Wheel of Fortune is in its 26th season (2008-2009 Season) with Pat Sajak & Vanna White. Wheel debuted in 1982. Wheel of Fortune has been renewed through the 2011-2012 season.
One of the most successful game shows in history, Wheel of Fortune actually is a version of the children's game Hangman (with a large carnival wheel and prizes added). The game show, which did modestly well in the 1970s, became a worldwide phenomenon in the 1980s through syndication and made household names out of its hosts, Pat Sajak and Vanna White. Simply put, the Wheel has never stopped spinning since its premiere as an NBC daytime show that winter day in January 1975. (Ironically, the series replaced Jeopardy!, which later in 1984 when it returned, became its current companion in syndication.)
The rules of the game Three contestants -- at various times during the run, including a returning champion -- compete. The host announces a category to a mystery puzzle (person, place, thing, phrase, quotation, event, landmark, occupation, etc.). The puzzle was originally contained on a three-tier, 36-space board (in 1981, changed to a four-tier, 52-space board; and in 1997, an all-electronic four-tier, 52-space board).
The contestant selected to go first (by blind draw before the show) spin a large horizontally-situated carnival wheel containing dollar amounts and other spaces (including Bankrupt, Lose a Turn and Free Spin). If the contestant landed on a dollar amount, he/she could guess a letter thought to be in the puzzle; if it appeared, they received the cash multiplied by the number of times it appears in the puzzle (ergo, if the player guessed "T" after landing on $250, and "T" appeared twice, they received $500). An incorrect guess or landing on a penalty space (Bankrupt or Lose a Turn) caused control of the wheel to pass to the next contestant.
At any point, the contestant in control of the wheel could spin again, ask to buy a vowel (at which point $250 was deducted from their score, and only if they had at least $250) or attempt to solve the puzzle; very early in the show's run, a player had to land on a Buy a Vowel space in order to buy a vowel, but this idea was scrapped before Wheel completed its first month on the air. The Bankrupt space caused the player to lose his accumulated winnings for that round (though all previous winnings were considered safe -- hence, "Once you buy a prize, it's yours to keep").
If the player correctly guessed the puzzle's solution, he/she got to keep their accumulated winnings. Any contestant solving the puzzle and not having at least $100 (later $200 and still later, $500) was spotted that amount "on the house." Early rounds typically had lower dollar values on the wheel ($500 as a top space on round 1 early in the run/Bob Goen version, later that was changed to $750), but increased in subsequent rounds ($1,000 and $2,000 for the later rounds, to increase the excitement; $1,250 when Bob Goen hosted).
Originally, the winnings were used to "go shopping" (i.e., purchase prizes) in one of the three revolving rooms on the set -- each containing: * Furniture -- enough to fill any room in the house, from the living room and dining room to bedroom or game room. * Appliances -- large and small, enough to make that dream kitchen or efficient laundry room. * Things for outside -- everything from swimming pools and patio furniture to barbecues, lawn games and garden equipment. * Clothing -- for every occasion. * Trips -- to any place imaginable, domestic or foreign. And don't forget the luggage and camera outfits. * Electronics -- TVs, stereos and much more! The show was among the first to offer early versions of VCRs (c. 1976), home video game units (c. 1978, Atari) and satellite dishes (late-1970s). * Gift Certificates -- everywhere to restaurants (Bonanza, Dairy Queen), clothing outlets (Casual Corner) and any other store (Western Auto). * Food -- from steaks from the Iowa Beef Council and chocolates to items from the Dessert of the Month Club. * Overall comfort and fun -- from a central air conditioning system and pinball machines to hot tubs and pizza parties. * Miscellaneous items -- everything from magazine subscriptions and collections of LPs from a record label to those famous ceramnic dalmations. and MUCH more.
There were other announced prizes, usually worth much more than in the revolving rooms. While some prizes offered during the early years were no doubt unusual (such as rare antiques and African masks), the favorite prize, of course, were the cars. In the daytime show, there were two or three available, usually, a sports model (such as a Chevrolet Camaro) and an economy model (a Chevrolet Monza), but there were also more upmarket family cars (the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme) and exotic foreign cars (a Lancia Beta coupe).
