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`Weakest Link’s’ syndie hook up

Oct 8, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Appearing like a softer, kinder and more jovial version of Anne Robinson in a recently produced test pilot, George Gray was introduced last week by NBC Enterprises as the new host of the syndicated version of “Weakest Link.”
“Call him son of Anne,” joked NBC Enterprises’ Senior VP of Programming Linda Finnell, who was making a subtle reference to Mr. Gray’s quick-comeback comic style vs. the snarky, somewhat abrasive edge of Ms. Robinson.
Ed Wilson, president of NBC Enterprises, said Mr. Gray-formerly a host of The Learning Channel’s cultish “Junkyard Wars” battle of techno-geeks-exhibited “off the chart appeal” among the key young women and teen demos in focus group research with 600 respondents. Those demos, including adult men, who Mr. Wilson said will be core viewers of the stripped “Weakest Link” in prime-access and early-fringe time periods starting Jan. 7, 2002.
“George did a wonderful job [in the pilot test] and just nailed it in terms of his appeal, wit, interaction with the contestants and philosophical understanding of the game,” said Mr. Wilson, who signed Mr. Gray Oct. 3 after doing test pilots with two other unnamed candidates. “Going into this, we did a lot of research and found that we have to be a bit more viewer-friendly for early fringe and prime access.”
The selection of Mr. Gray, an improvisational comic from “SCTV,” also appears to be a younger-skewing counterpunch against the industry perception of TV game shows as typically skewing toward 50-plus demos.
To date, “Weakest Link” has been sold in more than 65 percent of the country, but Mr. Wilson predicted that mop up sales in other markets could push “Link” up to 75 percent to 85 percent U.S. broadcast coverage by its launch in January. NBC Enterprises rolled off to an early start, joining “Millionaire” and Columbia TriStar Television Distribution’s “$100,000 Pyramid” as well-cleared contenders for the early 2002 season.
Despite not having a host to work with these past few months, John Miller and Vince Manze, co-presidents of The NBC Agency, have already prepared a mass promotional strike for the syndicated “Weakest Link.”
“The show is very formatted and has worked in many countries around the world with different hosts,” Mr. Manze said. “No matter the language, audiences know they are cutting up on the contestants, so for us it’s much easier to promote the format, and that it’s now going to be on the air five days a week.”
Promos will be promising “Five days of Weak” when the campaign gets under way, as the marketing team prepares to have the strip’s promos come out of themes of everyday life, such as a wedding. Jingles promoting the show’s format are also in the can.
Phil Guerin, who will be doing double duty as executive producer of both the syndicated and network versions of “Weakest Link,” said NBC’s syndie unit also has drawn up plans to do contestant searches in more than 26 markets domestically over the next year. He said the promotion would also present opportunities for client TV stations’ news departments to do behind-the-scenes feature pieces on “Weakest Link” and the contestant tryouts.
Changes in the format of “Weakest Link” did not appear to be anything dramatic, other than denominations of award money being lower on each question. Early-round questions appeared to top out at $25,000 in the test pilot, but Ms. Finnell said there is no “final determination” yet on what the ultimate prize money will be.
“Ed would kill me if I said we’re going to make it a $1 million grand prize like the network show,” Ms. Finnell said.