Wheel of Fortune (U.S. game show)
|Wheel of Fortune|
|Created by||Merv Griffin|
|Directed by||Jeff Goldstein (1975–78)
Dick Carson (1978–99)
Mark Corwin (1999–present)
Chuck Woolery (1975–81)
Pat Sajak (1981–89)
Rolf Benirschke (1989)
Bob Goen (1989–91)
Susan Stafford (1975–82)
Vanna White (1982–91)
|Narrated by||Charlie O'Donnell (1975–80, 1989–2010)
Jack Clark (1980–88)
M. G. Kelly (1988–89)
Jim Thornton (2011–present)
|Theme music composer||Frankie Blue
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||Nighttime version:
5,000 (as of February 27, 2009)
|Executive producer(s)||Merv Griffin (1975–2000)
Harry Friedman (1999–present)
|Producer(s)||John Rhinehart (1975–76)
Nancy Jones (1976–95)
Harry Friedman (1995–99)
Karen Griffith (1997–present)
Steve Schwartz (1997–present)
Burbank, California (1975–89)
CBS Television City
Hollywood, California (1989–95)
Sony Pictures Studios
Culver City, California (1995–present)
|Running time||approx. 22 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Merv Griffin Productions (1975–84)
Merv Griffin Enterprises (1984–94)
Columbia TriStar Television (1994–2002)
Sony Pictures Television (2002–present)
|Distributor||King World Productions (1983–2007)
CBS Television Distribution (2007–present)
|Original channel||NBC (1975–89, 1991)
|Picture format||480i (SDTV)(1975-2006)
January 6, 1975 – June 30, 1989 (NBC)
July 17, 1989 – January 11, 1991 (CBS)
January 14, 1991 – September 20, 1991 (NBC)
September 19, 1983 – present
Wheel of Fortune is an American television game show created by Merv Griffin. The show features a competition in which contestants solve word puzzles, similar to those used in Hangman, to win cash and prizes determined by spinning a giant carnival wheel. The original daytime version aired on NBC from January 6, 1975 to June 30, 1989, then was moved to CBS on July 17, 1989 and remained there until January 11, 1991, and later returned to NBC on January 14, 1991, only to be canceled permanently on September 20 of that same year. The daily syndicated version of the series premiered on September 19, 1983.
The daytime version was originally hosted by Chuck Woolery and Susan Stafford, with Charlie O'Donnell as its announcer. O'Donnell left in 1980, Woolery in 1981, and Stafford in 1982; they were replaced, respectively, by Jack Clark, Pat Sajak, and Vanna White. After Clark's 1988 death, M. G. Kelly took over briefly as announcer, then O'Donnell returned in 1989 and remained on the daytime version until its cancellation, and continued to announce on the syndicated show until his death in 2010, after which Jim Thornton replaced him. Sajak left the daytime version in January 1989 to host the late-night talk show The Pat Sajak Show, and was replaced on that version by Rolf Benirschke. Bob Goen replaced Benirschke when the show moved to CBS, then remained as host until the daytime show was canceled altogether. The syndicated version has been hosted continuously by Sajak and White since its inception.
As of 2009, the program ranks as the longest-running syndicated game show in the United States, with over 5,000 episodes aired. In a 2008 article, TV Guide named Wheel of Fortune as the "top-rated syndicated series." The program has a worldwide following due to its adaption regionally into sixty international versions of the show. The 30th anniversary season of Wheel of Fortune began on September 17, 2012.
Game history 
At the time of Wheel of Fortune's debut, Jeopardy! (another of Griffin's creations) had just ended an 11-year run on NBC. Griffin conceived a hangman-style game after recalling long car trips as a child, on which he and his sister would play hangman. After discussing the idea with Merv Griffin Enterprises staff, they thought that the idea would work as a game show if it had a "hook". He decided to add a roulette-style wheel because he was always "drawn to" such wheels when he saw them in casinos. He and Murray Schwartz, then the president of Merv Griffin Enterprises, consulted an executive of Caesars Palace to find out how to build such a wheel.
In 1973, Griffin conceived a pilot episode, which was taped under the name Shopper's Bazaar and hosted by Chuck Woolery. Unlike the actual show, this pilot had a vertically-mounted wheel. Edd Byrnes hosted the second and third pilots, both titled Wheel of Fortune. All three contained game elements which were either retooled or dropped by the time production began in December 1974. Woolery was eventually selected to host, the choice being made by Griffin after he reportedly heard Byrnes reciting "A-E-I-O-U" to himself in an effort to remember the vowels. Susan Stafford turned the letters on Byrnes' pilot episodes, a role that she also held when the show was picked up for series.
