Wheel of Fortune (U.S. daytime game show): Wikis

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Wheel of Fortune
Wheel 85 Title Card.jpg
Wheel of Fortune title card, circa 1985.
Format Game show
Created by Merv Griffin
Presented by Host
Chuck Woolery (1975-1981)
Pat Sajak (1981-1989)
Rolf Benirschke (1989)
Bob Goen (1989-1991)
Hostess
Susan Stafford (1975-1982)
Vanna White (1982-1991)
Narrated by Charlie O'Donnell (1975-1980, 1989-1991)
Jack Clark (1980-1988)
M. G. Kelly (1988-1989)
Country of origin  United States
No. of episodes 4,215[1]
Production
Location(s) NBC Studios
Burbank, California (1975-1989)
CBS Television City
Hollywood, California (1989-1991)
Running time 30 minutes
60 minutes (December 1975-January 1976)
Production company(s) Merv Griffin Productions (1975-1984)
Merv Griffin Enterprises (1984-1991)
Califon Productions (1975-1991)
Broadcast
Original channel NBC (1975-1989, 1991)
CBS (1989-1991)
Original run January 6, 1975 – September 20, 1991
External links
Official website

The original version of the American game show Wheel of Fortune, which was created by Merv Griffin, aired on NBC from January 6, 1975 to June 30, 1989. It moved to CBS from July 17, 1989 to January 11, 1991 and back to NBC on January 14, 1991 until September 20, 1991 when it was canceled for good. The series aired for a half-hour in late mornings, aside from seven weeks in late 1975 and early 1976 in which it aired in a one-hour format as NBC tried in vain to copy the success of CBS' recently-expanded The Price is Right.

Contents

Gameplay

Players spun a giant wheel to determine a dollar value and guessed a letter that they believed was in the puzzle, earning the value multiplied by how many times the guessed letter appears in the puzzle (if any). The first person to solve the puzzle earns the money they accumulated during the round and could then choose to either shop from various sets of prizes with their earnings or elect to risk their money and save up for larger prizes by putting their winnings "on account," only being able to maintain the money if they won a subsequent round and did not hit a Bankrupt space. Each contestant who solved a puzzle was guaranteed a $200 minimum ($100 during the first few months) for that round.

After the move to CBS, the shopping elements of the game were removed and the game was switched to use a lower-stakes version of the all-cash format the nighttime syndicated version used.

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Returning champions

The daytime show allowed champions to appear for up to three days (originally five). However, the winner on Rolf Benirschke's last episode, even though he had not yet won three games, was not brought back as returning champion on Bob Goen's first show when the program changed networks and formats.

Wheel dollar amounts and prize values

When the series began the minimum value on the wheel was $25 and the top dollar value was $500 in Round One, $750 in Round Two and $1,000 for each round thereafter. In 1976, the minimum was raised to $100 and the top amounts were changed to $1,000 in Round Two and $1,500 for later rounds. In 1979, the top amounts were increased to $750 in Round One, $1,000 in Round Two and $2,000 for the rest of the game, remaining at those values until the end of the first NBC run.

From 1986 to 1988, a "Jackpot" space was placed on the wheel in Round Three. The jackpot began at $1,000 and increased by that amount each day until won. If a player landed on the Jackpot space they could collect the wedge from the wheel. If the player solved that puzzle without hitting Bankrupt, he or she won the Jackpot.

In 1989, with the move to CBS and introduction of the all-cash format, most spaces on the wheel had their values cut in half from the shopping format, making them an even smaller fraction of the analogous values on the nighttime show. The top values on the wheel were $500 for the first two rounds, $1,000 for Round Three and $1,250 for Round Four and beyond. $50 and $75 spaces appeared on the wheel for the first time since 1976, but those and some other spaces were eventually raised in value. To compensate for lower payouts, the price of vowels on this version was initially decreased to $200 and again to $100 in 1990.

Prizes similar to those on the nighttime show but smaller in value were introduced at this time, beginning with a trip to Lake Tahoe valued at $916. By the time of the last CBS episode in 1991, the prizes were usually worth around $2,000-$4,000. However, payouts still paled in comparison to those offered on the nighttime show.

Bonus prizes offered on the all-cash daytime version were considerably smaller as well, with a $5,000 cash prize instead of $25,000 and cars in the $10,000-$15,000 range instead of the more expensive prizes frequently offered on the nighttime show. The first prize was introduced at the beginning of Round Two. Additional prizes were placed on the wheel in Rounds Three and Four, with new prizes in each round if previous ones had been claimed. When the show returned to NBC in 1991, a prize was introduced at the beginning of Round One as well.

In 1989, the tan "Free Spin" wedge was replaced with a single Free Spin marker placed on various dollar amounts. A contestant was required to call a consonant appearing in the puzzle in order to claim it. Prior to this, a player who landed on the space automatically received a Free Spin and could spin again or buy a vowel if their score was large enough. For a brief period after the Free Spin wedge was replaced with a single token, a player could pick it up and then call a letter for the value it concealed.