Other top-ticket items proving popular were: * Other forms of transportation -- everything from boats, motorcycles and camping trailers. There was even, at one time, a 4-seat airplane and a motorhome available! * Furs -- before the animal rights groups got their way. * Jewelry -- everything from rings, necklaces, pearls, earrings, watches and much more!
Starting in 1987 (primetime) and 1989 (daytime), the winner of a round received his accumulated bank in cash (thanks to beefs from contestants who had to pay steep taxes and preferred cash). During the shopping era, a contestant could elect to place any unused cash "on account" (which they could claim only upon winning a subsequent round AND avoiding the bankrupt space in the meantime); otherwise, unused winnings were placed on a gift certificate (usually to Gucci, Dicker and Dicker of Beverly Hills or another luxury shop seen on Rodeo Drive).
If time ran short (signified by a series of "dings"), a "speed up" round was played, wherein the host gave the wheel one final spin, with vowels worth nothing and all consonants worth whatever the host landed on. The top-winning contestant after so many rounds completed within each show was the day's champion. In case of a tie, one of several things happened, depending on the year:
* At first, all three players returned on the next show (even the third-place player). Everyone kept what they won on all shows. * Later, the two (or possibly all three) tied players played a one-round speedround to determine the champion. This format was used once the permanent bonus round was started.
End Game - The Bonus Round At first, there was no bonus round, the top winner simply returned. Starting in 1981, the champion advanced to a bonus round, where they could select a prize (always worth $1,000 or more and signified with a gold star (or announced in some other way)) and, after choosing five consonants and one vowel, had 15 seconds to solve the puzzle.
Prior to the bonus round becoming a permanent part of the game, there were several special weeks where bonus rounds were played. Games included (but not limited to):
* 1975 hour-long format Bonus Round - Played during Wheel's short-lived 60-minute format, the day's overall winner selected one of four puzzles (labeled easy, medium, difficult and hard); the level of difficulty determined the prize (e.g., an easy puzzle may have been worth a TV-stereo console, while the difficult puzzle may have won the player a new Cadillac). The player then chose four consonants and a vowel and tried to solve the puzzle within 15 seconds. This is very similar to the current bonus round, except the level of difficulty did not necessarily correspond with the prize's value.
* Any Prize in the House - The top winner simply chose a prize and they got it.
* Star Bonus - By landing on a special token on the wheel, a contestant had the opportunity to advance to a special bonus round if they were one of the runners-up. That player could become champion by solving a puzzle and winning a prize that was worth more than the amount of the first-place player's lead. As with the 60-minute format's bonus round, the prize's value corresponded with the difficulty of the puzzle.
This short-lived format wasn't always played, however, since the Star Bonus token sometimes wasn't landed on the entire show; the token could serve as insurance for a dominating player who wins the game (and possibly purchases the most-expensive prize, thereby making it unavailable for the opponents); or the expensive prize's value was not worth enough to cover the difference between the champion's winnings and his/her opponents.
The rules of other games varied, but usually, the show had a bigger prize budget than during regular weeks.
Changes through the years Many changes were made through the years, some very successful (luxury prizes in the syndicated version; $25,000 cash top bonus round prize), while others weren't (e.g., a "Doubler" token, which allowed contestants to double the potential value of the next spin; Rolf Benirschke as host of the daytime show; the infamous Megaword category, where a contestant had to correctly use the revealed word in a coherent sentence for an extra $500). Some of the more successful changes are detailed below.
* For the syndicated version, decidedly luxury prizes were often advertised ("This $41,000 customized Cadillac Seville! "A $60,000 log cabin!" "A $25,000 trip around the world!"); plus a silver $5,000 space on the wheel's third round (replacing the $2,000 daytime show top space, though early syndicated shows had both the $2,000 and $5,000 spaces). Also, a bonus prize space was added in the second round of the syndicated show (and in 1987, a different bonus to the fourth round).
