Harry Friedman (born November 12, 1946) is an American television industry executive. He has been the executive producer of America's highest-rated syndicated game shows, Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, since 1999. Initially he shared the title of executive producer with the shows' creator, Merv Griffin, but since Griffin's 2000 retirement, he has served as their sole executive producer.
Friedman has produced a combined total of more than 5,500 episodes of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. Friedman introduced a number of new gameplay elements, theme weeks, and technological advances to both programs, and in 2006 he led both shows to make television history by becoming the first syndicated television series to broadcast in high definition.
Early life and career
Friedman was born in Omaha, Nebraska. He developed an early fascination with television programming and personalities, including Johnny Carson when he was a young local celebrity. Long before the conception of student internships, Friedman began working for Omaha's first television stations, doing whatever work management permitted.
In 1971, Friedman moved to Los Angeles, and without contacts he gave himself six months to find a job in the business. With less than 24 hours remaining on his self-imposed deadline, Friedman became a part-time question writer on the TV game show The Hollywood Squares, and continued with that show for eleven years, writing and producing thousands of episodes for three different versions of the show. He was also involved in the development of such other programs as Gambit and High Rollers.
Wheel of Fortune
Friedman became a producer of Wheel of Fortune in 1995. During his tenure with the show, Friedman has attempted to keep the show's gameplay fresh and exciting with many new additions to the rules. The new gameplay elements and rule modifications that were introduced to Wheel during Friedman's tenure, in chronological order based on their times of introduction, include the progressive cash jackpot wedge (in 1996), Toss-Up puzzles (in 2000), the increase of the bonus round's top value from its previous $25,000 to $100,000 (in 2001), the replacement of said round's former "W-H-E-E-L" prize envelope holder with the current "Bonus Wheel" (also in 2001), the Mystery wedges (in 2002), the Prize Puzzle (in 2003), the Wild Card (in 2006), the million dollar wedge (in 2008), the replacement of the long-standing Free Spin token with the Free Play wedge (in 2009), the ½ Car tags (in 2011), and most recently, retiring the jackpot wedge in favor of the new Express wedge (in 2013).
Friedman was responsible for many of Wheel's digital extensions, including the launch of the show's official website, and the development of video games based on the show for Sony's PlayStation consoles and Nintendo's Wii. He also conceived adaptations of the show for the iPhone, the iPad, and other electronic devices.
A major technological advancement initiated by Friedman was the introduction of a new, highly sophisticated set in 2003. This set incorporates an LED and glass light extension, as well as a modernized puzzle board with LCD screens that can be touched by the hostess to make letters appear.
The show's "Wheel Watchers Club," the first-ever, long-term, online viewer loyalty program in television history (now totaling over 5.7 million members), and its extension, the "SPIN I.D." program, were both developed by Friedman. Additionally, he conceptualized the "Wheelmobile," a mobile touring vehicle used by the show to conduct contestant search events across the United States.
A producer of Jeopardy! since 1997, Friedman has broadened the program's scope by expanding the list of categories, adding clues reflecting popular culture, and introducing a variety of special tournaments, including the 1997 International Tournament that was taped in Stockholm, Sweden; this was the only tournament to be taped outside the U.S. For the show's 4000th episode in 2002, he also produced the Million Dollar Masters Tournament taped at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, which reunited 15 memorable Jeopardy! champions.
For the show's 20th season in 2003, Friedman lifted not only Jeopardy!'s cap on the returning champions' total winnings, but also the long-standing five-day limit on the number of episodes on which they could appear. His implementation of this rule change allowed champions to continue making an indefinite number of appearances on the program and amassing winnings as long as they remained victorious, leading the way for Ken Jennings, at the time a software engineer from Salt Lake City, Utah, to win on 74 consecutive Jeopardy! programs (losing on his 75th) and amass a record total of $2,520,700, breaking almost every game show record in the history of American television. The quiz show's viewership increased by 30 percent during the streak, and it often out-performed even prime-time programs to become one of the most talked-about shows in the United States. In 2005, in response to Jennings' tremendous success on the show, Friedman also produced the Ultimate Tournament of Champions, in which 145 former champions played for a top prize of $2,000,000; Jennings, seeded as the only automatic finalist, pocketed $500,000 when he came in second to Brad Rutter, who won the top prize, with Jerome Vered placing third and collecting $250,000.