Round One layouts and dollar values

A different wheel template was used for each of three main-game segments throughout the network run. Prizes unclaimed before a template change were removed from the wheel.

Bonus round

1973 pilot

[citation needed]

The series' original pilot (see below) had a bonus round called "Shopper's Special", in which the contestant would play for the prize they had selected before the show, with the bonus puzzle spelling out that prize. Any vowels in the puzzle would be revealed first, after which the contestant had 30 seconds to call out consonants; correct ones were revealed in the puzzle where needed.

1975-1976 hour-long episodes

The show used a bonus round format for the hour-long episodes. The winner of the game was asked to choose one of four different puzzles – easy, medium, hard and difficult. After being shown the puzzle, the contestant was asked to call four consonants and one vowel. Those letters were revealed and the contestant was given 15 seconds to solve the puzzle. If successful, the contestant won a prize, with bigger prizes for more challenging puzzles (the prize for an easy puzzle might be a $1,000 television-stereo console, while a difficult puzzle might be a $13,000 automobile). The prizes varied widely between episodes.

1978 Star Bonus

The short-lived Star Bonus token, from 1978.

The "Star Bonus" round was played for a time in April 1978 and allowed a second- or third-place contestant to become champion by solving a Bonus Round-type puzzle.

A special "Star Bonus" token was placed on the wheel (see right), which allowed anyone who claimed it to play the Bonus Round if he or she was not the top-winning contestant that day. The contestant had to play for a prize that was worth more than the difference between their winnings and those of the first-place contestant; as with the hour-long episodes, the bonus prize's value corresponded with the puzzle's difficulty. The contestant was asked to pick four consonants and one vowel, then was given 15 seconds to attempt to solve the puzzle. The Star Bonus was not played if the contestant who landed on it was in the lead at the end of the game.

1981-1991

The show adopted a permanent bonus round on Pat Sajak's first episode. Originally, no cash prize was offered. A player chose one of the more expensive "shopping" prizes as a bonus prize. The move to CBS and adoption of the cash format led to a bonus round similar to that seen on the nighttime version, but with less expensive prizes. The prizes typically included trips, subcompact cars or rooms of furniture and a cash prize of $5,000 (as opposed to $25,000 on the nighttime show). Prizes were not removed from play when won. While a returning champion could not win the same prize twice, a new champion could win the same prize as a previous champion. This differed from the format then in place on the nighttime show, when a bonus prize could be won only once during each week of shows.

Some of the daytime bonus prizes doubled as main-game wheel prizes for the syndicated version. Unlike the nighttime version, which in 1989 adopted the "blind draw", contestants on the daytime show continued to choose the prize to play for in the Bonus Round.

Throughout the history of the daytime version, a tie game meant that there would be no Bonus Round played that day and all three players would return on the next show, even if one finished behind the other two.

Origin

Chuck Woolery emceed the original Wheel pilot, Shopper's Bazaar, in late 1973. This pilot bore little resemblance to the eventual series with a manually-operated brown puzzle board, $0 spaces, "Your Own Clue", no Bankrupt space and the wheel itself (a motorized carnival-style wheel). There was also a bonus round, which spelled out the prize the contestant was playing for.

After some retooling and a title change to Wheel Of Fortune, Edd Byrnes hosted two pilots in late 1974.[2] Woolery was ultimately picked 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.[3]

Wheel debuted on January 6, 1975 at 10:30 AM (9:30 Central). Lin Bolen, then the head of Daytime Programming at NBC, purchased the show from Griffin to compensate him for canceling his Jeopardy!, which had one year remaining on its contract and aired its final episode on the Friday before Wheel's premiere.

Wheel values and special spaces

On the 1973 pilot, the wheel's top dollar amount was $500 for the first two rounds, then $1,000 for each round afterward. Also on the wheel were $0 spaces which kept the contestant's turn but rewarded no money for a correct consonant; "Your Own Clue", which allowed the contestant to pick up the nearby telephone and hear a clue to the puzzle's solution, with a more specific clue each time the same contestant landed on the space; and "Buy a Vowel", which required players to purchase a vowel for a cost of $250. If the player did not have enough money, or all vowels in the puzzle had been called, the player lost their turn. This was the only opportunity players had to ask for vowels during the game.

On the 1974 pilots, the top dollar values on the wheel were changed to those which were eventually used when the show debuted, though the spaces were in a different order and some values were cut when the show came to air. The $0 and Your Own Clue spaces were eliminated and the black "Bankrupt" space was added.

The "Buy a Vowel" space appeared during the first weeks of the series, but was quickly replaced by the current rule giving any player with sufficient money the option to buy a vowel during their turn.

Production changes

After seven years at the helm, Chuck Woolery left Wheel after a salary dispute with Griffin; his last episode aired on December 25, 1981.[4] Pat Sajak replaced him as host.

Sajak left the daytime show on January 9, 1989 to host a late-night talk show for CBS, which failed to make ratings headway against Johnny Carson on NBC. He was replaced by former San Diego Chargers place-kicker Rolf Benirschke the next day. Benirschke lasted only six months along with the show itself, as it was canceled by NBC on June 30. When the show moved to CBS on July 17 he was replaced by future Entertainment Tonight co-host Bob Goen, who remained host for the rest of the run.

