With a shove and a wink, "The Weakest Link" is a winner. 

Surviving a Millionaire

If I hear one more person say "The Weakest Link" is a cross between "Survivor" and "Millionaire," I may lose it right then and there.

Unfortunately, hackneyed as it already may be, the analysis is not only easy, it's apt. That's why everybody is saying it — in print, on the air and around the water cooler. You put together a team of eight, add a snarly host and make them vote off one of their number — the weakest link — until only two are left to battle for whatever hard-gotten gains the team was able to accumulate along the way. In 2001, what else are to going to compare it to?

I like "The Weakest Link."

And I think Anne Robinson is going to grow on us. She's taken it on the chin from U.S. critics for the past week, all of whom seem to have forgotten that, on the basis of watching her on the U.K. version of "Weakest Link," more than a dozen other countries have bought the show. Given that you don't have to know enough to come in out of the rain to be a network programmer, could they all be wrong?

Or might it be that Robinson is precisely the perfect person for the show: a Vampira Trebek in leather who looks and talks as though she's longing, deeply, to rip the bloody heart out of the youngest, blondest virgin on the panel of contestants, then throw it into the hands of a frenzied live audience.

Or is it just me?

I knew I was going to like this woman when I first saw the publicity photos. Then I read her bio and found out she used to be a respected consumer reporter on British TV before she won her spurs (pun intended) as a quiz-show host. Then the last shot of her at the end of the show sealed our love affair: She winked at us — a genuine wink!

"She winked at us," I gleefully told an e-mail correspondent in Britain.

Come to find out, it's Robinson's trademark. She winks at the end of other shows she's on regularly. Sort of like the way Carol Burnett always pulls on her ear or Michael Jackson always grabs his crotch. An innocent, and somehow touchingly sincere, gesture.

Or is it just me?

There are those who have heralded the debut of "TWL" as a new low in the history of blah, blah, blah. Phooey! The nadir came when Geraldo opened that safe in Chicago, or when Darla married what's-his-face on Fox-TV, or perhaps when Barbara Walters' agent fought the chimp's agent over who got higher billing on "Today." Memo to Newton Minow: "TWL" is not going to turn TV into a vast wasteland.

I will let a British e-mail correspondent I chat with occasionally have the last word. I met with her last year over lunch in London, and can tell you she does not mince words. Here's what she told me this week: "I haven't seen more than 10 minutes or so of the U.K. version, or any of the U.S. version, but I would guess that a show that arouses so much strong feeling and controversy ... is destined to be a hit, whether you love or loathe it."

So it's probably not just


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