Broadcast history 
Wheel of Fortune premiered on January 6, 1975, at 10:30 am (9:30 Central) on NBC. Lin Bolen, then the head of daytime programming, purchased the show from Griffin to compensate him for canceling Jeopardy!, which had one year remaining on its contract. Jeopardy! aired its final episode on the Friday before Wheel's premiere. The original Wheel aired on NBC, in varying time slots between 10:30 am and noon, until June 30, 1989. NBC announced the cancellation of the show in August 1980, but it stayed on the air following a decision to cut the duration of The David Letterman Show from 90 to 60 minutes. The daytime Wheel moved to CBS in 1989, and remained there until 1991, when it was moved back to NBC for its final eight months, although the show continued to tape at CBS Television City.
The daily syndicated version premiered on September 19, 1983. When it debuted, the syndicated version offered a larger prize budget than its daytime counterpart. Only nine stations originally carried the show, but by midseason it was airing on 50 stations, and by the beginning of its second year was available to 99 percent of television households By 1984, it had succeeded Family Feud as the highest-rated syndicated show. Its success led to Griffin creating a syndicated revival of Jeopardy! in 1984, with Alex Trebek as its host. By 1986, Wheel had the highest ratings of any syndicated television series in history. As of 2009, the show is the longest-running syndicated game show in American television history and the second-longest in either network or syndication, second to the current version of The Price Is Right, which began airing in 1972.
As of 2009, Wheel is owned by Sony Pictures Television (previously known as Columbia TriStar Television; the successor company to original producer Merv Griffin Enterprises). The production company and copyright holder of all episodes to date is Califon Productions, Inc., which like SPT has Sony Pictures Entertainment for its active registered agent, and whose name comes from a New Jersey town where Griffin once owned a farm. The rights to distribute the show on American television are owned by CBS Television Distribution, into which original distributor King World Productions was folded in 2007.
Between September 1997 and January 1998, CBS and Game Show Network concurrently aired a special children's version of the show titled Wheel 2000. It was hosted by David Sidoni, with Tanika Ray voicing an animated co-host named "Cyber Lucy", and featured several rule changes. Scott Sternberg produced Wheel 2000.
Hosts and hostesses 
Chuck Woolery hosted the show for six years, and left Wheel in December 1981 following a salary dispute with Griffin. His last episode aired on December 25, 1981. His successor, Pat Sajak, took over on December 28. Griffin said that he chose Sajak for his "odd" sense of humor; although NBC president and CEO Fred Silverman initially rejected Sajak for being "too local", he was approved as host after Griffin said that he would not tape any more episodes until Sajak became host.
On January 9, 1989, Sajak left the daytime version to host a late-night talk show (The Pat Sajak Show) for CBS. He was replaced on that version by Rolf Benirschke, who had an eight-year career as a placekicker of the San Diego Chargers. Benirschke hosted the program for only six months, until NBC cancelled it on June 30. Bob Goen became the daytime version's host when it moved to CBS on July 17, 1989. This version briefly returned to NBC on January 14, 1991, replacing Let's Make a Deal, but left the air permanently on September 20 of that year.
Original hostess Susan Stafford missed a month of episodes in late 1977 after she fractured two vertebrae in her back, with Summer Bartholomew and Arte Johnson filling in for her. After Stafford dislocated her shoulder in a car accident, Bartholomew returned for seven episodes which aired between May 24 and June 1, 1979, followed by Cynthia Washington (then the wife of San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Gene Washington) for the week of episodes airing June 4-8. Stafford left the show in October 1982. Bartholomew, Vicki Iovine (then known as Vicki McCarty), and Vanna White rotated as guest hostesses until White was chosen as the permanent hostess in December 1982.
White became highly popular among the young female demographic, and among adult fans interested in her daily wardrobe. Sajak and White have hosted the nighttime version continuously since it began, except for two weeks in January 1991 when Tricia Gist, then the girlfriend of Griffin's son Tony, filled in for the honeymooning White.
In January and February 2011, the show held a "Vanna for a Day" contest. In this contest, home viewers submitted video auditions to take White's place for one episode, with the winner determined by a poll on the show's website. Katie Cantrell of Wooster, Ohio (a student at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia) was named the contest winner in late February 2011. Cantrell took White's place for the second and third rounds on the episode that aired March 24, 2011.