* Meanwhile, in the daytime show, a "Jackpot" bonus space was added to the second round in 1987; it based at $1,000 and grew by $1,000 per show until claimed.
* With the syndicated show's change to an all-cash format in 1987, the bonus round changed to having four (or sometimes, as many as six) grand prizes and $25,000 cash available as prizes. Originally meant to be a month-long promotion (the "Big Bonanza of Cash" before reverting to the tried-and-true post-puzzle shopping), this well-received format allowed more rounds – save for celebrity week gabfests, always at least four – to be played. Originally, the top wheel values were set thusly:
- Round 1: $1,000. - Round 2: $2,500 (plus a bonus prize). - Round 3: $3,500. - Round 4-on: $5,000 (plus a bonus prize for Round 4 only, if time permits; sometimes, the bonus was used in Round 3 instead).
This has since been changed, with the current setup as follows:
- Round 1: $2,500, plus an $1,000 online shopping spree card that is placed on the wheel for the rest of the show a la the Free Spin, and may be picked up if a letter is correctly guessed. - Round 2: $3,500, plus a bonus prize, which remains on the wheel until a contestant picks it up. Until 2002, additional bonus prizes were placed on the wheel in subsequent rounds. – Round 3: $3,500, plus the Mystery Round spaces. - Round 4-on: $5,000, including the speed round.
* During the 1988-1989 season, the contestant was given the six most popular letters -- R, S, T, L, N and E, and asked to select three more consonants and one vowel; the bonus round time limit was then shortened to 10 seconds.
* Starting in 1989 (since $25,000 cash was far and away the most popular prize choice), the five grand prizes were placed in a blind draw, and could only be won once per week.
* In 1996, the "returning champions" idea was scrapped, with a "Friday Finals" format instituted. Three new contestants appeared Monday through Thursday, with the week's top winners returning on Friday (regardless if they were their show's top winner) to play for a jackpot prize package. The latter format lasted only a couple of seasons before it, too, was scuttled.
* In the 1990s, a Surprise space was added to the wheel, which was simply a prize that was announced only if won (usually a trip); this space has since been scrapped.
* In the mid-1990s, a Jackpot round (third round initially, later the second round) allowed a contestant to claim an accumulating jackpot -- which based at $5,000 and accumulated with each dollar space landed on -- if they landed on a Jackpot space, correctly guessed a letter and solved the puzzle all in the same turn.
* A few years after the jackpot round, a $10,000 space added to the wheel. The space was not multipliable; rather, it simply added $10,000 to the contestant's winnings if they solved the puzzle and avoided bankrupt. The space took up the center third of a standard wheel space, with two bankrupt spaces taking up the remainder (to add to the suspense). If the $10,000 part of the space was landed on and the contestant guessed correctly, it was placed face down in front of the contestant to read $10,000 (unlike the standard prize space, which was left face up).
* "Toss Up" puzzles -- to determine who started the game -- were added prior to the first and fourth rounds, starting in the 2000-2001 season, each worth $1,000; a year later, two "Toss Up" puzzles were played, once before the contestant introductions and the second (now worth $2,000) to determine first round wheel control, with the pre-fourth round "Toss Up" now worth $3,000. If a contestant made an incorrect guess, he/she was out of the remainder of the puzzle; if all the letters were filled in or everyone guessed wrong, nobody won anything and wheel control began either with the left-most contestant or wherever it left off before.
* During the 2000-2001 season, the "speed up" round was changed, wherein $1,000 was added to whatever dollar amount Sajak landed on. There was some cool music added, too.
* Changes to the Bonus Round in October 2001. The contestant spun a mini- wheel containing 25 envelopes; Sajak removed the envelope; and win or lose, revealed the prize contained within (a car, $25,000 cash or a new top prize of $100,000; the top prize was contained in just one of the envelopes). In 2002-2003, more money amounts (one each of amounts between $30,000 and $50,000, each in $5,000 increments) were thrown into the mix. There have been at least five $100,000 winners and several others who have not been quite as fortunate.
