Pat Sajak is leaving, but ‘Wheel of Fortune’ should just keep R_LLING AL_NG

Pat Sajak is leaving, but ‘Wheel of Fortune’ should just keep R_LLING AL_NG
  • PublishedJune 7, 2024


Pat Sajak will host “Wheel of Fortune” for the final time on June 7, ending a run of more than 40 years and 8,000 episodes. Yet unlike its companion “Jeopardy!,” which went through a long process replacing the late Alex Trebek, “Wheel” figures to keep rolling along without much of a hitch, a sign of how the two long-running game shows differ.

Both programs were created by Merv Griffin, who became fabulously wealthy thanks to their command of the hour leading into prime time on TV stations across the country. They thrived, however, for fundamentally different reasons, as anybody who ever watched “Wheel” with an elderly grandparent can probably attest.

“Jeopardy!” was the smart show, the one where viewers might be able to answer some of the questions, but probably not as well as the winning contestants. Trebek captured that with a sly wit and suave demeanor, creating the impression that he knew all the answers – or rather, questions – even if that wasn’t necessarily so.

“Wheel,” by contrast, caught on because of its simplicity, and like a lot of TV game shows, the rather smug sense of superiority the audience could hold toward many of the players. “Seriously, you couldn’t solve the puzzle with only three letters missing, all of them vowels? You deserve not to win that money!”

Sajak reinforced that by hosting the show with what felt like an arched eyebrow, while engaging in interactions with contestants that were frequently playful, if occasionally, particularly in recent years, a trifle odd. The mini-controversies included moments where he crankily snapped at players, and in 2023, awkwardly tried to put one in a headlock after he said he was a wrestler.

Sajak was working as a TV weatherman in Los Angeles when Griffin hired him to take over “Wheel,” replacing Chuck Woolery in 1981.

Blessed with a high profile thanks to the show, CBS even hired him to host a late-night program in 1989, in a direct challenge to Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show.” “The Pat Sajak Show” lasted a little more than a year, offering a pretty good demonstration of the adage, “Don’t quit your day job.”

The tandem of “Wheel” and “Jeopardy!” nevertheless remained a well-oiled moneymaking machine. Beneficiaries included the family-run company that distributed the shows, King World, which also held sway over TV stations by selling rights to “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” (Run by brothers Roger and Michael King, CBS acquired the company for $2.5 billion in 2000, and Griffin’s company is now owned by Sony Pictures.)

Sajak will be replaced by Ryan Seacrest, who has come as close as anyone to replicating the genial on-air persona of another game-show icon, Dick Clark, who, as host and producer, represented another conspicuous tie to a bygone era. Co-host Vanna White, meanwhile, continues with the show, providing an element of continuity beyond the game itself.

Pat Sajak, left, will be replaced by Ryan Seacrest, right, as host of "Wheel of Fortune."

Pat Sajak, left, will be replaced by Ryan Seacrest, right, as host of “Wheel of Fortune.” ABC via Getty Images

In 2023, CBS renewed “Wheel” and “Jeopardy!” for five years, through the 2027-28 TV season, extending their longtime deal with ABC stations in major cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Even amid turmoil and change for the TV industry, “Wheel” still averages more than 8 million viewers each week, ranking behind only “Jeopardy!” among syndicated shows. Erosion remains a fact of life for linear TV, but that relative status isn’t likely to change, with or without Sajak behind the wheel.

None of that should diminish the durability of his tenure – being invited into people’s homes night after night – or Trebek’s 37 seasons with “Jeopardy!” before his death in 2020. In a video posted by his daughter, Maggie Sajak, Sajak said the show “became part of people’s lives, And that’s been awfully gratifying.”

As for whether we’re apt to such runs again, as they might put it on the “Wheel” set, “PR_BABL_ N_T.”


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