Charlie O'Donnell was the program's first announcer until his departure in August 1980, when he left to work on The Toni Tennille Show in wake of the announced but retracted cancellation of Wheel. O'Donnell was replaced by Jack Clark, who was on the show until shortly before his death in July 1988. Los Angeles radio personality M. G. Kelly took over as announcer when the nighttime version's sixth season started in September 1988. O'Donnell returned in 1989, and remained with the show until shortly before his death in November 2010. Don Pardo, Don Morrow, and Johnny Gilbert have occasionally served as substitute announcers. Gilbert, Rich Fields, Lora Cain, Jim Thornton, Joe Cipriano, and John Cramer filled in after O'Donnell's death, and Thornton was confirmed as the permanent replacement in 2011 at the start of Season 29.
Production staff 
Griffin was the show's executive producer until his retirement in 2000. John Rhinehart was the program's original producer until his departure in August 1976, when he became NBC's West Coast Daytime Program Development Director. His co-producer, Nancy Jones, became the sole producer until 1995. Harry Friedman became producer in 1995, co-executive producer with Griffin in 1999, and sole executive producer in 2000. Amanda Stern is the current producer, and Karen Griffith and Steve Schwartz, both longtime staffers, are the supervising producers. Jeff Goldstein was director from 1975 to 1978, and Dick Carson from 1978 to 1999. Mark Corwin became director in 1999.
The core game is based on hangman. Each round has a category and a blank word puzzle, with each blank representing a letter in the answer. The show's name is derived from its roulette-style wheel, composed of 24 spaces. Most of the spaces are dollar amounts ranging from $300 to $900, plus a top dollar value: $2,500 in Round 1, $3,500 in Rounds 2 and 3, and $5,000 for Round 4 and beyond. Two Bankrupt wedges and one Lose a Turn are present. Both forfeit the contestant's turn, with the former also eliminating any cash or prizes the contestant has accumulated within the round. Each game features three contestants, although some games feature three two-player teams. A contestant spins the wheel to determine a dollar value and guess a consonant, earning the value before his or her corresponding flipper, and multiplied by how many times the guessed letter appears in the puzzle. Any contestant with at least $250 may buy vowels for that amount during a turn. Calling a correct letter keeps the wheel in the contestant's control; hitting Lose a Turn or Bankrupt, calling a letter that is not in the puzzle, or giving an incorrect answer all pass control to the next player clockwise from the viewer's perspective. The only exception is the Free Play wedge, on which the player may call a consonant for $500 per occurrence, call a free vowel, or solve the puzzle, with no penalty for a wrong letter or answer.
In Rounds 1–3, the wheel contains three special tags: the Wild Card, which can be used to call an additional consonant after any turn or in the bonus round; a Gift Tag, which offers $1,000 credit toward purchases from the sponsoring company; and two ½ Car tags, which award a car if the contestant obtains both in any of the rounds. Unlike the other tags, the ½ Car tags are replaced in subsequent rounds unless the car is won. A special wedge in the first two rounds awards a prize which is described by the announcer before the first round. All of the tags and the prize wedge are located over $500 wedges, so calling a right letter on any of them awards both it and $500 per letter. The first three rounds also contain a special wedge which, if claimed and taken to the bonus round, offers an opportunity to play the bonus round for $1,000,000. A contestant must solve the puzzle in order to keep any cash, prizes, or extras accumulated during that round, with the exception of the Wild Card; once this is picked up, it is kept until the contestant either loses it to Bankrupt or uses it. Bankrupt does not affect score from previous rounds, but it does take away the Wild Card, single ½ Car tags (but not the car itself), and/or million dollar wedge if any was claimed in a previous round.
Each game also features three Toss-Up puzzles, which reveal the puzzle one random letter at a time, and award cash to whoever rings in with the right answer. The first determines who is interviewed first, the second determines who starts Round 1, and the third determines who starts Round 4; respectively, these are valued at $1,000, $2,000, and $3,000. In addition to these, each game has a minimum of four rounds. Rounds 2 and 3 are respectively started by the next two players clockwise from the player who began Round 1.