Friedman continues to add new Jeopardy! formats, such as the 2009-2010 Million Dollar Celebrity Invitational, in which 27 players from past Celebrity Jeopardy! matches returned to compete, with Michael McKean winning one million dollars for his charity; and, in 2011, both the inaugural Teachers' Tournament and the IBM Challenge, in which IBM's computer system Watson defeated both Jennings and Rutter.
In the late 1990s, Friedman participated with Scott Sternberg in the conception of two spin-offs of Jeopardy!: a music-intensive version called Rock & Roll Jeopardy! which aired on the VH1 network from 1998 to 2001, and a kids' version called Jep! which aired on the Game Show Network (now known by its abbreviated name, "GSN") for one season from 1998 to 1999.
In 2001, Friedman played an instrumental role in the formation of Jeopardy!'s "Clue Crew", a team of roving correspondents who travel the world showcasing clues accompanied by video for the show's home viewers. As of 2011, the team has traveled to 200 cities worldwide, through 45 of the 50 U.S. states, and to 33 foreign countries.
Friedman's explanation of the reasoning behind the team's creation was as follows:
TV is a visual medium, and the more visual we can make our clues, the more we think it will enhance the experience for the viewer.
The team currently comprises Sarah Whitcomb Foss, Jimmy McGuire, and Kelly Miyahara. Former members include Sofia Lidskog, Cheryl Farrell, and Jon Cannon.
Friedman plays a very active role in the show's official website, which receives over 400,000 visitors per month.
Friedman worked with Bob Stewart Productions as the executive consultant for the 2002–2004 version of Pyramid, and produced the 1993–1994 game show Caesar's Challenge for Rick Rosner and Stephen J. Cannell's production companies. His other writing and producing credits include network primetime specials such as American Yearbook for CBS, documentaries such as Nova on PBS, and home video. He has also worked over the years with such other television production companies as FOX, Dick Clark Productions, Buena Vista Television, ABC, Orion Television, Laurel Entertainment, Vin Di Bona Productions, A&E Network, Krofft Productions, and Four Star Productions.
Friedman lives in Los Angeles with his wife Judy (married since 1973), and they have two daughters, Amy (married to Dax Shelby) and Leslie (a successful personal trainer living in NYC), and one granddaughter, Ayla Marin Shelby.
Awards and honors
Since Friedman joined Jeopardy!, the show has come to receive the most awards and honors of any syndicated game show in television history. As of 2011, the program has won a total of 28 Daytime Emmy Awards in the following categories: Outstanding Show, Outstanding Game/Audience Participation Show, Outstanding Special Class Writing, Outstanding Game Show Host, and Outstanding Directing For A Game/Audience Participation Show.
Friedman has won seven Emmy Awards and been nominated for thirty additional ones. In January 2007, the National Association of Television Program Executives honored him with its prestigious "Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award", and in October of that same year, Broadcasting & Cable inducted him into its Hall of Fame.
- List of production credits for Jeopardy!
- List of production credits for Wheel of Fortune
- Friedman's bio on the Wheel of Fortune website
- MacIntyre, April (2006-09-14). "Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy break new HD ground: Behind the scenes".
- "HARRY FRIEDMAN NAMED PRODUCER OF 'WHEEL OF FORTUNE'—PR Newswire | HighBeam Research: Online Press Releases". HighBeam.com. June 14, 1995.
- Petrozzello, Donna (2001-06-04). "Trebeks in Training Jeopardy! Auditions Roving Reps". New York Daily News.
- This is JEOPARDY! - Show Guide - About the Show - Show History