According to the E! True Hollywood Story episode on Wheel, NBC daytime programming executive Lin Bolen is credited with implementing the shopping concept as well as the idea to have the wheel horizontally mounted. This story sometimes conflicts with other accounts; for example, on an A&E Biography episode, creator Merv Griffin said that his initial idea of the presentation of the show was "a stage full of prizes".

The original pilot did not include a hostess, as a mechanical puzzle board was constructed for the pilot; however, Susan Stafford was brought in because time ran out before the motorized board could be completed. Stafford was hostess from the show's premiere until October 22, 1982, when she left to pursue humanitarian work; she returned to substitute for a week in June 1986.

Substitute letter turners included future Sale of the Century hostess Summer Bartholomew, Playboy Playmate Vicki McCarty and Vanna White. White was picked as Stafford's permanent replacement and her first appearance in that capacity aired on December 13, 1982. White remained as the daytime show's hostess for the rest of its run, working with both of its later hosts.

Charlie O'Donnell was the show's original announcer, replaced by former Cross-Wits host Jack Clark in 1980 due to O'Donnell's obligations to other shows. After Clark's death in 1988, Los Angeles-area disc jockey M.G. Kelly announced for several months until O'Donnell returned permanently in March 1989 on both the daytime and nighttime shows. Those contributing periodic fill-ins included Jeopardy! announcer Johnny Gilbert and John Harlan.

Alex Trebek, who had recently hosted High Rollers on NBC, filled in for Chuck Woolery on one week of episodes in 1980. One week of shows in 1980 featured NBC's other game show hosts as contestants, where one played each day for a member of the studio audience against two regular contestants.

Production of the show moved from NBC Studios in Burbank to CBS Television City in Hollywood when the daytime Wheel first changed networks. The show remained there following the daytime show's move back to NBC in 1991; production of the nighttime version subsequently moved to the Sony Pictures Studios lot in Culver City in 1995.

From December 1, 1975 to January 16, 1976, the program aired a series of hour-long episodes. Two three-round games were played with two different sets of three contestants. The winners of each game played a head-to-head speed-up round, with the winner of that round playing the Bonus Round described above.

Ratings and cancellation

The daytime Wheel had good ratings for most of its run. From 1978, when it passed Match Game, until 1990, it was the second- or third-most-watched network game show, trailing only The Price is Right and sometimes Family Feud.[5] However, since the available audience was considerably smaller, the daytime show never reached its nighttime counterpart's stratospheric level of popularity.

After Sajak's departure, the daytime Wheel was cancelled three times, by NBC in 1989 and by both CBS and NBC in 1991. It was the last NBC network show to air in the 10:00 AM Eastern time slot for several years; following the show's cancellation in 1991, the network gave that hour back to the affiliates for local or syndicated programming. Wheel was one of NBC's last daytime game shows.

Retrospectives

The current version of Wheel does not count the daytime series as part of its history or episode count, declining to recognize that the game has aired continuously on television since 1975.

Retrospectives on the syndicated show (airing as its 3,000th, 4,000th and 5,000th episodes) have aired clips of Sajak and White's first shows and other early daytime appearances, White's unaired audition tape, Sajak's last daytime show, one 1974 pilot hosted by Edd Byrnes, and the opening of a 1978 episode. None of the daytime show's other hosts have been seen in these clips.

GSN aired ten Wheel episodes as part of a memorial tribute to creator Merv Griffin in August 2007. Three daytime episodes were included – a 1976 Woolery episode, White's first episode as permanent hostess in 1982, and Sajak's last daytime episode in 1989.

The December 24, 2007 episode featured appearances and interviews with the three "Teen Week" contestants from Sajak's first daytime show, to mark his 26th year with the series (with clips of the episode shown). Also mentioned during the reunion was the fact that White was not on the show when Sajak began, though Stafford was not discussed.

Studio layout

Puzzle boards

The four-line puzzle board was used from December 21, 1981 until the end of the daytime series on September 20, 1991.

The first puzzle board had three rows of trilons and a total of 39 spaces. A larger board with an additional row of trilons and 48 total spaces (11 on the top and bottom rows and 13 on the middle two rows) and decorative arched light border was adopted on December 21, 1981. The second board became popularly associated with the show and remained for the rest of the daytime run (plus the syndicated run through February 21, 1997).

Contestant area

Tote boards used to display the totals for each player featured eggcrate light displays, with room for four digits and a dollar sign. Space for a fifth digit was added by 1978 and for a sixth in 1990.

When the show debuted, backdrops with the same shade and texture as the green mirrored puzzle trilons were used behind the contestants. On December 21, 1981, new backdrops were installed with bright sunbursts of red, yellow and blue. When the show moved to CBS Television City in July 1989, the sunbursts were replaced by red, yellow and blue chevron backdrops. Each of these backdrops included eggcrate displays showing money "On Account" (under the shopping format) or the total winnings for a champion.