Round 1 features a progressive cash jackpot wedge, whose value starts at $5,000, increases with every dollar wedge landed on during the round, and is awarded if a contestant calls a right consonant and immediately solves the puzzle; regardless of whether or not the jackpot is won, this wedge also offers $500 per correct letter. Round 2 features two Mystery wedges, which may be flipped over to determine if they conceal a $10,000 cash prize or Bankrupt, or left as-is for $1,000 per letter. Round 3 is a Prize Puzzle, which offers a prize to the contestant who solves it. The final round is always played at least in part as a Speed-Up, in which the host spins the wheel to determine the value of each letter, with $1,000 added to the value that stops at the red player's position, and vowels are free. Contestants call one letter at a time, and are given three seconds to attempt solving if that letter appears in the puzzle. Play proceeds from the viewer's left to right, starting with the contestant who was in control of the wheel at the time of the Final Spin, until the puzzle is solved.
Bonus round 
At the end of the game, the highest-scoring contestant plays a bonus round. The contestant spins a smaller wheel with 24 envelopes to determine the prize, which is not revealed until after the round ends. He or she is given a category and a puzzle for which every instance of R, S, T, L, N and E is revealed; after providing three more consonants and a vowel, the contestant has ten seconds to attempt solving the puzzle. Prizes in the bonus round include cash amounts ranging from $30,000 to $50,000 in increments of $5,000, a vehicle with $5,000 cash, and a top prize of $100,000, whose envelope is replaced with a $1,000,000 prize if the contestant has the Million Dollar Wedge. Michelle Loewenstein became the show's first millionaire on the episode that aired October 14, 2008. Contestants who win the $1,000,000 may receive it in installments over 20 years, or in a lump sum of $660,000.
Previous rules 
Originally, after winning a round, contestants spent their winnings on prizes that were presented onstage. At any time during a shopping round, most often if the contestant did not have enough left to buy another prize, he or she could choose to put his or her winnings on a gift certificate, or put the winnings "on account" for use in a later shopping round. According to the E! True Hollywood Story episode on Wheel of Fortune, Lin Bolen is credited with implementing the shopping concept and the idea to have the wheel horizontally mounted. This story sometimes conflicts with other accounts; for example, on an A&E Biography episode, Griffin said that his initial idea of the presentation of the show was "a stage full of prizes." The shopping element was eliminated from the syndicated version on the episode that aired October 5, 1987, both to speed up gameplay and to alleviate the taxes paid by contestants.
Before the introduction of Toss-Ups, contestants drew numbers backstage to determine their positions. Under these rules, the player at the red arrow always started Round 1, with the next player clockwise starting each subsequent round. The Wheel used to feature a Free Spin wedge, which automatically awarded a token that the contestant could turn in after a lost turn to keep control of the Wheel. It was replaced in 1989 with a single Free Spin token placed over a random dollar amount, which in turn was replaced with Free Play at the start of the 27th nighttime season in 2009.
Prior to December 1981, the show did not feature a bonus round. Under the bonus round's original rules, no letters were provided automatically; the contestant was asked for five consonants and a vowel, and had fifteen seconds to attempt solving the puzzle. Also, bonus prizes were selected by the contestant at the start of the round. The current rules for letter selection were introduced On October 3, 1988. Between September 4, 1989 and October 19, 2001, prizes were selected by randomly drawing from one of five envelopes labeled W, H, E, E, and L, and any prize that was won was taken out of rotation for the rest of the week.
Sets and production information 
Various changes have been made to the basic set since the syndicated version's premiere in 1983. In 1996, a large video display was added center stage, which was then upgraded in 2003 as the show began the transition into high-definition broadcasting. The set decorations change with each weekly set of themed programs. The production is currently designed by Renee Hoss-Johnson, with previous set designers including Ed Flesh and Dick Stiles.
The show was taped in Studio 4 at NBC Studios in Burbank from 1975 until NBC cancelled the daytime series in 1989. Production then moved to Studio 33 at CBS Television City (Bob Barker Studio) in Los Angeles, where it remained until 1995. Since then, Wheel has occupied Stage 11 at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City. Some episodes are also recorded on location, a tradition which began with two weeks of episodes taped at Radio City Music Hall in late 1988.
The wheel 
The first pilot used a vertically-mounted wheel which was often difficult to see on-screen. Set designer Ed Flesh, who also designed the sets for The $25,000 Pyramid and Jeopardy!, designed the wheel mechanism. Originally made mostly of paint and cardboard, the modern wheel mechanism is framed on a steel tube surrounded with Plexiglas and more than 200 lighting instruments, and is held by a stainless steel shaft with roller bearings. Altogether, the wheel weighs approximately 2,400 pounds (1,100 kg).
