Weakest Link no ratings weakling

Quiz show Weakest Link did so well in its prime time debut that NBC's new syndication division was scrambling late last week to finalize plans for a potential daytime/access version.

The British import, which averaged more than 15 million viewers in its first three outings on NBC, seems headed for a simultaneous U.S. syndication run. Sources say NBC Enterprises & Syndication is preparing to launch Weakest Link in either daytime or access periods next January. The syndicated version will likely be sold as two half-hour editions, instead of the one-hour show now on NBC. And former Survivor contestant Richard Hatch probably won't be the host.

NBC Enterprises & Syndication, which is also producing Weakest Link for the network, will probably start conversations with station groups in the upcoming weeks for the syndication version.

Earlier this year, NBC Enterprises taped separate Weakest Link pilots for the network in London, one with the show's British host, Anne Robinson, and one with Hatch. Network executives decided to keep the popular British personality for the prime time version, and Hatch had been expected to be chosen for the syndicated version. Sources now say NBC executives are looking to go in a different direction, possibly for a female host in Robinson's vein. Ellen DeGeneres was originally approached and may be in the running once again.

NBC Enterprises will have to hurry to get the five-day-a-week syndicated version cleared across the country by January. On its side, though, the company has a new first-run syndication alliance with the NBC O&Os and Gannett and Hearst-Argyle stations. The alliance, which totals a 60% national clearance, will debut this fall with the launch of daytime strip The Other Half
. NBC Enterprises is expected to utilize the alliance with Weakest Link and the same production facilities used for the prime time version. Sources also say NBC wants the game to air only in lucrative access and early-fringe time periods, believing it could be the next Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy.

As for Weakest Link's network debut, the quiz show saw its ratings rise consistently, with 52 million viewers tuning in Monday, April 16, through Wednesday, April 18. It averaged a 6.7 rating/17 share in adults 18-49 and well over 15 million viewers per episode. The show scored its best numbers on April 18, averaging a 7.8/21 in adults 18-49 and 17.5 million viewers. "We are thrilled but, at the same time, cautiously optimistic," says NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker. "We wanted to get into circulation, and we got into circulation."

NBC aired Weakest Link in three time periods in its launch: 8-9 p.m. ET/PT on Monday, 9:30-10:30 p.m. Tuesday and 10-11 p.m. Wednesday. Starting this week, the show airs only once a week, on Mondays at 8 p.m. "It definitely opened our eyes to some things," says Zucker. "Right now, we are committed to Monday at 8 p.m., but I would say our options are open."

Last week also saw the debut of UPN's long-awaited reality series Chains of Love. The series, originally developed at NBC last year, didn't fare as well as Weakest Link
in its debut on April 17, averaging 3 million viewers and a 1.5 rating/4 share in adults 18-49.

"I wasn't disappointed with the numbers," says UPN President Dean Valentine. "Realistically, the one thing that we have learned at UPN, in time periods where we have no presence, we are really starting from a base of zero. On the positive side of it, we attracted a different and more upscale audience than we have ever been able to attract at our network."