NEW YORK – Weakest Link's hard-hearted hostess, Anne Robinson, is one of the most hated women in England - and soon, perhaps, in the United States as well.
But she doesn't care.
Despite being slammed in reviews of her new NBC quiz show for being "gratuitously snippy," "stiff," "confusing" and "tiresome," the leather-loving ice queen said she is thrilled with her performances.
Yesterday, the haughty hostess called Post television critic Adam Buckman an "old fart" for his negative column on her American debut. "Your critic, I wanted to talk to him. Is he out of jail on day release?" she demanded. "I don't really care what he says. I'd rather have my earnings than his." Robinson, 56, added she finds most game shows stomach-churning and their hosts sugary enough to induce a diabetic coma. Her style, she said, is much more truthful, and that's what the folks at home are usually thinking anyway.
"It is not my style to be cheesy and patronizing," she explained.
Described as a cross between Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Survivor, Weakest Link features contestants answering questions while trying to eliminate one another. It's a smash hit in Britain, and producers are hoping for the same in the U.S.
Dominatrix-like Robinson steals the show. She wields her intellect like a cat-o-nine-tails on the mental masochists who dare to answer incorrectly. "You are the weakest link! Goodbye!" she curtly dismisses failed contestants - after she has ridiculed them for being stupid, ignorant or worse.
British sources say Robinson's she-wolf aura is no act. The sharp-tongued quiz-mistress is the same in real life.
Unbearable, snobbish, arrogant and insensitive are some of the nicer words used by colleagues who've worked with her on the British version of the show.
"She has made plenty of people cry," said Samantha Cross, who was an assistant producer on the British edition. "She will not tolerate anything but perfection."
Cross recalled the time Robinson demanded two producers take the day off after they failed to deliver lists of questions on time.
"She told them they were a waste of space," Cross said. "Then she dismissed them as if they were the weakest link in the show's team. They were humiliated."
Pals say Robinson learned her slash-and-burn tactics from her mother, who was the biggest chicken wholesaler in Liverpool. Childhood friend Pam Lowe said even as a girl, the hostess expected to be famous.
"By the time she was a teenager, she was looking down her nose at anyone she thought had less brains or intelligence," Lowe said. "I've seen her dismiss friends just the way she dumps contestants."
After finishing school, Robinson, nicknamed "Princess Giblet," became a journalist at London's Daily Mail, but was canned after she married one of the editors.
The marriage didn't last long, and she turned to booze. She eventually quit drinking, remarried and, armed with a ruthless ambition, went on to a successful media career.
"She loves all the money she has," said a producer connected with the show. "We hear about how much she is earning all the time. It is like a mantra with her to try and say, 'I am worth $1 million' as many times a day as possible."
Even her daughter, Emma, a television producer in New York, has slammed Robinson as a "self-confessed elitist TV personality."
Despite her problems, the hostess from hell has little sympathy for others who've fallen on hard times, colleagues say.
"Anne feels she went as low as anyone can get and dragged herself back up," said Lorraine Baker, a former co-worker. "That means she has no sympathy for anybody who paints themselves as a victim of life's circumstances."
Her brusque manner has at times been shocking. Robinson once called Kurt Cobain's suicide a marketing ploy and mocked him.
Even hubby John Penrose is bullied, sources say. "She pushes John around like he is her butler," said former Weakest Link researcher Luke Renton. Asking her to repeat an answer in an interview, a Post reporter quickly discovered her famous tart tongue. "Didn't they teach you shorthand in school? You are the weakest link," she cackled.
But Robinson, who always ends the show with a knowing wink and a slight smile, insists she's really an old sweetie. "I think I'm quite nice in real life," Robinson said. "I'm just much more forward.