Plus 10 more 'Wheel'-life stories you need to hear
Can you believe it’s been 35 years since Wheel of Fortune became the phenomenon it is today? Neither can longtime host Pat Sajak.
“We’re just playing hangman here!” said the bewildered host to the crowd of fans in New York Wednesday night when asked about the show’s tenure. The Emmy Award winner stopped by the Paley Center for Media alongside friend and costar Vanna White and Wheel of Fortune executive producer Harry Friedman to chat about the impressive history of the beloved television game show, its signature wheel, and the 25 million weekly viewers that love them.
Before “America’s Game” was syndicated on your TV screens every evening, it was a failing daytime game show with a loyal audience, including one familiar face fans would recognize. Oh, and did you also know that the prices of vowels haven’t always been the same?
Check out 11 highlights from the Wednesday night panel below:
1. Vanna White’s secret to success: Buy vowels!
It’s a little tip she always tells the contestants beforehand if they look nervous. Noted.
2. Pat Sajak was awe-struck to learn that Hollywood legend Jimmy Stewart was a huge Wheel of Fortune fan
At the end of Stewart’s career in the early ’90s, the late movie star once went up to Sajak to tell him that “[My wife] Gloria solves all the puzzles before I do!”
3. The two stars truly care about the integrity of the show
White and Sajak are so devoted to the show that executive producer Harry Friedman recalled one time where Sajak dropped the card with the puzzle answers on them. “We have to stop taping,” Sajak said to Friedman on set, worried that one of the contestants may have seen the answer, giving them an unfair advantage.
4. White makes puzzles all the time
All the crew helps out in making the puzzles, but it’s something that White, an avid fan of crossword puzzles, loves to do. Sometimes just for fun, but Sajak notes that his costar’s puzzles get used all the time. This makes sense because…
5. White once auditioned to be a contestant on the show
Before Wheel of Fortune became the syndicated Wheel of Fortune of today, it was a daytime game show with one huge fan in particular: Vanna White. The star loved the show so much she once even asked to audition to be a contestant. Although her hopes of being a shouting letters at Sajak never came to fruition, White landed the audition to be one of the stars. Out of 200 girls, she says she was visibly the most nervous one there. “My knees were quivering and my legs were shaking,” recalls White.
6. According to Sajak and White, this was the most surprising win:
Back in 2014, contestant Emil De Leon was only 25 when he solved what Sajak would later call the “most amazing solve” he’s ever witnessed, and White agreed. Check out the jaw-dropping moment in the video below.
7. Sajak only thought he’d have the job for a year or two
“There’s nothing for me to do,” Sajak first thought when he was auditioning for the hosting gig back in 1980. “And I was right!” Little did he know the success that would soon follow.
8. Sajak took it upon himself to “tutor” White
“I owe it all to you, Pat,” quipped White to Sajak, a former local weatherman who had years of broadcast experience White just didn’t have when she was first cast.
9. On filming the first show after the September 11th terrorist attacks:
Three days after the deadly 2001 terrorist attack, Wheel of Fortune was set to film an episode on location in Miami. At first, according to all three panelists, no one knew quite what was going to happen. “Nothing really prepares you,” remembered Sajak. At the time, White was in the Bahamas before filming was set to begin. However, all planes were grounded and there was no way for her to fly to the set, so ABC sent a trawler boat to pick her up and bring her all the way back to Miami. “I thought: ‘I’m going to die,'” recalls White. Although White and Sajak were both able to get to set safely, none of their regular crew members were able to make it so the team relied on the help from local operators in Miami who, according to Sajak, hadn’t operated a boom since TV was in black and white. Despite the chaos, the hosts knew they had a duty to bring the show to the American people. “It was the first moment life felt anywhere near normal,” said Sajak when thinking about the filming that episode. “You think, ‘Maybe life will get back to normal.'”
10. Vowels weren’t always $250
The cost of a vowel was $150 back when the show was still on daytime. Due to low ratings, the cash prizes offered on the board were getting lower and lower and so that had to be reflected in the price of the all-important vowels. According to Sajak, “It’s a great economic success story!”
11. Sajak and White have always planned to leave the show together
Fret not Wheel fans! Thirty-five years definitely isn’t the end of the line for Sajak and White, but you can rest easy knowing that when the time does eventually come for the costars to say goodbye, they’ll leave the show together. “My goal is to leave before people turn on the TV and go, ‘What the hell happened to him?'” Sajak joked to the crowd before looking to White and adding, “I can’t imagine being up there with someone else.”