Next month, a certain game show will be celebrating a certain milestone, as in, 7,000 episodes; That certain game show in which I am talking about is of course Wheel of Fortune; Yes, one could hardly believe that this game show is still going strong after 3 ½ decades, and its hosts, Pat Sajak & Vanna White, are still around. Somewhere, there might be a critic who would scoff at this and say, “Why the heck are you guys still on our televisions?!” But I doubt it…
The phenomenon of Wheel may have started in 1982, but the show actually got its start way back in 1975; It originally aired as an NBC daytime show premiering on January 6th, 1985, going on to run in the daytime until June 30th, 1989. But then, the show moved to CBS while it had made changes to the format on July 17th, 1989; But on January 11th, 1991, the daytime version of the classic game show aired its final episode. However, it was the daytime show’s popularity that led to a syndicated nighttime version of Wheel, in which still runs to this day.
Wheel of Fortune was created by the legendary Merv Griffin; He conceived the show when he decided to create a game in the style of “Hangman”, which happens to be a game in which he enjoyed in his childhood as a way to pass the time of the long car trips that he had with his sister. He discussed the idea with his staff, which then thought that as a game show, it might work if it had a “hook”; So it was with that that Griffin chose to add a roulette-style wheel, and why? Because he had always been so fascinated to such wheels after seeing them in casinos. An executive at Caesar’s Palace was consulted by Griffin and Murray Schwartz, then-president of Merv Griffin Enterprises, to find out how to build a wheel like the roulette wheel…
Merv Griffin then created a pilot episode called “Shopper’s Bazaar”, with the host being Chuck Woolery and its announcer being Mike Lawrence. In the pilot, there were three contestants who are introduced individually, and then the main game was played in four rounds, with the values on the wheel wedges increasing after the second round. This pilot episode was much different from the show in which would evolve into, and would be enjoyed by fans to this day: It had a vertically mounted wheel, spun automatically, while lacking a Bankrupt wedge; It also featured a wedge in which a contestant would call out a vowel for free, and even a “Your Own Clue” wedge, and that would allow contestants to pick up a rotary telephone to hear a private clue about a puzzle. At the game’s end, there would be a bonus round called the “Shopper’s Special” in which all the vowels in the puzzle would be already there, and then the contestant would have 30 seconds to call out consonants in the puzzle. (To borrow my family’s most favorite word, REALLY?!?)
Chuck Woolery first hosted the show until 1981, when a salary dispute with creator Merv Griffin resulted in his departure; Then Pat Sajak came on the scene on December 28th, 1981, and the reason Griffin chose Sajak is that he has an “odd” sense of humor. Sajak would host the daytime version of the game show until January 9th, 1989, when he left to host a late-night talk show for CBS, and then former football player Rolf Benirschke took over as the host until NBC canceled the daytime “Wheel” after fourteen years on June 30th, 1989.
Susan Stafford was a hostess for the game show until October 1982, when she left to go on to become a humanitarian worker; The hostess duties would then go to a then-unknown woman by the name of Vanna White, who would then go on to become a household name.
Charlie O’ Donnell was Wheel of Fortune ‘s announcer until 1980, when he had been replaced by Jack Clark, who had also announced the syndicated nighttime version until his July 1988 death. O’ Donnell would return to the game show as the announcer in 1989 and would remain as announcer until his death from heart failure in 2010; Jeopardy! announcer Johnny Gilbert was among many announcers who served as substitutes. In 2011, Jim Thornton, who also does voice-over work, I think, became the new announcer for Wheel of Fortune and has remained with the show since then.
There is a whole lot more to the story of Wheel of Fortune that what this blog post has just covered, so may I suggest that you head on over to Wikipedia’s page about this treasured game show at this link right here. Meanwhile, the 7,000th episode of “Wheel of Fortune” will air on May 10th; It is ever so amazing how a game show would last as long as any other game show today, and we are grateful to have Wheel of Fortune to become a part of America’s living rooms since the beginning of the 1980s.