NBC Enterprises has hired George Gray as host of the upcoming syndicated version of “Weakest Link,” ending a casting process that began in early spring and involved both name talent and up-and-comers.
The firstrun, half-hour daily gameshow will preem in national syndication on Jan. 7. In order to adapt the hourlong primetime format to accommodate the shorter half-hour length, the syndie show will feature six contestants rather than primetime’s eight.
That means two rounds of play are cut out. The prize money also will be considerably less than the $1 million potential prize offered by the primetime show.
Currently, the syndie skein is cleared on stations repping about 60% of the country, NBC Enterprises prexy Ed Wilson said. Wilson added that he expects to have the show in 75%-80% of the country when it debuts. He is committed to making deals with stations to air the show in early fringe (3-5 p.m.) or access (7-8 p.m.) time periods and is willing to hold out for them.
Gray is best-known as host of TLC’s “Junkyard Wars.” He also has had roles on “For Your Love” and “Party of Five.” In addition, he’s an accomplished improvisational performer, with credits such as “SCTV.”
The casting of the syndicated “Link” has been the subject of speculation for many months, ever since NBC’s Wilson said that Anne Robinson, the host of the primetime version of the show on NBC, would not be hosting the syndie version. Robinson also hosts the original BBC version.
About a dozen prospective hosts were auditioned for the syndie version, and NBC produced pilots with the three top candidates. Wilson said he let Gray know he was hired just 45 minutes prior to a press briefing held to announce the decision midday Thursday.
“At first we didn’t think we could go with a white male; we didn’t think he could give the zingers to women contestants without offending,” Wilson said, adding that Gray quickly won over the producers and execs involved in the show.
“This is a hard show to do. A good host makes it look easy, and George does that,” said Linda Finnell, senior VP of programming for NBC Enterprises. “He walked onstage and just took control, had fun and was himself.”
Show’s exec producer Phil Gurin added, “He just nailed it. At the end of each round we compile statistics and look at contestants’ bios to figure out what to say in the next round. He was coming up with lines and just knew exactly how he wanted to go after them.” One thing likely to remain the same, execs said, is that Gray, like Robinson, will dress in black, head-to-toe.