Puzzle boards 
In the show's early days, the first puzzle board had three rows of 13 manually operated trilons, for a total of 39 spaces. On December 21, 1981, a larger board with 48 trilons in four rows (11, 13, 13 and 11 trilons) was adopted. This board was surrounded by a double-arched border of lights which flashed at the beginning and end of the round. When a letter was placed in the puzzle, its space lit up and the hostess turned the trilon to reveal it.
On February 24, 1997, the show introduced a computerized board composed of 52 touch-activated monitors in four rows (12, 14, 14, and 12 trilons.) To illuminate a letter during regular gameplay, White touches the right edge of the monitor.
Theme music 
Alan Thicke composed the show's original theme, which was titled "Big Wheels". In 1983, it was replaced by Griffin's own composition, "Changing Keys". The theme was replaced in 2000 with "Happy Wheels", composed by Steve Kaplan. Frankie Blue wrote the theme for the 2006–07 season and John Hoke wrote the program's current theme.
Audition process 
Anyone at least 18 years old has the potential to become a contestant through Wheel of Fortune's audition process. Exceptions include employees of CBS Television Distribution, Sony Pictures Television, or any firm involved in offering prizes for the show; contestants who have appeared on a different game show within the previous year, three other game shows within the past ten years or on any version of Wheel of Fortune itself.
Throughout the year, the show's Wheelmobile (a custom-designed Winnebago recreational vehicle) travels across the United States to hold open auditions at various public venues. Contestants are provided with entry forms, which are then drawn randomly. Each contestant whose name is drawn appears onstage, five at a time, and is interviewed by traveling host Marty Lublin. The group of five then plays a mock version of the Speed-Up round, and five more names are selected after a puzzle is solved. Everyone who is called onstage receives a themed prize, such as a baseball cap, T-shirt, or key chain. Auditions typically last two days, with three one-hour segments per day. After each Wheelmobile event, the "most promising candidates" are invited back to the city in which the first audition was held, to participate in a second audition. At the second audition, potential contestants are given a 16-puzzle test with some letters revealed. The contestants have five minutes to solve as many puzzles as they can by writing in the correct letters. The people who pass continue the audition, competing in a mock version of the game using a miniature wheel and a puzzle board. 
Wheel of Fortune has long been one the highest rated programs in syndication. It was the highest-rated show in all of syndication before it was dethroned by Two and a Half Men in the 28th season (2010–11). Wheel came in second place in syndication behind first-place finisher Judge Judy in the 29th season (2011–12). Thus far throughout the 30th season, the game show has regularly placed second place behind only The Big Bang Theory and ahead of Judge Judy (the three programs receive the topmost ratings in all of syndication). With The Big Bang Theory episodes in question being apart of off-network syndication (reruns which don't air on original network), Wheel has been the highest rated program in first-run syndication most often in the present television season.
Awards and honors 
The syndicated Wheel shared the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game/Audience Participation Show with Jeopardy! in 2011, and Sajak won three Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Game Show Host—in 1993, 1997, and 1998. In a 2001 issue, TV Guide ranked Wheel number 25 among the 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time, and in 2006, the show was ranked number 6 on GSN's list of the 50 Greatest Game Shows.
Numerous board game versions of the game show have been released by different toy companies. The games are all similar, incorporating a wheel, puzzle display board, play money and various accessories like Free Spin tokens. Milton Bradley released the first board game in 1975. In addition to all the supplies mentioned above, the game included 20 prize cards (to simulate the "shopping" prizes of the show; the prizes ranged in value from $100 to $3,000). Two editions were released, with the only differences being the box art and the included books of puzzles. Other home versions were released by Pressman Toy Corporation, Tyco/Mattel, Parker Brothers, Endless Games and Irwin Toys, each including and updating gameplay elements seen on the show at the time.
Additionally, several video game versions have also been released for computers, the Internet, and various gaming consoles.
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- "• U.S. television ratings: top 10 syndicated programs in season 2009/10 | Statistic". Statista.com. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
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Further reading 
- Griffin, Merv; Bender, David (2007). Merv: Making the Good Life Last. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-7434-5696-3.
- Sams, David R.; Shook, Robert L. (1987). Wheel of Fortune. St. Martins Press. ISBN 0-312-90833-4.
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