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Monday, 23 October, 2000, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
BBC criticised for quiz cash
Anne Robinson
Anne Robinson hosts the cult quiz show, The Weakest Link
The BBC is facing criticism for offering the largest cash prize in its history on the hit TV game show The Weakest Link.

The quiz show, hosted by Anne Robinson, is to offer a top cash prize of 20,000 when it is given a prime time slot on BBC One as part of the current ratings war.

The cash prize, which was approved by BBC One controller, Lorraine Heggessey, is considerably smaller than sums offered on commercial networks.

But the amount to be given away has been criticised by the BBC's rivals.

"Is it right that the licence fee from a small Oxford village should go to fund that? It's a bit off for the BBC. They have managed for years without big prizes," said Channel 4's head of entertainment, Kevin Lygo.

The BBC's own Producer Guidelines state: "It is inappropriate to spend licence fee money on prizes of excessive value."

'Big money'

But there is no formal limit on what prizes - cash or otherwise - BBC programmes can offer, and controllers have the final say.

Speaking to BBC News Online, a BBC spokeswoman defended the move, comparing the prize to the 1m up for grabs on the successful ITV quiz Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

"You have to see it in context. 20,000 is not a huge amount of money. We believe it is extremely unlikely that anyone will win the whole amount given that they would have to answer every single question correctly," she said.

BBC head of light entertainment, David Young, said big value prizes had always been on offer.

"We're always being told, 'You can't do big money'. The Generation Game gives away holidays - how much do they think they cost?" he said.

The move also won support from Peter Bazalgette, a former BBC producer who was behind Channel 4's reality TV show, Big Brother.

"It's wholly admirable. Light entertainment was so bad, stale, turgid, it had to get better," he said.

The show, which was dubbed "mean TV" by BBC2 controller Jane Root, became a surprise hit thanks to Robinson's curt manner and occasional sarcasm when contestants fail to answer correctly.

Participants in the current version of the show, broadcast Monday to Friday at 1715 BST, play for a maximum prize of 10,000, with successful contestants winning 2,000 on average.

The extra BBC One series will feature the "Champions' League" of winners from the daytime show, returning to pit their wits against each other - and their sardonic host.

The series - which is in addition to the BBC Two shows - starts on 31 October, but its exact slot in the schedule has yet to be confirmed.

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