Wheel of Fortune (US daytime game show)

Wheel of Fortune (US daytime game show)

infobox television
show_name = Wheel of Fortune

caption = "Wheel of Fortune" title card, c. 1985
format = Game show
rating =
runtime = 30 minutes
creator = Merv Griffin
starring = Chuck Woolery, host
Susan Stafford, co-host
Pat Sajak, host
Vanna White, co-host
Rolf Benirschke, host
Bob Goen, host
Charlie O'Donnell, announcer
(1975–1980; 1989–1991)
Jack Clark, announcer
MG Kelly, announcer (1988–1989)
country = USA
company = Merv Griffin Productions (1975-1984)
Merv Griffin Enterprises (1984-1991)
Califon Productions (1975-1991)
network = NBC (1975–1989; 1991)
CBS (1989–1991)
first_aired = January 6, 1975
last_aired = September 20, 1991
num_episodes = approx. over 3,000
website = http://www.wheeloffortune.com/|

Created by Merv Griffin, the daytime version of the American game show "Wheel of Fortune" aired on NBC from January 6, 1975 to June 30, 1989. It was seen on CBS from July 17, 1989, to January 11, 1991, returning to NBC from January 14, 1991 until its final cancellation on September 20, 1991. During its run it occupied several time slots, airing between 10:00 a.m. and noon Eastern Time; for most of its run, NBC carried it at 11:00 a.m. For seven weeks in 1975-76, it aired in a one-hour format, as NBC tried in vain to copy the success of CBS's recently-expanded "The Price Is Right".

Game play

"See article: Wheel of Fortune (US game show)#Game Play"

Each contestant who solved a puzzle would be 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 up to five). However, the winner on the last Rolf Benirschke 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

The top dollar values on the wheel at the outset were $500 in round one, $750 in round two, and $1,000 for each round thereafter, with one space worth as little as $25. In 1976, the top amounts changed to $1,000 in round two and $1,500 for rounds three and beyond, and no value less than $100 was present on the wheel. In 1979, the top amounts increased to $750, $1,000 and $2,000, and remained there until the end of the first NBC run.

Through the daytime show's history, the Bankrupt and yellow Lose a Turn spaces went unchanged. The tan Free Spin space was replaced in the fall of 1989 by a single Free Spin marker placed on various dollar amounts. In the very early days of "Wheel", there was also a red Buy a Vowel space which 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, he or she lost their turn. This proved to be too complex and penalizing for regular game play and the space was removed after a very short period, giving the players an opportunity to buy vowels at any time as long as they had enough money.

For the 1986-87 season, a Jackpot wedge, which began with a value of $1,000 and increased by that amount each day until won, was introduced for the third round of each episode. If a player landed on Jackpot, he/she 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.

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 in half from the shopping version, 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 3 and $1,250 for rounds 4 and beyond. Prize wedges similar in appearance to those on the nighttime show but smaller in value were introduced. In the first few weeks of the CBS version, $50 and $75 spaces briefly re-appeared on the wheel. Amounts below $100 were eliminated by the end of 1989, and additional dollar values were also raised, but payouts still paled in comparison to those offered on the nighttime show. To compensate, the price of vowels on this version was decreased from $250 to $200, and later to $100. The bonus prizes offered on the daytime show post-shopping 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. Overall, a player on the revamped daytime "Wheel" could win only 20% to 25% as much as an equally lucky and skillful nighttime contestant.

Bonus Round

1975-1976 Hour-Long Episodes

The show tinkered with a bonus round format for six weeks in December 1975 and January 1976, when 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 Cadillac Eldorado. 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, 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. It was possible for the day's eventual first-place contestant to land on the Star Bonus. Also, the Star Bonus prizes were available during shopping rounds, meaning a dominant player could buy the most expensive prize and thus render an opponent's Star Bonus token useless. Also, there was the possibility that none of the bonus prizes would give a victory to the contestant who achieved the Star Bonus, if the leading contestant led by more than the value of the top bonus prize. Then, there was the possibility that the Star Bonus token would not be landed on at all, causing some haphazard editing that irked viewers.


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. 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.


Chuck Woolery emceed the original "Wheel" Pilot, "Shopper's Bazaar", in late 1973. After some retooling and a title change to the now famous "Wheel Of Fortune", Edd Byrnes hosted a second Pilot in 1974. Griffin ultimately chose Woolery as the host.

"Wheel" debuted on January 6, 1975, on NBC at 10:30 a.m./9:30 Central. NBC 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 which aired its final episode on the Friday before the "Wheel" 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. ["The E! True Hollywood Story": "Wheel of Fortune." Premiered in 2004. Referenced on tvgameshows.net, Aug. 14, 2007] Woolery has since regretted his departure, admitting that it was a big mistake, and would often mention "Wheel" on many of his later programs, most notably the 1990 Finale of Scrabble. On December 28, KNBC-TV weatherman 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 the show 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 1991 return to NBC.