Prize podiums

On the 1974 pilots, the prizes were placed behind the puzzle board. After a puzzle was solved, the board was quickly wheeled off stage to reveal the prizes. When the series began, the studio had individual podiums for each of the three main-game prize showcases which were placed center stage and in the area behind where the host stood.

On December 21, 1981, a single large turntable was adopted, which displayed the prizes for each round as it was played. When the bonus round was instituted the following Monday, gold stars indicated the larger prizes that were also available in that round.

With the move to CBS and the adoption of the cash format in July 1989, the turntable was retired. Smaller turntables featuring replica wheel templates were used to display the prizes (mostly cars) available in the bonus round. The $5,000 prize was displayed on a rotating, circular green sign.

When the show was produced at NBC, the image of the host and hostess saying goodbye at the end of the show was superimposed on the green center of the rotating wheel using chroma key.

Episode status

The original Shopper's Bazaar pilot is held by GSN, but has not been aired by the network.[citation needed] A color promotional picture from that taping, showing Chuck Woolery standing in front of the wheel, was used in the A&E Biography "TV Game Shows". A Woolery episode from June 3, 1976 exists in the Library of Congress and in the GSN library. This was one of three daytime episodes shown on GSN as part of a memorial tribute to Merv Griffin in August 2007, the only time a Woolery episode has re-aired since his departure.

Clips of early daytime episodes hosted by Sajak, plus portions of White's audition tape, have been seen on the nighttime version's retrospective episodes.

The E! True Hollywood Story episode chronicling the show's history showed pictures of the 1973 pilot plus footage of a 1974 pilot, 1975 premiere, Stafford's last episode, McCarty making entrances as substitute hostess and White's audition tape.

Theme music

The theme heard on the 1974 pilots was "Give it One", composed by Maynard Ferguson. The song was released on the Columbia LP "M.F. Horn Two", which was re-released on CD by Wounded Bird[6] in 2006.

"Big Wheels", the theme used from 1975-1983, was written by Alan Thicke and credited to Stan Worth. Thicke also contributed all the prize cues including "Glorious Sax", "Hip Check", and "Lusherous".

"Big Wheels" was replaced by the Merv Griffin-composed "Changing Keys" on August 8, 1983 (beginning an "Armed Forces Week") in anticipation of the nighttime show's launch, so that Griffin could derive royalties from its use on both versions. Griffin also wrote an entirely new set of prize cues for the show at that time. A remix of "Changing Keys" debuted in Summer 1984 during a week featuring Olympic athletes.

"Changing Keys" was rearranged when the show moved to CBS. This included a jazzier arrangement of the original melody, featuring saxophones and updated percussion backings. This theme was used on both the daytime and syndicated versions after production moved to CBS, and was retained for the remainder of the daytime show.

References

  1. ^ Clip from Game Show Network's first day on the air, with Peter Tomarken mentioning the total number of daytime shows as being 4,215
  2. ^ Game Show Pilot Light: The two "Wheel Of Fortune" Pilots
  3. ^ Graham, Jefferson, "The Game Show Book", Abbeville Press, 1988, pg. 183. ISBN 0896597946
  4. ^ The E! True Hollywood Story: "Wheel of Fortune". Premiered in 2004. Referenced on tvgameshows.net, Aug. 14, 2007
  5. ^ David Schwartz, Steve Ryan and Fred Westbrock, The Encyclopedia of TV Game $hows, 3rd ed., Checkmark Books, 1999, p. 314.
  6. ^ (WOU-3170)

This article is about the daytime version of the U.S. game show that aired from 1975-1991. For the current nighttime syndicated version, which began in 1983, see Wheel of Fortune (U.S. game show). For other uses, see Wheel of Fortune (disambiguation).

Wheel of Fortune
Format Game show
Created by Merv Griffin
Presented by Chuck Woolery (1975-1981)
Pat Sajak (1981-1989)
Rolf Benirschke (1989)
Bob Goen (1989-1991)
with
Susan Stafford (1975-1982)
Vanna White (1982-1991)
Country of origin  United States
No. of episodes ~3,000+
Production
Running time 30 minutes (January-November 1975, January 1976-1991)
60 minutes (December 1975-January 1976)
Production company(s) Merv Griffin Productions (1975-1984)
Merv Griffin Enterprises (1984-1991)
Califon Productions (1975-1991)
Broadcast
Original channel NBC (1975-1989, 1991)
CBS (1989-1991)
Original run January 6, 1975 – August 30, 1991
External links
Official website

Created by Merv Griffin, the daytime version of the American game show Wheel of Fortune originally aired on NBC from January 6, 1975 to June 30, 1989. It was seen on CBS from July 17, 1989 to January 11, 1991, after which it returned to NBC from January 14 to August 30 with reruns airing until its cancellation on September 20, 1991. During its run it occupied several time slots, airing between 10:00 AM and 12:00 Noon Eastern Time; for most of its run, NBC aired the show at 11:00 AM.

For seven weeks in late 1975 and early 1976, it aired in a one-hour format as NBC tried in vain to copy the success of CBS' recently-expanded The Price is Right.

