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History Of: Wheel of Fortune

by Christian Dixie Wheel of Fortune, the most successful syndicated program in history, has been captivating audiences since its nighttime debut in 1983. The history of the show spans 44 years, with $250 million in cash and prizes being given away to its contestants over the course of the show’s run. Wheel of Fortune, created by Merv Griffin, gets over 1 million applications for contestants vying to be on the show. Ten thousand people get the chance to audition for the show and only 600 contestants appear on the show every season. Let’s take a look at the history of Wheel of Fortune.

The daytime version (1975 - 1991)

Image from Collectors.com
Before Pat Sajak and Vanna White were the hosts of Wheel of Fortune, there was Chuck Woolery and Susan Stafford. The show was a lot different back then, as it only aired in the daytime and the contestants used their money to shop for prizes. In December of 1981, Woolery left the show due to a disagreement with the salary in his contract. Susan continued to be hostess for another year before leaving the show in 1982. On December 28th, 1981, Pat Sajak made his hosting debut, replacing Woolery while Susan Stafford stays on as hostess.  In 1982, Stafford decides that she wanted to do humanitarian work. As a result, Stafford left the show, opening up a spot for a new hostess. In December of 1982, Vanna White made her debut and was named the permanent hostess. Merv Griffin chose White because of the chemistry she and Pat shared on camera.  Sajak would go on to host the daytime version for eight years until 1989, when he decided to launch his own talk show. Former San Diego Chargers kicker Rolf Bernischke replaced Sajak and hosted the show until the end of the season, as he was let go due to the low ratings. On July 17, 1989 Bob Goen replaced Rolf. Wheel was picked up by CBS and the show no longer aired on NBC due to low ratings after Sajak left to focus on his talk show. The shopping format was retired in favor of the cash-prize format, as players were able to have the amount of prizes added to their total (Hence the phrase “cash and prizes”).  Wheel of Fortune continued to air on CBS until January 1991, when the show moved back to NBC and aired for 8 more months. In September of 1991, the daytime version of Wheel of Fortune came to an end after 16 years. 

The nighttime version (1983 - Present)

Image from Eternal Lifestyle
In September 1983, The current nighttime version of Wheel of Fortune made its television debut. Pat Sajak and Vanna White have been hosting the nighttime version for 37 years. The show also used the shopping format up until October 1987 when they switched to a cash-prize format. From 1983-1997, Vanna was turning the letters physically and in February 1997, Wheel of Fortune upgraded the puzzle board with touch screens and added computer technology to save time in between rounds for switching out puzzles.  In the 1980s, Wheel of Fortune was the most popular game show, receiving 40 million weekly viewers tuning in to see what Vanna would wear or what jokes Pat would come up with during the show.  Today, Wheel of Fortune is still one of the most iconic game shows of all time. The show has given away $250 million since its debut and receives 1 million contestant applications every year, with ten thousand invited to audition and a select few of six hundred contestants appearing on the show. Sajak and White are on contract with Wheel of Fortune until 2022.
Sources: Sony Images: Collectors.com, Eternal Lifestyle Featured Image: Olivia Weinzapfel