According to the "E! True Hollywood Story" recount of "Wheel", NBC daytime programming exec 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. Stafford remained on 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 shows’ 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 1989. Fill-in announcers included Don Morrow and Johnny Gilbert.

Alex Trebek, who had then-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 in November 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, and that version's final cancellation. (The nighttime version continued to be produced at CBS until 1995, when it moved to the Sony Pictures Studios lot in Culver City.)

For seven weeks in December 1975 and January 1976, the program aired in an hour-long format. Two three-round games were played with two sets of three different contestants. The winners of each game played a head-to-head speed-up round. The winner of that round went on to play the Bonus Round. The rules of this Bonus Round are described above.

Ratings and Cancellation

The daytime "Wheel" had respectably strong ratings for most of its run. From 1978-1990 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, of course, 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 tuned in during the "access hour" (usually 7-8 p.m. Eastern and 6:30-7:00 Central) in the early evening, when local stations usually broadcast the syndicated version.

In the 2½ years after Pat Sajak's departure from the show, it was canceled three times (NBC, 6-30-1989; CBS, 1-11-1991; NBC, 9-20-1991). In its final months, it was the last NBC network show to air in the 10:00 a.m. Eastern time slot for 16 years; following the show's cancellation in 1991, the network gave that hour back to the affiliates for local or syndicated programming. ("The Today Show" expanded back into the time slot in 2007.)

It was also one of the last two of NBC's daytime game shows to air ("Classic Concentration" being the other) before daytime game shows were temporarily discontinued on the network. (NBC later revived the game show block in 1993 and 1994, but without "Wheel" in the schedule.)

tudio 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. The first puzzle board had three rows of trilons and a total of 39 spaces (13 spaces on each row).

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 on December 21, 1981, Chuck Woolery's last week as host.

This became the board popularly associated with the show, as it was kept through the remainder of the daytime run and for the syndicated run until February 21, 1997. Today, this board resides in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. as a tribute to the mark the show has made on American history.

core 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 the fifth digit had been added by the Star Bonus episodes in 1978; space for a sixth digit was added in the summer of 1990.

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 put "On Account" and total winnings for a champion.

When the show moved to CBS Television City, the sunbursts were replaced by red, yellow, and blue shield-shaped 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 - they became part of the standard nighttime set at Television City by the time the daytime version was canceled.

Prize Podiums

Throughout the 1970s, the studio had individual podiums for each of the three main game prize showcases, placed behind the host. 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 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, the turntable was retired. New podiums, showing mock wheel templates, were used to display the prizes (mostly cars) available in the bonus round. A circular green $5,000 sign was also employed, in a fashion similar to the syndicated show's $25,000 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 a greenscreen effect. This technique was used during the shows' years at NBC Studios but was discontinued with the move to CBS Television City.

Episode Status

A clip of the original September 1974 Pilot, with Edd Byrnes as host, was shown during the nighttime show's 3,000th episode in 1998. An episode with Woolery and Stafford 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. 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 plus the "E! True Hollywood Story" episode chronicling the show's history. GSN showed three daytime episodes as part of a ten-episode memorial tribute to Merv Griffin in August 2007. Thus far, no Benirschke or Goen episodes have been rerun.

Theme Songs

1974 Pilot

The theme heard on the 1974 pilot was called "Give it One", composed by Maynard Ferguson. It is probably most known for its jazzy theme. The song was released on the Columbia LP "M.F. Horn Two", which was re-released onto CD by Wounded Bird (WOU-3170) in 2006.


This version's theme was titled "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 royalty income issues). "Big Wheels" is available on the Varese Sarabande CD "Best of TV Quiz & Game Show Themes" (B00004WJJ9) released in 2000.


This theme, the original version of "Changing Keys" 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" (B0000060E4) released in 1998.


This was a jazzed-up variation on "Changing Keys" used on both versions after production moved to CBS, and was retained on the daytime show until its cancellation. It was also used on the 1995 Sega CD video game version, which includes clean copies of both the theme and several prize cues on the disc's audio settings.



* "The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows", 3rd Ed. (includes information on A.C. Nielsen Company ratings)
* [http://gscentral.net/wof/wof.htm The Wheel of Fortune timeline page] at gscentral.net
* " [http://www.curtalliaume.com/wof.html Wheel of Fortune] " at curtalliaume.com
* [http://gs.mandelweb.com/classicwheel.html The Classic "Wheel of Fortune" Page]

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