Contents

Gameplay

Each contestant who solved a puzzle was guaranteed a $200 minimum ($100 during the first few months) for that round.

Returning champions

The daytime show allowed champions to return up to three times (originally five). The winner on Rolf Benirschke's last episode, even though he had not yet won three games, was not brought back as returning champion on Bob Goen's first show when the program changed networks and formats.

Wheel dollar amounts and prize values

1970s

On the 1973 pilot, the Wheel's top dollar amount was $500 for the first two rounds, then $1,000 for each round afterward. Also on the Wheel were $0 spaces which kept the contestant's turn (however rewarded no money for a correct consonant) and "Your Own Clue", which allowed the contestant to pick up the nearby telephone and hear a clue as to the puzzle's solution; the clues got more specific for that contestant only on subsequent landings – other contestants landing on it for the first time got the first clue.


On the 1974 pilots, the top dollar values on the Wheel were raised to $500 in Round One, $750 in Round Two, and $1,000 for each Round thereafter with the lowest amount on the Wheel being $50. The $0 and "Your Own Clue" spaces were eliminated, and the black "Bankrupt" and red "Buy A Vowel" spaces were added.

"Buy A Vowel" required the spinner to buy one of the five vowels if he/she had enough money accumulated; if the player did not have at least $250, or there were no vowels remaining, he/she lost their turn. This proved to be too complex and penalizing for regular gameplay and the space was removed shortly after the series began in favor of giving contestants the ability to buy a vowel for $250 at any time; until this change, buying vowels at any time was not possible.

By June 7, 1976 the top amounts changed to $1,000 in Round Two and $1,500 for Round Three and beyond, with $100 the minimum value. By December 31, 1979 the top amounts were increased to $750, $1,000, and $2,000, remaining such until the end of the first NBC run.Template:Fact

1980's

In 1986, the $175 space in Round One was increased to $500. Also on September 15, 1986 a "Jackpot" wedge, which began at $1,000 and increased by that amount each day until won, was introduced for play in Round Three each day. If a player landed on Jackpot, they could collect the wedge from the Wheel. If the player avoided Bankrupt for the rest of the round and solved the puzzle, the player won the amount of money in the Jackpot. It lasted on the daytime version until September 16, 1988.

1989-1991

After the move to CBS and the introduction of the all-cash format, the vast majority of the spaces on the wheel had their values cut from the shopping version – most by half – making them an even smaller fraction of the analogous values on the nighttime show. The top values on the wheel were $500 for the first two rounds, $1,000 for Round Three, and $1,250 for Rounds Four and beyond. Prize wedges similar in appearance to those on the nighttime show but smaller in value were introduced, beginning with a trip to Lake Tahoe valued at $916.

In the first few weeks of the CBS version, $50 and $75 spaces briefly appeared on the wheel; beginning with the second episode they were given diamonds (see below-right), but by January 4, 1990 those two amounts were eliminated and other spaces were raised in value along with the main-game prizes. By the time of the last CBS episode in 1991, the prizes were usually worth around $2,000-$4,000. However, payouts still paled in comparison to those offered on the nighttime show.

To compensate, the price of vowels was decreased to $200 when the CBS series began, then to $100 at some point after January 4, 1990. The bonus prizes offered on the all-cash daytime version were considerably smaller as well, with a $5,000 cash prize instead of $25,000 and cars in the $10,000-$15,000 range instead of the more expensive prizes frequently offered on the nighttime show.

The tan "Free Spin" wedge was replaced with a single Free Spin marker placed on various dollar amounts by October 1989; prior to this, a player who landed on the space received a Free Spin token and the same options they had prior to their spin. The "Bankrupt" and yellow "Lose A Turn" spaces went unchanged until the end of the daytime series in 1991.

Overall, a player on the revamped daytime Wheel could win only 20%-25% as much as an equally lucky and skillful nighttime contestant.

Bonus round

1973 pilot

The series' original pilot (see below) had a bonus round called "Shopper's Special", in which the contestant would play for the prize they had selected before the show, with the bonus puzzle spelling out that prize. Any vowels in the puzzle would be revealed first, after which the contestant had 30 seconds to call out consonants; correct ones were revealed in the puzzle where needed.

1975-1976 hour-long episodes

The show tinkered with a bonus round format for seven weeks from December 1, 1975 to January 16, 1976 while it was one hour long in competition with The Price is Right. The winner of the show was asked to choose one of four different puzzles: easy, medium, hard and difficult. After being shown the chosen puzzle, the contestant was asked to specify four consonants and a vowel. Those letters were revealed as they appeared in the puzzle and the contestant was given 15 seconds to solve the puzzle.

If he or she was successful, the contestant won a prize based on the chosen difficulty. For example, the prize for an easy puzzle might be a $1,000 television-stereo console, while a difficult puzzle would provide the show's grand prize, such as a $13,000 automobile. The prizes varied widely between episodes.

1978 Star Bonus

The "Star Bonus" round was played for a time in April 1978 and allowed a second- or third-place contestant to become champion by solving a Bonus Round-type puzzle.

