What is it about The Wheel of Fortune gameshow that keeps it so popular? Born in the 1970s, an era of revival for the TV gameshow after the “Quiz Show”-led scandals of the late 1950s, Wheel of Fortune was part of a wave that included longtime TV mainstays such as Jeopardy, The Price is Right, Family Feud, the Newlywed Game, the $20,000 (or $50,000 or $100,000) Pyramid and Hollywood Squares – but while some of those 70s creations still run (or have received the reboot treatment) on American television, few have enjoyed the nearly uninterrupted run that Wheel has. And we’d daresay that Wheel of Fortune may stand alone as the most-adapted American *TV program* of all-time.
The Wheel of Fortune gameshow began as a production of Merv Griffin Enterprises in 1975. The original host of the show was Chuck Woolery, who you may remember from other gameshows such as Scrabble, The Dating Game, and Love Connection. However, infinitely more associated with the program are Pat Sajak and letter-turning cheerleader-in-pumps Vanna White, who were brought on to star in 1981 and ’82, respectively.
Since its debut, Wheel of Fortune has managed to run nearly continuously, going off the air for just two years and one month in its first 42 years of existence. (Breaking that down, that’s 475 of 504 months, or a 94.2% on-air rate into its fifth decade of production.) Some 6,000 episodes have been produced, and the show has survived.
Off the air just 25 months in its first 42 years of existence, the show has bounced from daily show on NBC to daily show on CBS to syndication. And as of this writing, Sajak and White remain co-hosts and both clearly beneficiaries of strategic plastic surgery.
Wheel of Fortune is a bit of a perfect storm of TV gameshows: The game itself is based on the very visually appealing carnival-style wheel. The rules, based more or less on the child’s word game Hangman, are simple, and allow even grammar school children to (get hooked early) play along. The show is extremely light on controversy, and the projected wholesomeness oozing from Sajak and White (as opposed to, likesay, the boozy flirt act put on by Richard Dawson on Family Feud or the high intellectualism of Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek) is certainly appealing to middle America.
This simplicity of format and blank-canvas likeability help adapt Wheel of Fortune to other cultures (as long as the local language uses an alphabet), while the intelligence level required to play the game – let’s face it – is extremely low, thus making those all-time egregious losses even more delicious with schadenfreude even an eight-year-old can understand. Wheel of Fortune (often known simply as Wheel[note 1]) 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 average viewer may not have extensive knowledge of jazz music, bible verses or baseball statistics, but nearly anyone can appreciate the idiocy of guesses like “Surf clay, here we come”, “E.T. takes one to know one” and “A Streetcar, Naked Desire”
One would have to assume that, past/present success aside, this show can’t have much time left. Sajak turned 70 in 2016, while both the gameshow genre and television itself are increasingly less popular. While one can imagine Sajak getting callously replaced (Steve Harvey, anyone…?) for season 51 or whatever, but such a move would indicate the death spiral of Wheel of Fortune as we know it.
So let’s assume the days of Wheel of Fortune are numbered. Fans, enjoy the lightheaded fun and ridiculous answers while you can…