* Starting in 2002-2003, contestants who won nothing during the front game were given $500 just for playing (in addition to those lovely parting gifts).
* A new Mystery space, added in the 2002-2003 season. Played in Round 3, two such spaces were placed on the wheel, with a $500 dollar value. Contestants landing on this space guessed a letter could either spin again or risk their accumulated bank, not knowing what's on the other side of the Mystery card. It could be Bankrupt or a new car (on occasion, it could be another prize, such as a $10,000 shopping spree). If it was a car, the contestant had to solve the puzzle and avoid the Bankrupt spaces to claim the car. The other Mystery space was then put out of play, becoming a regular $500 space. In September 2004, the values of the Mystery spaces dooubled to $1,000.
• A prize puzzle, added in the 2003-2004 season. One puzzle on each show (usually the second or third round) had some connection to a prize the contestant would win for solving the puzzle. For example, a contestant solving the puzzle "Check Your Local Listings" could win a plasma wall-screen television. The set underwent some revisions, too.
Chuck and Susan and Pat and Vanna When the show started in 1975, Chuck Woolery was the host. For a brief time in the fall of 1979, Alex Trebek served as substitute host when Woolery took a leave of absence. In 1981, Woolery left for good when he was denied a pay raise (he wanted $500,000 per year, more than Merv Griffin was willing to offer. Chuck left, and Pat Sajak replaced him. Most of the Chuck Woolery episodes are hard to find, due to NBC's practice of destroying tapes from old shows. On the daytime version, ex-football star Benirschke on January 10, 1989, but he didn't work out too well. When the show moved from NBC to CBS, 6 months later, Bob Goen became the host, and was the host for two years (the show moved back to NBC in 1991 for 9 months). Pat Sajak still hosts the nighttime syndicated version.
Susan Stafford was the original "letter turner." She was replaced by Summer Bartholemew on October 22, 1982, then Vicky McCarty three weeks later. (None of the Summer Bartholemew episodes exist due to NBC's practice of destroying tapes of old shows.) On December 13, 1982, McCarty left, and Vanna White became the new permanent hostess (BTW -- Vanna's first letter turned was a "T," in the puzzle "General Hospital"). As most game show fans know, this is not Vanna's first appearance on a game show. In June 1980, 2 1/2 years before her first appearance on Wheel of Fortune, America's favorite hostess was a contestant on The Price is Right in 1980, but she never left contestant's row (BTW – as a recurring joke, TPiR former icon/host Bob Barker always wondered aloud whatever became of her).
Originally, Vanna rarely spoke on-camera (though she occasionally engaged in small talk with Pat at the end of the show); back then, Sajak would be introduced and then he would introduce Vanna, who always showed off a different dress or outfit (and for the record, no, she did NOT get to keep her clothes, which always come from the most glamorous of shops). However, as Vanna gained acclaim with the viewing audience, she talked more and more. Today, both Pat and Vanna walk out together and they always conversate after each program. Vanna often does the car prize descriptions prior to each bonus round.
Charlie O'Donnell as the original announcer when Wheel of Fortune began. He left in 1982, and Jack Clark (who had earlier announced on occasion) took over full-time. Clark died of cancer in 1988 (Sajak offered a tribute to the long-time announcer in the 1988-1989 syndicated season premiere), and after a five-month stint by M.G. Kelly, O'Donnell returned, his trademark phrasing "WH-EEEEEEE-L OF FORTUNE" and "25 THOOOOOOOOOUSAND DOLLARS" intact.
Retrospectives and going on the road Several tributes to the series have been shown through the years, most commonly as part of daytime talk shows and occasional bloopers specials. During its syndicated run, Wheel of Fortune has aired two retrospectives of its own - the first in November 1998, to mark its 3,000th show; and again in November 2003, when its 4,000th show aired, as part of a series of shows taped in New York.
