When the show began airing in August 2000, it was aired in a daytime slot, usually on BBC Two on a daily basis. However it quickly became popular with the British public, leading to a weekly primetime edition being screened on Wednesday nights on BBC One. When repeated, it is easy to differentiate the original daytime and primetime editions because the latter, along with the celebrity specials, was filmed in front of live studio audience.
The show instantly gained notoriety due to Anne Robinson's onscreen persona. Prior to the show, quiz show hosts were always on the side of the contestant, but Robinson took a completely different approach, appearing cold and often condescending to the contestants. She earned the nickname the "Queen of Mean", but her approach was seen as a key appeal to the show, as it differentiated from other quiz shows of the time.
For April Fools Day 2003, a special episode saw Anne Robinson adapt a different persona. She would always present the show dressed in black, though on this occasion opted for a pink jacket, and most notably appeared joyful and supportive of the contestants. However halfway through the show, Robinson declared her frustration at the team for failing to bank enough money, and revereted to her former ways of belittling them.
There were a total of 1,693 episodes broadcast from August 2000 to March 2012, making the show one of the consecutively longest-running British quiz shows. The show ended at the request of Anne Robinson, who was wishing to pursue other projects and had stayed with the show for longer than intended.
As well as the civilian episodes, there were also several celebrity specials and other individual episodes; including a special teachers episode (2001), student episode (2002) and drag queen episode (2002). There was even a puppet special in 2007, which saw popular characters like Roland Rat, Nev the bear and Soo from the Sooty Show competing for charity.
The show produced the iconic catchphrase "you are the Weakest Link, goodbye", which Anne Robinson would declare to the contestant voted out of each round. However, there have been occasions in which the strongest link was voted out, usually so the other players do not have to face them in the final, and in this instance, Robinson would take the side of the evictee and instead declare "you have been a great player, goodbye"
The show caused controversy on several occasions, often for Anne Robinson's comments towards contestants. A celebrity special in 2008 resulted in complaints to OFCOM after wine expert Olly Smith asked to feel Robinson's breasts.
Two later stars of the BBC2 quiz show Eggheads, CJ De Mooi and Christopher Hughes both appeared on The Weakest Link, in 2000 and 2001 respectively, and both were voted out. In Hughes' case, he was the best performing contestant the show had seen, but was voted out in the penultimate round with the two other contestants stating they did not wish to play against him in the final. Host Anne Robinson was visibly surprised at the decision to vote off Hughes, and told him that as he had failed to answer a question incorrectly he was the show's best ever player, and she would be sorry to see him leave. Instead of using her famous catchphrase "you are the Weakest Link, goodbye", Robinson instead stated "goodbye Chris" indicating her unhappiness at his exit.
When there were 4 contestants left, Anne usually came out with some speculation regarding whether they will survive or not. Examples include: "Is Charlton no longer athletic?" "Should Dusty be binned?" and "....Or are things looking iffy for Aoife?" and two relating to jobs were: "Should Richard (a vet) be put down?" and "Do you want to draw a line under Matt (a white-liner)?".
The show's popularity led to it appearing in two British television series; Doctor Who in 2005 and My Family in 2007. In the former, the Doctor's companion Rose Tyler appears on the show, set several years in the future, and hosted by the Anne-Droid (voiced by Anne Robinson) who exterminates the losing contestant. There was a special Doctor Who themed episode of the real Weakest Link, in which the show was opened by the Anne-Droid, who was quickly unplugged by the real Anne Robinson who continued the show as normal.
The Weakest Link was one of a number of programmes to move out of London, as part of a BBC project to give its regional staff experience in making network programmes. From 2009, episodes were filmed at the BBC's new studios at Pacific Quay, Glasgow.
Especially in the early rounds, lots of contrived analogies for the state of being the weakest link, such as "Whose village is missing its idiot?", "Who is the first cuckoo of spring?", "Who needs rebooting and who needs booting out?" and "Whose knowledge never went to college?" As well as countless others.