A special "Star Bonus" disc was placed on the Wheel (see right), which allowed anyone who claimed it to play the Bonus Round if he or she was not the top-winning contestant that day. The contestant had to play for a prize that was worth more than the difference between their winnings and those of the first-place contestant; as with the Bonus Round from the hour-long episodes, the prize's value corresponded with the puzzle's difficulty. The contestant was asked to pick four consonants and one vowel, then was given 15 seconds to attempt to solve the puzzle.

Critics of this format point to several flaws, most notably that merely landing on the space did not guarantee the Star Bonus would be played. First, it was possible for the day's eventual first-place contestant to land on the Star Bonus. Second, the Star Bonus prizes were also available during shopping rounds, which meant that a dominant player could buy the most expensive prize and hence render an opponent's Star Bonus token useless. Third, there was the possibility that none of the bonus prizes would give a victory to the contestant who had the Star Bonus, if the leading contestant led by more than the value of the top bonus prize. Finally, there was the possibility that the Star Bonus token would not be landed on at all, causing some haphazard editing that irked viewers.

1981-1991

The show adopted a permanent bonus round on Pat Sajak's first episode. Originally, no cash prize was offered. A player chose one of the more expensive "shopping" prizes as a bonus prize. The move to CBS and adoption of the cash format led to a bonus round similar to that seen on the nighttime version, but with less expensive prizes. The prizes typically included trips, subcompact cars, or rooms of furniture and a cash prize of $5,000 (as opposed to $25,000 on the nighttime show). Prizes were not removed from play when won. While a returning champion could not win the same prize twice, a new champion could win the same prize as a previous champion. This differed from the format then in place on the nighttime show, when a bonus prize could be won only once during each week of shows.

Some of the daytime bonus prizes doubled as main-game wheel prizes for the syndicated version. Unlike the nighttime version, which in 1989 adopted the 'blind draw,' contestants on the daytime program continued to choose the prize to play for in the Bonus Round.

Throughout the history of the daytime version, a tie game meant that there would be no Bonus Round played that day, but all three players would return on the next show, even if one finished behind the other two.

Origin

Chuck Woolery emceed the original Wheel pilot, Shopper's Bazaar, in late 1973. This pilot bore little resemblance to the eventual series, with a manually-operated brown puzzle board, no Bankrupt space, both $0 spaces and "Your Own Clue", and the Wheel itself (a motorized carnival-style wheel similar to that used on the 1952-1953 version). There was also a bonus round, which spelled out the prize the contestant was playing for.

After some retooling and a title change to Wheel Of Fortune, Edd Byrnes hosted two pilots in 1974.[1] Woolery was ultimately picked 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.[2]

"Wheel" debuted on January 6, 1975, on NBC at 10:30 AM (9:30 Central). Daytime programming chief Lin Bolen purchased the show from Griffin to compensate him for canceling the original version of his Jeopardy!, which had one year remaining on its contract and aired its final episode on the Friday before Wheel's premiere.

Production changes

After seven years at the helm, Chuck Woolery left "Wheel" after a salary dispute with Griffin; his last episode aired on December 25, 1981.[3] Pat Sajak replaced him as host.

Sajak left the daytime show on January 9, 1989 to host a late-night talk show for CBS, which failed to make ratings headway against Johnny Carson on NBC. He was replaced by former San Diego Chargers place-kicker Rolf Benirschke the next day. Benirschke lasted only six months along with the show itself, as it was canceled by NBC on June 30. When the show moved to CBS on July 17, he was replaced by future Entertainment Tonight co-host Bob Goen for the rest of its run, including the return to NBC in 1991.

According to the E! True Hollywood Story episode on Wheel, NBC daytime programming executive Lin Bolen is credited with implementing the shopping concept as well as the idea to have the wheel horizontally mounted. This story sometimes conflicts with other accounts; for example, on an A&E Biography episode, creator Merv Griffin said that his initial idea of the presentation of the show was "a stage full of prizes".

The original show concept was not meant to have a hostess, as a mechanical puzzle board was constructed for the pilot. However, Susan Stafford was brought in because time ran out before the motorized board could be completed. Susan was hired as hostess for the show's premiere and remained with the show until October 22, 1982, after which she left to pursue humanitarian work (but later returned to substitute for a week in 1986).

Substitute letter turners included future Sale of the Century hostess Summer Bartholomew (who also subbed for Stafford at least once during the Woolery era) and Playboy playmate Vicki McCarty until Vanna White was picked as Stafford's permanent replacement. Her first official appearance aired on December 13, 1982. White remained as hostess for the rest of the daytime show's run, working with both of its later hosts.

Charlie O'Donnell was the show's original announcer, replaced by Cross-Wits host Jack Clark in 1980 due to O'Donnell's obligations to other shows. After Clark's death in 1988, Los Angeles-area disc jockey M.G. Kelly briefly announced until O'Donnell returned permanently in March 1989 on both the daytime and nighttime shows. Fill-in announcers included Don Morrow and Johnny Gilbert.

