part. (It went on to run in the U.K. for 12 years and almost 1,700 episodes.)

Australia launched its local version in 2001, closely followed by the U.S., Turkey, Russia and Germany, among others. All told, the format has been licensed to over 40 territories around the world, with five new deals in the last year alone, including Greece, the Netherlands, Russia and Turkey.

“Fundamentally, there is a great game at the heart of the show with a really simple but brilliantly engaging premise: to identify and eliminate the weakest link among the players in order to win as much cash as possible,” explains Connock.

“This has contributed to its success as an evergreen format, and it is produced pretty much the same way in every country, but with some flexibility to adapt within the format. For example, we have produced versions with seven, eight or nine contestants, the amount of prize money can vary ***Image***depending on local budgets, and there is an opportunity to cast either regular contestants or celebrities.” The set has also evolved over the years, she says.

“While earlier adaptations looked to cast a host with a similar demeanor to the original U.K. host, more recent versions have seen less focus on casting a ‘Queen of Mean’ and have cast both male and female hosts from the world of comedy or from more mainstream TV and some even from serious talk shows,” Connock adds.

The show had been off the air in Greece for over 16 years before its recent commission. “In Greece, they’re making 100 45-minute episodes for this run, which is incredible,” Connock says. It’s hosted by Tasos Tryfonos, the star of the Cypriot version, which has recently been renewed for a third season of 150 one-hour episodes for public broadcaster CyBC (RIK).

In Russia, the show returned to screens in February, on the free-to-air channel MIR, after a 12-year hiatus.

“The format has absolutely stood the test of time due to the fact it has a very simple but unique premise combined with a compelling narrative arc,” Connock maintains. “So not only is the audience following a story across the episode, but there is also a neat gameplay mechanic that provides great play-along for the viewers at home. It also works equally well with both regular contestants and celebrities.”

It’s a fantastic vehicle for talent, she adds, “so for channels looking to showcase their entertaining and quick-witted hosts, it’s a perfect choice.”

Overall, BBC Studios sees renewed interest in the format around the world. “Audiences love a heritage brand because while they are constantly on the lookout for something new, they also like familiarity,” Connock says. “As a result, we have seen an upswing recently for this title coming back into the market.

“The strength of the format also means that it plays equally well in daytime and prime time—with the option to scale it up for prime time, offering a bigger cash prize or playing with celebrities.”

This interview was conducted prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Media companies are currently shifting their strategies in the wake of production postponements.