May 3, 2013

Wheel of Fortune Celebrates 30 Plus Years

For more than thirty years, the American public has had a love affair with Wheel of Fortune. Over that time, the game show has given more than $200 million dollars in cash and prizes. If you've been on another planet and aren't familiar with one of the most famous of Merv Griffin's creations, take a trip down my yellow brick road, filled with a bunch of fun filled facts to help you excel when asked  about one of the longest running syndicated game shows in the U. S.

Wheel of Fortune aired on NBC on January 6, 1975. Contestants solve word puzzles to win cash and prizes determined by a giant carnival wheel. The show was originally names "Shoppers Bazaar". Contestants received cash vouchers, not cash and used the fake money toward prizes on the set. Over the years 10,000 people have tried out to be contestants but, fewer than 600 have appeared on the show. The original show was hosted by Chuck Woolery and Susan Stafford, with Charlie O'Donnel as announcer.

Appearing on Wheel of Fortune made hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White household names.

Vanna's first appearance in a game show was on the June 20, 1980 episode of The Price Is Right, in which she was among the first four contestants. On December 13, 1982, she became the Wheel's regular hostess and has remained as the show's daytime hostess. Vanna used 5700 plus gowns while working on the Wheel of Fortune. She never repeated a dress and doesn't get to keep the outfits after wearing them for just 30 minutes. It is rumored that Vanna makes $5000 an episode and $3 to $5 million yearly. On April 20, 2006, she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Chicago born Pat Sajak is a long time TV personality, former weatherman and actor. Sajak won a contest on WLS radio's Dick Biondi Show to be a guest teen deejay. In 1968, Sajak joined the U.S. Army, and was sent to Vietnam, where he served as a disk jockey on Armed Forces Radio. After working in a variety of broadcasting jobs, Pat got the offer from Merv Griffin to take over as Wheel of Fortune host in 1981.  He hosted both the daytime (NBC) and syndicated evening versions of Wheel from 1983 to 1989, and continues to host the latter version. Pat's salary on Wheel of Fortune is kept secret, but in 1987 he made $60,000 per week. Estimates place his current salary at 8 figures.

Sajak is an active supporter of conservative political causes and has written a number of columns for the conservative magazines. He has donated over $17,000 to candidates and election committees all associated with the Republican Party. Sajak began writing for the National Review Online in 2010. In his first post, he questioned whether public employees should be allowed to vote on issues that would benefit them directly.

The other stars of Wheel of Fortune are the wheel itself and the puzzle board.  Contrary to common wisdom, there is only one wheel and one puzzle board. As the show goes on the road, the wheel and the board are broken down and put back together for the shows. When the show travels, so does one million pounds of equipment. The wheel weighs 2,400 pounds and  has 200 computerized lights which can turn 2 million different colors. Its sound comes from 73 stainless steel pens flying past 3 hard rubber flippers.  Today's puzzle board is made up of 52 touch screen TV monitors ( 12 across the top and bottom rows and 14 across the 2 middle rows).

The biggest payout wen to Michelle Loewensteine in October 2008. She won $1 million dollars in the bonus round and her winnings totaled $1,026,080 in cash and prizes.

The Wheel of Fortune is the longest running syndicated game show in the U. S. and the second longest network or syndication show. (The current version of the Price is Right which aired in 1973 is number one.)



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