Alex Trebek, who had recently hosted High Rollers on NBC, filled in for Chuck Woolery on one week of episodes in 1980. There was also at least one week of shows (aired November 3-7, 1980) featuring other game show emcees as contestants, where a featured emcee played for a member of the studio audience. The emcee played against two regular studio contestants. Tom Kennedy, Bill Cullen, Jim Perry, and Wink Martindale are known to have participated.

Production of the show moved from NBC Studios in Burbank to CBS Television City in Hollywood when the daytime Wheel first changed networks. The show remained there following the daytime show's move back to NBC in 1991, while the nighttime version continued there until 1995 (when it moved to the Sony Pictures Studios lot in Culver City).

From December 1, 1975 to January 16, 1976 the program aired in an hour-long format. Two three-round games were played with two different sets of three contestants. The winners of each game played a head-to-head speed-up round, with the winner of that round playing the Bonus Round described above.

Ratings and cancellation

The daytime Wheel had respectably strong ratings for most of its run. From 1978 (when it passed Match Game) until 1990 it was the second- or third-most-watched network game show, trailing only The Price is Right and sometimes Family Feud. However, the daytime show never reached its nighttime counterpart's stratospheric level of popularity.

This was because the daytime audience consisted mainly of housewives, college students, retired senior citizens, and children too young for school; additionally, this audience amounted to only a fraction of the viewers who tuned in during the "access hour" (usually 7:00-8:00 PM Eastern, 6:30-7:00 Central) in the early evening, when local stations usually aired the syndicated version.

In the two years and seven months since Pat Sajak's departure, Wheel was canceled three times (NBC, June 30, 1989; CBS, January 11, 1991; NBC, September 20, 1991). In its final months, it was the last NBC network show to air in the 10:00 AM Eastern time slot for years; following the show's cancellation in 1991, the network gave that hour back to the affiliates for local or syndicated programming. The last daytime episode ever aired was in fact a repeat from July 5; Wheel (as well as Classic Concentration) had aired its last episode on August 30, with repeats for the next four weeks.[4] Wheel was one of the last daytime game shows to air on NBC.

Retrospectives

The daytime series is not counted as part of Wheel's history by the show itself, declining to recognize that the series has aired continuously on television for over 34 years as of January 2009. Furthermore, although clips of Pat and Vanna's first shows have aired (taking place before the syndicated version debuted and with the proper years noted) on various retrospective episodes of the syndicated version, no clips have aired on the syndicated show featuring other hosts (Chuck Woolery, Rolf Benirschke, Bob Goen, David Sidoni). Clips of one of the show's 1974 pilots (hosted by Edd Byrnes) and the opening of a 1978 episode have been shown on the syndicated version, however.

The December 24, 2007 episode featured appearances and interviews with the three "Teen Week" contestants from Sajak's first daytime show (to mark Sajak's 26th year with the show).

Retrospective shows on the syndicated version (3000th, 4000th, 5000th) reflect the syndicated version's episode count only, neglecting the fact that the series has aired approximately 7,500-plus episodes since 1975.

On the 5,000th syndicated show, a clip was shown of Pat and Vanna kissing from his final daytime episode with the daytime show itself briefly mentioned, although no mention was made of either NBC or Pat's successor.

Studio layout

Puzzle boards

The show was originally planned to have the trilons on the puzzle board turn by themselves. However, a hostess was brought in because time ran out before the motorized board could be completed for the taping of the second pilot. The first puzzle board had three rows of trilons and a total of 39 spaces (13 spaces on each row). In early episodes, the light border only lit up when a letter was in the puzzle and when the puzzle was solved.

A larger board with an additional row of trilons (48 total spaces; 11 on the top and bottom rows and 13 on the middle two rows) and decorative arched light border was adopted in 1981. The board actually had 52 trilons as of early 1982, but the light border got in the way of the outer four leaving only 48 trilons that could actually be used.

The second board became the one popularly associated with the show, and was used for the rest of the daytime run and for the syndicated run until 1997.

Score displays

The tote boards that showed the totals for each player were originally eggcrate light displays, with room for four digits and a "$" sign. Space for a fifth digit had been added by the Star Bonus episodes in 1978, while space for a sixth was added between January 4, 1990 and the end of the year.

Contestant backdrops

When the show debuted, the disco backdrops were the same shade of green as was used on the puzzle board. These backdrops contained eggcrate light displays to display money that was "On Account" or total winnings for a champion. In 1981, new backdrops were installed with bright sunbursts of red, yellow, and blue. The sunbursts went through three different versions until the move to CBS. They also had eggcrate lights for money that had been placed "On Account" and total winnings for a champion.

When the show moved to CBS Television City in 1989, the sunbursts were replaced by red, yellow, and blue chevron backdrops, again with eggcrate displays, which remained until the show's cancellation in 1991. The nighttime show's diamond backdrops, originally designed for road shows, never appeared on the daytime version.

Prize podiums

On the 1974 pilots, the prizes were placed behind the puzzle board. After a puzzle was solved, the board was quickly wheeled off stage to reveal the prizes. By the time the first regular episode was taped, the studio had individual podiums for each of the three main-game prize showcases which were placed center stage and in the area behind where the host stands.

