Monday, November 10, 2008

Wheel of Fortune

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

Continuing with the Mondays= Featuring Long-Running Television Shows, today we move away from children's shows and onto game shows. There have been many game shows which have been on the air for quite a long time (think Concentration, which ran for twenty years before they re-made it, then it ran another four), but today's special will be Wheel of Fortune.

This show has been near and dear to my heart for many years, for a number of reasons. First, Merv Griffin (the man behind Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, among other things) is a good friend of my mother's family. By that, I mean that my grandfather's brother lived next door to him in Califon, NJ for many years. My mom and her cousins and siblings knew Merv and his wife and son, rode his horses, and watched tv at his house. As my family (immediate and extended) is very competitive in nature, beating one another in both the travel game and the television show is a regular event, and has been throughout my life. In fact, when the show used to run simultaneously on two local television channels (airtime was off by 15 seconds or so), my cousins would scribble down the answer upstairs, then lower the poster out of the window so my aunt could beat my uncle to solving the puzzles! I also have a good friend who tried out for the show, and made it to the "final four potential contestants" in Orlando. Sadly, he ended up not receiving notification that he'd appear on television, but there's still hope!

Anyway, Wheel of Fortune was originally a daytime show in 1975, but switched to primetime in 1983, where it has been ever since. It's actually been the most-watched syndicated television show since 1984. Pat Sajak and Vanna White have been the co-hosts from the beginning of the primetime era, and Vanna's evening gowns have become a fun topic of conversation for many.

The format of the game has been altered over the years, and the 24 spaces on the wheel have been "upgraded" to allow for the economy's inflation. Similarly, contestants used to be able to choose what they'd play for in the bonus round, but because the $25,000 prize was often requested more often than the cars or trips available, in 1989 the format morphed into choosing an envelope held by one of the letters W, H, E, E, L. Then, in 2001, the format switched to the current situation: a 24-space wheel that is spun, and the contestant plays for whatever envelope he/she spins. The fast-moving Toss-up Puzzles were added (sometime in the past ten years...), and using the SPIN ID system (started in 2004), home audience members (also known as the Wheel Watchers Club) can win the same prize as studio winners. Sometimes there are three pairs of contestants instead of three individual players, and sometimes celebrity contestants play for various charities.

In addition to the travel version of the game, my brother and I used to be quite fond of the NES version. It had some quirks, but was fun. Although there was a popular 4-player option for NES, this 3-person game forced Player 3 to share a controller with Player 1. The numerical values on the wheel never changed, and there were always 2 regular rounds, then a Speed Round. The R, S, T, L, N, E usually given in the Bonus Round were not there, players could choose any 5 consonants and a vowel.

Other fun facts: Prior to 1997, the game board was rolled off after each puzzle so that the new set-up could be manually loaded out of sight of the contestants. With 1997 came computerized screens, and in 2007 flat-screen panels replaced the previous monitors. Eggcrate displays showed the players' scores until 2002 (and I really miss the look of them). The Wheel actually weighs 4,000 pounds!

No video clip this week, as I don't really have a favorite.
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