Speaking of which, Wheel of Fortune has gone "on the road" all over the country to tape shows. Among the first aired in November 1988, when the show taped from New York's Radio City Music Hall (legendary NBC announcer Don Pardo did voiceovers). Other cities have included (but are not limited to) Chicago, Nashville, Phoenix and Honolulu; and many of those episodes were part of special theme weeks (such as Best Friends Week) or have paired contestants with celebrities from a particular genre (e.g., NFL football players, country music stars).
From Hangman to Wheel and everything in between The idea for the game show that eventually became Wheel of Fortune grew from a game known as Shopper's Bazaar. Two such pilots were produced – one in 1973 with Woolery as host, the other (from 1974) helmed by Edd Byrnes (best known as "Kookie" from the 1958-1964 detective drama, 77 Sunset Strip). The rules for the earlier pilot, hosted by Woolery, was quite different from the game we all came to know and love (e.g., a self-spinning wheel and the host pressing a button at the contestant's direction; prize money carried over to subsequent rounds and always "at risk;" etc.).
The later pilot, hosted by Byrnes and a more talkative Stafford, was similar to what viewers first saw in 1975. When Merv Griffin Enterprises made their final plans to enter production in late 1974, a host had yet to be chosen. The story goes that Griffin's decision was made when he saw the producer's first choice, Byrnes, in the hallways prior to the taping of the first shows, repeating "A-E-I-O-U, A-E-I-O-U;" in an attempt to recall the vowels.
It's the 60-minute Wh-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-l of Fortune In December 1975, a month after The Price is Right became a one-hour show, NBC experimented with an hour-long version of Wheel of Fortune.
The game played thusly: Two sets of three contestants compete in three-round games each, as usual, with the returning champion playing in the second set of games. The top money winners of each three-round match met in a one-puzzle showdown for the right to advance to the bonus round (described above).
The hour-long Wheel of Fortune lasted but a month, and returned to the 30-minute game we all came to love by the end of January 1976. BTW, several other NBC game show hits, including The Hollywood Squares, also briefly expanded to 60 minutes as part of the networks' promotion.
Syndication Wheel of Fortune's phenomenal run in syndication almost never happened. As early as the fall of 1975, there was interest in producing a weekly nighttime show, but few syndicators were wanting to try and even fewer stations willing to buy, particularly because there were other powerhouse game shows airing (either Match Game PM or Family Feud, depending on the year) that were seen as insurmountable in the ratings.
In 1983, King World Productions – a small-time distributor that had edited Our Gang shorts for television airing – took a chance on the show ... and it paid off royally! Airing on just 59 stations when the premiere aired Sept. 19, 1983, Wheel of Fortune (often pitted against latter-day Dawson's Family Feud) quickly soared in the ratings and within two years, was airing on nearly 200 stations and began its (thus far) permanent reign as the nation's top syndicated program. Jeopardy! rates second, with Friends reruns currently the shows' closest competitor.
Wheel across the world (and (yuck) a kid's version, too) As Wheel of Fortune grew in popularity during the mid-1980s, countries all over the world began staging their own versions; each had their own "Pat and Vanna," and minor rules changes. Clips of these international versions are seen from time to time on the U.S. version.
Also, a children's version of the program under the name Wheel 2000 also aired on CBS during the 1997-1998 season (with many modifications, see page for details).
Merchandising Merchandise ... thy name is Wheel of Fortune. Even in the mid-1970s, there were two editions of the home game issued by Milton Bradley (complete with wheel, puzzle board and prize cards).
But that was just the beginning, as by the mid-1980s, there were T-shirts, key chains, calendars and even an album of prize cue music featured on the show. Vanna merchandise also appeared, including her biography "Vanna Speaks."
Home video games - from electronic hand-held units to cartridges and CD-ROMs for units that connect to TV - have also been highly popular (and have seen, in addition to subsequent editions with more puzzles and categories, special editions for children and sports fans).
And through it all, one thing has not changed -- a vowel still costs you $250 (except during the Bob Goen network era/1989-91 CBS and 1991 NBC, when those A's, E's, I's, O's and U's cost just $100).moreless