In 1981, a single large turntable was adopted which displayed the prizes for each round as it was played. When the bonus round was instituted at the end of 1981, gold stars indicated the larger prizes that were also available in that round.

With the move to CBS and the adoption of the cash format in 1989, the turntable was retired. New, smaller turntables, showing mock wheel templates, were used to display the prizes (mostly cars) available in the bonus round. The $5,000 prize was displayed on a circular green sign.

The Wheel

Throughout the network run, a different wheel template was used for each of three main game segments.

Until 1986, the templates used in the syndicated show were identical to those used for the network show except for the top dollar values and the color scheme featured different shades of red, yellow, and blue. After the templates were refurbished in 1986 with brighter "pastel" colors, the templates used for the daytime show were similar to the nighttime ones but with some smaller dollar values reflecting the network version's smaller budget.

When the cash format was adopted for the CBS daytime show in 1989, most dollar amounts on the wheel were halved from the values on the NBC shopping version. Also, special prize wedges were placed on the wheel. During the CBS run, the first prize was introduced at the beginning of Round Two; in Round Three, two new prizes were placed on the wheel (one if the Round Two prize was not yet claimed); and in Round Four, yet another prize was added (and another if all the Round Two and Round Three prizes were claimed). When the show returned to NBC, a prize was introduced at the beginning of Round One as well. Prizes that went unclaimed before a template change were removed.

The center of the wheel was (and still is) green, so that when the host and hostess said goodbye at the end of the show, the image of them could be superimposed on the center of the wheel using chroma key. This technique was used during the shows' years at NBC Studios but was discontinued with the move to CBS Television City.

Episode status

The original Shopper's Bazaar pilot exists and is held by GSN, however has not been rerun. A color promotional picture from that taping showing Chuck Woolery standing in front of the Wheel was used in the A&E Biography "TV Game Shows".

Clips of one September 1974 pilot with Edd Byrnes as host were shown during the nighttime show's 3,000th episode in 1998. An episode with Woolery from June 3, 1976 exists in the Library of Congress and the GSN library. Almost all of the other Woolery episodes are believed to have been erased by NBC, with several episodes surviving through private collectors in various media formats.

An audio-only clip of the last 45 seconds from the show's first episode, recorded from the original 1975 broadcast, exists in collectors' archives[5] along with a voice-over from the end of the January 6, 1975 episode of Celebrity Sweepstakes in which Woolery promotes the debut of Wheel "coming up next".

Daytime episodes hosted by Sajak are believed to be intact; clips from early episodes have been seen on the nighttime version's 3,000th and 4,000th episodes. In addition, the E! True Hollywood Story episode chronicling the show's history showed clips of the 1973 pilot and 1975 premiere.

GSN aired three daytime episodes as part of a ten-episode memorial tribute to Merv Griffin in August 2007: a 1976 Woolery-hosted episode, Vanna's debut episode from 1982, and Sajak's last daytime episode from 1989. This marked the first time the network has aired the daytime version and the very first re-airing of a Woolery-hosted episode on any network since 1981.

The Benirschke and Goen runs are also intact, however have not been seen since their original broadcasts.

Theme songs

1974 pilots

The theme heard on the 1974 pilots was "Give it One", composed by Maynard Ferguson. The song was released on the Columbia LP "M.F. Horn Two", which was re-released on CD by Wounded Bird[6] in 2006. The beginning of this theme is remarkably similar to a portion of the 1989-1991 "Changing Keys".

1975-1983

This version's theme was "Big Wheels", written by Alan Thicke but credited to Stan Worth. It was used until September 1983, when the daytime show adopted the same theme music as the syndicated version; the change was made due to issues regarding the cost of royalties.

"Big Wheels" is available on the Varese Sarabande CD "Best of TV Quiz & Game Show Themes"[7] released in 2000.

1983-1989

The original version of "Changing Keys", written by Merv Griffin, was the most well-known. The show adopted this theme when the syndicated version debuted and kept it until production left NBC Studios in 1989.

This theme is commercially available on the Varese Sarabande CD "Classic TV Game Show Themes"[8] released in 1998.

1989-1991

A jazzed-up variation on "Changing Keys" was used on both versions after production moved to CBS and was retained on the daytime show until its cancellation in 1991. One portion of this theme is remarkably similar to the beginning of the 1974 theme "Give it One".

This theme was commercially available through the 1995 Sega CD video game version, which included clean copies of both the theme and several prize cues on the disc's audio settings.

Sources

References

  1. Game Show Pilot Light: The two "Wheel Of Fortune" Pilots
  2. Graham, Jefferson, "The Game Show Book", Abbeville Press, 1988, pg. 183. ISBN 0896597946
  3. The E! True Hollywood Story: "Wheel of Fortune". Premiered in 2004. Referenced on tvgameshows.net, Aug. 14, 2007
  4. Last segment of the last aired daytime episode
  5. Game Show Utopia Audio clip from the January 6, 1975 Premiere, among other rare game shows
  6. (WOU-3170)
  7. (B00004WJJ9)
  8. (B0000060E4)


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